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Kohner, Zsigmond

(1840–1908), industrialist, banker, and philanthropist. Zsigmond Kohner’s family moved to Pest from Leipzig. His father, Adolf Kohner, joined Zsigmond’s uncle’s firm, specializing in the produce and feather trade. Zsigmond’s mother, Lujza Sváb, was a member of a distinguished entrepreneurial and landowning family.

From 1854, Kohner studied at the Commercial Academy of Leipzig. Upon completing his studies in 1858, he returned to Pest, worked for his uncle, and after his father’s death in 1860 joined the business as a partner. In 1875, he married Lujza Schossberger (1843–1879), the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Budapest. In 1872, Kohner left his uncle’s company and founded his own firm, initially specializing mostly in the wool trade but later expanding its profile to become a commercial, agrarian, and industrial undertaking. He also owned one of Hungary’s major private banks; in 1874 it was merged into the Austro-Hungarian Bank.

From 1876 until 1894, Kohner was a member of the stock exchange council. He also served on the board of directors of the Pest-Lipótváros Savings Bank and was a váltóbíráló (judge at the commercial court, dealing with bills of exchange) at the Pest Hungarian Commerce Bank. At the same time, he was on the board of the First Hungarian Worsted Spinnery and was president of the Erzsébet Steam Mill; from 1879, he followed the same pattern to become president of the Pest Hungarian Commerce Bank. With his brothers Károly and Ágoston, as well as members of the Brüll and Deutsch families, Kohner founded and managed the Nagysurány Sugar Factory. In addition, he was director of the Industrial Bank and was one of the highest taxpaying landowners in Szolnok County. A committee member of the Pester Lloyd Society (the main merchants’ organization) from the early 1870s, he then became its director in 1883, its president in 1893 (after the death of Mór Wahrmann), and finally its honorary president. At millennial festivities in 1896, Kohner was awarded the Middle Cross of the Order of Franz Joseph for his role in developing the country’s commerce, industry, and economy. In 1903, he received the title of Hungarian Royal Councillor.

Kohner played a leading role in Hungary’s Jewish communal life. After Wahrmann’s death, he was unanimously elected president of the Pest Israelite Community in January 1893. He held this position until March 1906, when he retired due to heart disease. He also served on the board of directors of the Hungarian National Rabbinical Seminary. It was during his tenure as head of the community that the last phase of the battle over church–state relations took place, culminating in the legal “reception” of the Jewish religion in Hungary. Under Kohner’s leadership, after a long period of struggle, Hungarian became the sole official language of administration and service at the Pest Jewish Community.

Kohner founded and maintained several Jewish communal institutions in Budapest, including a modern home for the elderly (1893), an elementary and boys’ higher elementary school (1896), the Bródy Adél Children’s Hospital (1897), the Boys’ Orphanage (1900), and the Fraternal Love Society (Ahavat Re‘im), which supplied kosher food for Jewish patients in hospitals (1901). He received a plot from the municipality to build a large synagogue in Lipótváros (which ultimately was not accomplished). The Hungarian Literary Society (IMIT; 1894) and the Hungarian National Israelite Public Funds (1896) were both founded during Kohner’s term as community president. The first monumental suburban prayer house of the Pest Israelite Community, the Aréna Street Temple, was built in 1906, the year of his retirement. His converted son, Vilmos Kohner (1877–1943), received the title of baron with the particle szászbereki in July 1912.

Suggested Reading

[Miksa Szabolcsi], “Kohner Zsigmond, 1840–1908,” Egyenlőség 27.1 (5 January 1908): 3–4.



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó