Banking developed in Poland in the late eighteenth century, when the first banks were founded by foreigners, mostly from Germany and France. One of the first such companies was a branch of the Berlin bank, S. M. Levy Heritiers, whose proxy was a German Jew named Samuel Fränkel. The bank played a large role in the development of Polish industry, particularly in the mineral extraction and textile sectors. No less important was the first Polish bank, directed by B. S. Jakubowicz (the son of Szmul Zbytkower), and then by his wife. After her death, L. Hirschendorf and A. Rawicz ran the firm, whose name changed to "A. Rawicz i Ska", which operated until 1905. It conducted banking, commission and shipping activities. In the 1840's, several Jewish-owned banks were established, involved primarily in loan activities. The largest of these were the banking houses of Z. S. Natanson, D. M. Szereszowski and A. Wertheim. L. Kronenberg was the leading Jewish banker of the nineteenth century. Kronenberg and M. Rosen founded a banking house in 1848. To a large extent, it was Kronenberg who financed early industry in the Kingdom of Poland, implementing the Warsaw positivists' agenda. His activities encompassed all areas of economic life, including industry, trade, communications and agriculture. Thanks to Kronenberg, the Credit Association of Warsaw (Towarzystwo Kredytowe m. Warszawy) was founded, as well as the Bank of Trade (Bank Handlowy). He helped establish a cooperative bank organized by J. Kirszrot.
The Epstein family, particularly Jozef and Mieczyslaw, also played an important role in the development of Polish industry. The lack of domestic capital meant that large-scale banking activities were rare in the Polish lands. Many more Jews were involved in running loan offices. In 1850, the Merchants' Union (Zgromadzenie Kupcow) registered over thirty. The following Warsaw firms were among the most prominent: S. Lesser, A. Moldauer, S. Konitz, G. Landau, S. Portner, S. Toeplitz and H. Wawelberg.

When in 1864 Jews were granted equal rights in the Kingdom of Poland, increasing numbers of Jews became the owners and shareholders of banks. In the second half of the nineteenth century, fifteen of the 26 private banks in Warsaw belonged to Jews, and three to individuals of Jewish descent; outside Warsaw, Jews ran 19 of 21 banking institutions. Among the best known was the S. Natanson and Sons Bank, founded in 1866 by H. Natanson, which existed until 1932; the J. G. Bloch firm (whose owner was a Protestant); and the H. Wawelberg bank, originally a loan office fuonded in 1840 that continued to exist until 1939. (In 1913, it became a joint stock company under the name Bank Zachodni [Western Bank].)

At the turn of the century, private banks became less significant. Capital began to be concentrated in joint stock companies, which at first were for the most part family-owned. Just before the First World War, there were 643 financial institutions of this kind in the Kingdom of Poland, twenty percent of whose (140) boards of directors were dominated by Jews. Other important joint-stock banks founded and run by Jews include Bank Angielsko-Polski (English-Polish Bank), Bank Handlowy (Bank of Trade) in Lodz, Bank Przemyslowo-Handlowy (Bank of Industry and Trade) in Łód�, Bank dla Handlu i Przemyslu (Bank for Trade and Industry) in Warsaw, Bank Kujawski (Bank of Kujawa) in Wloclawek, Bank Malopolski (Malopolska Bank), Miedzynarodowy Bank Handlowy (International Bank of Trade) in Katowice, Polski Akcyjny Bank Komercyjny (Polish Joint-Stock Commercial Bank), and Slaski Bank Eskontowy (Silesian Discount Bank) in Bielsk. Most of these were also active during the interwar period. In 1918-1939, private banks belonging to Jews still played a large role. The Warsaw firms of W. Landau, A. Goldfeder, and D. and H. Szereszowski, in operation since the nineteenth century, catered to both a Polish and Jewish clientele. These Warsaw banks, for example, served primarily Jewish clients--D. Maliniak, Solowiejczyk and Morgenstern, and M. Kroll. Jewish banks with long traditions also functioned in many other towns, such as L. Mamroth in Kalisz, M. Goldhar in Kielce, D. Woldenberg in Plock, P. J. Tykociner and W. Lubliner and S. Goldkraut in Lodz.

The economic crisis of 1929-1933 had tragic consequences for most banks. At that time, the textile market collapsed, and in 1932, many of the private banks, even those that had been in existence for many years, had to close their doors. The few that did survive limited their activities to loans. (G.Z./CM)

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