Biography of Alfred Lansburgh

1872–1907 

James Alfred Neander Lansburgh was born in London on March 27, 1872 and was of Jewish origin. Alfred’s father was W. Neander Lansburgh and his mother was Jenny Lansburgh, nee Jacobsohn. The family moved from London to Berlin between 1872 and 1875. The father traded in wine and continued to live part of the time in London. He died on November 7, 1875, which meant that Alfred was half-orphan from the age of three.

Alfred attended the French Gymnasium, a school popular among diplomats and businesspersons, where almost half of the students at that time were of Jewish origin. However, Alfred did not graduate from the school, and, as assumed by his son, the later journalistic and scientific activities of the “prevented professor“ were compensation for this. 

When Jenny Lansburgh died in 1886, Alfred became an orphan at the age of 14 and was taken in by relatives. In 1907, he married Frida Neuberg, who was born in Sarstedt-Hannover, on January 31, 1880. Her father ran the Max Neuberg & Co Mechanische Weberei in Hannover-Linden employing four hundred weavers. Subsequently, on February 2, 1908, the first daughter, Gerda, was born, followed by the son, Werner Neander on June 29, 1912. Together with the baptism of their children, Alfred and Frida converted to Christianity. Werner characterized Alfred as a “maverick“ who remained a loner, outsider and lateral thinker all his life. 

Alfred was an employee of Berliner Handels-Gesellschaft (BHG), which, at the time, was headed by Carl Fürstenberg. Lansburgh worked in the issuing department around 1895. During this phase, he read many economic texts in his spare time and continued his auto didactic education. 

He remained with BHG until 1903, and during that year transferred to “Ratgeber auf dem Kapitalmarkt“ (advisor at the capital market) as an editor. The newspaper was founded in early 1903 by the banker Siegmund Friedberg. The journal covered all financial and stock market topics of importance to an investor. The editorial office was located in the same building as Friedberg`s bank.

This arrangement led to massive criticism regarding the independence of the newspaper. Eugen Schmalenbach, too, saw the problem since the newspaper had to be subsidized by sales of securities by the Friedberg Bank. But: “On the whole, the ‚Ratgeber’ is an excellent publication (…). Instead of ignoring it we should emphatically endorse it.“ 

During his role as banker, Lansburgh was elected at the General Meeting of the Lederfabrik Aachen Actien-Gesellschaft on August 28, 1904, together with Friedberg, to an audit commission, as a result of voting by “Banquier Friedberg (Ratgeber auf dem Kapitalmarkt).” At the 1905 General Meeting, he gave a critical report as “auditor.” Hence, the separation of editorial office and bank can be seen to be rather doubtful.

In early February 1908, Friedberg was insolvent. On Saturday, February 8, he withdrew cash from the Deutsche Bank and fled to the United States via London. The damage amounted to 2.5 million marks, mainly to private investors who had entrusted their savings to Friedberg, who was also strongly advertising beyond the ”Ratgeber”. 

During the subsequent court proceedings it became known that “Friedberg had spent approximately 1,150,000 marks in cash on behalf of the ‘Ratgeber’ in the period from February 1903 to September 1908, but had received only approximately 220,000 marks in advertisements and subscriptions, so he had sacrificed approximately 900,000 marks of “Ratgeber’s funds,” all at the expense of the savers and investors, who had been foolish enough to get involved with him.“ 

On February 11, 1908, in the “Ratgeber”, and a few days later in the second issue of ”Die Bank”, an open letter appeared from Lansburgh on the “Friedberg case.” Although Lansburgh had left the “Ratgeber” in the fall of 1907 to found his own publishing house, he was determined to defend his and his colleagues’ work. Lansburgh admitted that there were conflicts of interest: “To assume otherwise would be naive.“ In the ”Ratgeber”, “the appearance (…) had convinced me (…) that the theoretically unthinkable–separation of the business interest from the content of the paper–was possible in practice.“

In the issue of April 25, 1908, it was announced that Alfred Lansburgh and his Bank-Verlag “have acquired the journal of ‘Der Ratgeber auf dem Kapitalmarkt-Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung’ and will continue it under the same name and with the participation of some of the best of his current and former employees in as little changed a manner as possible.“

However, the takeover was unsuccessful for Lansburgh in the long term. Advertising for subscribers continued to increase, and in 1912 the newspaper was restructured and reduced in size. 1914 the journal was sold to Hermann Zickert. 

1908–1934 

In 1907, Lansburgh had left the “Ratgeber” and used his wife’s dowry to found the Bank-Verlag publishing house. This was primarily to publish the journal, “Die Bank,” which appeared monthly from 1908 to 1929, and weekly from 1930. With the weekly publication the size of the journal and the number of employees increased. ”Die Bank’s” circulation was 2,500 copies in 1926. 

On April 7, 1924, Lansburgh started a liberal-conservative Monday newspaper under the title of “Die Chronik,” at great financial expense. Editors for politics, economics, culture, and sports were hired. However, we can assume that there was a high percentage of articles written by Lansburgh. The newspaper had an extensive business section and a clearly liberal positioning. There were repeated attacks against the labor movement and national tones. 

The circulation was 35,000 copies , but it was an obvious failure, and so it had to be stopped after only six issues on May 12, 1924. Perhaps it was also due to the style, which was not suitable for a newspaper since Lansburgh did not want to do without footnotes and Latin and Greek quotations. 

Of special interest is an article from April 22, 1924, on the front page, in which Lansburgh wrote, for once, not about banks and money, but about anti-Semitism.

The article describes “the Jew“ as a guest who paid for hospitality “with the blood of their sons“ during World War I. In the article, an uncultivated luxury consumption by Jews is denounced, and thus provokes envy. ”Thus the Jew himself helped raise the swastika against himself.“

Any radical political position is rejected: “The völkisch movement is a radical political phenomenon just like communism. Radicalism, however, is a symptom of illness in the body of the nation, and as a result, the German people are really sick.“ The reasons given are the confusion that was present from 1914 onward, especially as a result of inflation and the occupation of the Ruhr. “The attempt to realize this idea of the völkisch would only lead the whole German nation into a new misfortune.“

His son Werner, too, reports Alfred’s concern that the Jews who “make themselves mousy“ (meaning the all too visible, especially prominent, rich or communist Jews) would make an ideal scapegoat for the bitterness and aggressiveness. 

Alfred Lansburgh identifies himself with this description. He saw himself as an outsider who had to fight for his position in society. He also saw himself politically as a democratic liberal.

In addition to ”Die Bank’s” success, recognition grew at other levels as well. For example, Lansburgh became a close interlocutor with the President of the Reichsbank, Hans Luther. Lansburgh wrote only positive things about Luther at ”Die Bank” and even called him “Hercules-Luther.” The latter wrote a foreword for the 25th anniversary of ”Die Bank” , read in detail Lansburgh’s statements and articles during his time as Reichsbank President, and invited him to the 1931 meeting of the Friedrich List-Gesellschaft. 

For the Friedrich List-Gesellschaft conference, held in September 1931 on the possibilities and consequences of credit expansion, the “Lautenbach Plan” was an initiative, which came from Hans Luther, who was on the board of the society. Luther saw the discussion on credit expansion in the prevailing crisis as an obligation, which needed to be undertaken by a Reichsbank president, but was critical of the risks involved with this policy. 

All invitations went out with only four days’ notice, but there was only one cancellation. Although Lansburgh was not a member of the society, he received an invitation, and perhaps Luther wanted to have him support his skeptical position. 

Lansburgh was then critical in the debate: “Why is this called a crisis? Why is this time of rest, as I want to call it, necessarily called a crisis? Why is it bad if the businessperson works four hours a day instead of eight hours or closes his store two days a week?“ The “time of rest“ is only impossible because companies and households have insufficient reserves and depend on credit. “But these economies with credit, on which not only our German economy, but also foreign economies, are based, cause the time of rest to be deemed a time of crisis.“ 

Lansburgh, therefore, cautiously argues in favor of bridging loans to maintain employment: “It is more important that those enterprises that can keep themselves afloat in times of need, perhaps healthy enterprises that would go under if this were strictly executed, should be kept afloat and be able to continue to employ their workers, than bringing them to the brink of ruin.“ 

His approval of the Lautenbach Plan is ultimately only politically justified: “We live in a state governed by parliament, so we must consider the mass psychosis, which is now such that if one expects a reduction in wages, that the people are happy to hear some activity, some plan.“ For him, expansionary economic policy is only a concession to the voters, not an ideal economic solution.

Alfred Lansburgh supported the policies of Luther and Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning. Werner Lansburgh later speculated on his father’s self-reproaches because his “orthodox economic ideas, in the spirit of the Manchester School,” may have involuntarily contributed to the National Socialism’s success in the crisis. 

1935–1943 

Ludwig Mellinger, born in 1900, joined ”Die Bank” in 1930 and became its editor the year after. Due to the Schriftleitergesetz (Law on Editors) of October 4, 1933, according to which a chief editor had to be “Aryan“ (§6), Lansburgh could no longer be the editor and Mellinger became managing director of the Bank-Verlag and chief editor of ”Die Bank” in June 1934.

The articles of association for the foundation of the “Bank-Verlag GmbH” as a continuation of the “Bank-Verlag Alfred Lansburgh“ were concluded on June 8, 1934 in the offices of the Centralverband der Deutschen Bank- und Bankiersgewerbes in Berlin. The purchase price was paid by a “bank consortium for the safeguarding of the journal ‘Die Bank’“ and the GmbH was not burdened with debts because of the price. 95% was held by Ludwig Mellinger, and 5% by Hans Koch. 

Walter Hofmann wrote the following to Mellinger in 1960: “It was soon after the beginning of the era of the ‘1000-Year Reich’ that you, in a very serious conversation (I was one of the closest collaborators of the then President of the German banking industry, Otto Christian Fischer) told me your great concern about the future of the journal you were editing, which you had to consider endangered because of the threat to the Jewish publisher and editor, Alfred Lansburgh. Thanks to the initiative of Otto Christian Fischer, a way was found at that time which did equal justice to your human obligations to Alfred Lansburgh and the professional interests in the preservation of the journal, and which enabled the transfer of the editorial function into your hands.” Fischer was the most important bank functionary in the “Third Reich“ and one of the few directors of banks that had publicly supported the NSDAP before 1933. 

Melllinger requested proximity to Fischer, as follows: even before 1934, he repeatedly mentioned him positively in essays, and from 1934 he regularly offered him space at ”Die Bank.” On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the publishing house in December 1937, Fischer wrote the introductory congratulations and wished the journal “to be a widely respected representative for the most valuable forces in the development of the National Socialist economy.“ 

The National Socialists watched ”Die Bank” and, even after the takeover by Mellinger, criticized that Lansburgh could continue to advocate his “orthodox gold currency theory.” They passed comment that “from the intellectual narrow-mindedness of a blood-foreign writer and theorist who does not understand the world of today, he demands that the facts be subordinated to his theories.“ ”Die Bank”, they wrote, could still be enjoyed “only with great caution. After all, it is not in the spirit of the Law on Editors that a discharged editor should continue to be active as the main writer of the same journal.“ Therefore, after the “Aryanization“ of Lansburgh in 1934, only six essays and five “Briefe“ were published, and in 1935, only two essays.

In accordance with the order of the Reich Press Chamber of April 5, 1936, the “Bank-Verlag GmbH“ was converted into the partnership “Bank-Verlag Dr. Ludwig Mellinger“ by a shareholder resolution on March 31, 1937. Under this arrangement, Mellinger bought the 5% GmbH shares from Hans Koch for 1,000 marks. The conversion and sale of the 5% share, in 1937, was carried out by the notaries Karl Bennecke and Karl Meidinger, who had run a joint law firm with Hans Koch. 

From the connections mentioned, we can assume that Fischer wanted to maintain the journal and therefore organized the financing of the “Aryanization“ of the publishing house by Ludwig Mellinger with the banks of the Centralverband. Lansburgh received the purchase price of 49,000 marks, and, through a straw man, held a 5% share in the publishing house until 1937.

In 1950, the widow, Frida Lansburgh, initiated a compensation procedure with the aim of obtaining “compensation for the loss in the forced sale of the Bank-Verlag Berlin (…), allegedly worth 175,000 RM, with proceeds of 25,000 RM.” She was informed that the publishing house no longer existed and that claims could only be made against Ludwig Mellinger personally. Thereupon Frida decided that she did not want to make a claim against Ludwig Mellinger and subsequently withdrew the claim. 

The company value of the publishing house, in the summer of 1934, can only be estimated. Unfortunately, there is only one balance sheet, from 31.12.1936. The turnover, in 1936, was 142,047 marks and the net profit was 15,156 marks. The profit carried forward from 1934 and 1935 was 29,680 marks, therefore the development could be considered relatively stable. Consequently a valuation of 175,000 marks is not unrealistic.

After Lansburgh had been banned from writing in 1935, he could only earn money by selling articles to foreign newspapers. Alfred considered himself too old to learn a new language in which to write, and there was not enough money for a pensioner’s life abroad. Alfred Lansburgh committed suicide on September 11, 1937.