A conservative lord: Móric Kornfeld

The grandson of a Jewish distiller from Bohemia, a Hungarian Catholic baron, a conservative aristocrat engaged in farming and husbandry, an owner of the most important arms producing company of Hungary and a financer of a plot against Hitler. All these is one person: Móric Kornfeld.


Móric Kornfeld

Móric Kornfeld


Móricz, the third son of Zsigmond Kornfeld was born in 1882. He was a talented professional, yet, somewhat of a lower caliber than his father. Just as Zsigmond, he also became an influential economic and political figure of the time. This period however, the interwar years, was substantially different from the time of Kornfeld Sr.: this was a time of anti-Liberalism and antisemitism, an era that later climaxed in the Holocaust. The social network of Kornfeld, who converted to Christianity, included figures that played a rather inglorious role in this process, Béla Imrédy or Pál Teleki just to name a few. Despite this social network, Kornfeld was not an antisemite as his contemporary and archrival, Lajos Hatvany often call him.   

Industry, agriculture, charity
He studied in Budapest and Leipzig and obtained a doctorate in law in Budapest. He became the CEO of a major firm 1905. In the summer of 1913 he married Marianne, the daughter of industrialist Manfréd Weiss. By the marriage, two of the financial-industrial giants of the time were merged into one. Yet, the family history preserved a story of romantic love, at least on Kornfeld’s behalf. Móric was given a high position in the empire. Following Manfréd Weiss’ death however, the management of the company was taken over by Ferenc Chorin Jr., a young man of exceptional talents who married Weiss’ other daughter.
Móric Kornfeld had different ambitions. Despite the fact that he was a member of the Board of the National Association of Industrialists, as a Christian landowner he was more interested in agriculture and the farming industry. He turned his Iregszemcse estate in Tolna county into a demonstration farm. His manor, just like that of the Hatvany-Deutsch family, became a cultural and informally, a political center. Members of the conservative, right-wing social elite of the interwar period were frequent visitors at the Kornfelds’. He also funded the journal Magyar Szemle, the main medium of this group and the Magyar Szemle Társaság, the society organized around the periodical. He made generous contributions to cultural and educational causes. During the fall of 1918 he covered the medical and other expenses of Endre Ady, the famous but gravely ill poet. He also contributed to the purchase price of the later legendary manor for poet Mihály Babits in Esztergom. In 1925 he put down the funds worth Pengő 200 million for a foundation at the Hungarian Academy of Science.
He made substantial contributions to the University of Pécs Medical School. He provided support to young professionals who, following their studies, would either pursue medical research or establish general practice in small and remote villages to alleviate the lack of trained medical professionals in poverty stricken regions.

Anti-Jewish Laws, Holocaust
The first anti-Jewish laws passed in 1938 shocked the convert Hungarian aristocrat, member of the Upper House of the Parliament.  In his father’s manner, he attempted to alleviate the situation by energetic moves. He established the Holy Cross Association an organization for Jews of Catholic faith, which saved hundreds of Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Together with Ferenc Chorin, his brother-in-law he provided funding for Magyar Nemzet, an anti-Nazi newspaper. During the years that followed he became a member of the informal political group attempting to detach Hungary from Hitler’s alliance and conclude a peace treaty with the Anglo-American powers.
Not unsurprisingly, the Gestapo arrested both him and Chorin following the German occupation of Hungary in 1944. He was allowed to leave the country with his family in return for all their possessions, which they had to leave behind, under an “agreement” concluded between the industrialist families and the SS.  He first went to live in Portugal. Later he settled in the US when it became clear that Hungary would be under Soviet control and he would not be allowed to return to his home country. He died in the US in 1967.