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Wahrmann, Mór

(Moritz; 1831–1892), merchant banker, communal leader, and member of parliament. The son of a Jewish trader, and grandson of Yisra’el Wahrmann, the first rabbi of Pest, Mór Wahrmann became one of that city’s most successful merchant bankers during the Gründerzeit, the great economic boom of the 1860s. He also played an important role in Jewish communal affairs and served as the first professing Jew in Hungary’s parliament.

Wahrmann was elected to be a vice president of the Jewish Congress of 1868, where he proved a fierce opponent of the Orthodox, and later, in 1883, became head of the Neolog Jewish Community of Pest. (The renowned orientalist Ignác Goldziher, who served as secretary of the community, deeply resented the crass manner in which “this Galitsianer,” as he dubbed Wahrmann, lorded over him.) By that time, Wahrmann had served in the house of representatives for 14 years and was widely seen as the symbol of Hungarian Neolog Jewry. He was elected in 1869 by the district of Lipótváros—the “city” of the Hungarian capital—to embody two principles: the interests of the merchant class and the implementation of Jewish emancipation, which had been granted in 1867. He remained a member of the legislature until his death.

Wahrmann was one of the foremost financial experts in parliament, a member and—from 1889—chair of the standing committee on finance and budget. By the end of the 1870s, his position had strengthened and he became involved with committees dealing with more political issues. There were rumors that he was slated for the post of finance minister. The date of his will, 9 June 1882, in which he characterized himself as an MP and landowner, was the day he delivered a parliamentary speech in the debate concerning Jewish immigration in the wake of pogroms in Russia. His speech led to a sensational duel (hence the preparation of his will) with the leading antisemitic member of parliament of his time, Győző Istóczy.

Wahrmann held several other positions in commercial life: he was a member of the Stock Exchange Council, the Chamber of Commerce (at the end of his life he was its chair), and the board of the Budapest Commercial Academy. He served as well in national institutions of arts and humanities (on the board of trustees of the Hungarian National Society of Fine Arts; on the governing body of the Academy of Music; and as a founder of the Hungarian Historical Association). His most important nongovernmental position was probably his membership in the leading body of the Pester Lloyd Society (from 1863); he became chair of the society in 1877 and retained that office until his death.

In his will, Wahrmann established a significant fund for the Hungarian Academy of Sciences bearing his name. He was a renowned wit and a favorite subject of caricatures in the satirical journal Borsszem Janko, appearing as the shrewd “Börzeviczy.” A purported portrait of Wahrmann by the Galician artist Maurycy Gottlieb bears scant resemblance to him.

Suggested Reading

Tibor Frank, ed., Felekezeti hűség és hazaszeretet (Budapest, 2006); Károly Vörös, “Mór Wahrmann: A Jewish Banker in Hungarian Politics in the Era of the Dual Monarchy,” in Jews in the Hungarian Economy, 1760–1945, ed. Michael K. Silber, pp. 187–195 (Jerusalem, 1992).