The Rothschild Family

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk





     The name Rothschild is commonly associated with an exceptionally wealthy Jewish banking family which had its origin in the city of Frankfurt a.M. (am Main).  The Main is a river in western Germany.  There are two cities in Germany called Frankfurt,  referring to the fording of a river by a Germanic tribe called “the Franks.”   The other, Frankfurt a.O., is at the Oder river in the eastern part of Germany. In German, France is called Frankreich, meaning he empire of the Franks.

     As late as the eighteenth century, many Europeans had no last names or family names. Instead, people were called “son or daughter of,”  such as Benson, Mendelssohn, Nielson. The famous Norwegian author Sigrid Undset wrote a trilogy of novels called  Kristin Lavransdatter, i.e. the daughter of Lavran, while among Jews men were called ben or son of x., etc.

     Then, in the middle of the eighteenth century, people began to acquire names related to their occupation, such as Baker or Shoemaker, or of places such as Frankfurt or Hamburg, as in Berliner. Finally, there were those who gained the names of signs that had been posted on houses so as to distinguish them from other houses. One of these was a house located in the “Judengasse” or Jew Alley in Frankfurt a.M., which displayed a red sign on the outside of the house. In German,  Rothschild. Rot and Schild mean the red sign. The English translation of this name separated the syllable “child.” This leads to the impression that the name has something to do with children. The syllable should be spelled Roth-schild.

     It was in a house with a red sign that Meyer Anschel, thereafter called “Rothschild,” founded a business that became the foundation of the richest banking establishment on earth.  Born in the Jewish ghetto in 1744, Meyer Rothschild lived to 1812, the year in which Napoleon invaded Russia.

     Meyer Anschel had five sons whom he sent to five European cities to conduct business.  Meyer’s business was banking. These cities were Naples (Napoli) in Italy, London, England, Vienna (Wien), Austria, Paris, France and Zürich in Switzerland (Schweiz).

     The Rothschilds kept their money in the family and therefore married first or second generation cousins. until, by the end of the 19th century, they began to marry into other financial dynasties.

     During Britain's war against Napoleon, the Rothschilds financed most of the British war effort and thereafter profited enormously from the sale of British bonds. Thereafter, the Rothchilds also made vast profits from lending money to the Prussian government.

     Because of their wealth, the emperor of Austria “elevated” four of the Rothschild brothers to the title of “Freiherr,” which may be translated as “baron,” although it literally means “free gentleman.” Seeking to aggrandize themselves further, the Rothschilds began to call themselves “de” or “von.”  The English Nathan Rothschild was given the title of Baron in 1885.

    The Rothschilds continued to make money in the nineteenth century by financing the Suez Canal, establishing Alliance Assurance in London, the northern railroad in France, and numerous other business ventures, including the creation of the colony of Rhodesia by Cecil Rhodes.

     After accumulating such huge amounts of money, the family sought to gain prestige by their art collection. This is common among wealthy families who like to be known as “collectors,” although it appears ridiculous to seek merit in collecting the achievements of others, i.e. the painters. The family also built or owned forty-one palaces.

     Among all the Rothschilds, only Edmond Rothschild made an effort to help the Jewish people by promoting the liberation of Israel. The others continued in various businesses, including French wine production. In fact, a recent television broadcast exhibited Guy de Rothschild and his French vineyards, together with an effort to make wine production somehow important.

     Although the English Walther Rothschild was instrumental in prodding the British government to issue the so-called “Balfour Declaration” in favor of establishing a Jewish homeland in Eretz Ysrael, the so-called “Lord” Victor Rothschild actually opposed granting asylum to Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Other members of the family helped the Jewish people substantially. During the nineteenth century, the family contributed half a million francs a year to Jewish charities and helped considerably in the establishment of Rishon LeZion, the earliest Jewish settlement in Turkish occupied Israel. In  addition, the Rothschilds acquired 124,000 acres of land in Israel.

     To this day (2010), the Rothschilds are active in many business ventures across the globe.

     Because of their wealth and prominence a number of films have been made concerning them, including The House of Rothschild  and a Broadway musical by the same name.

     Although the Rothschilds undoubtedly made some contributions to Jewish survival, they are hardly an example of Jewish achievements. Their accidental possession of much money is no more a virtue than the accidental condition of extreme poverty. Money is no achievement. A real Jewish achiever, by contrast, is Ariel Sharon, the man who led the Israeli army across the Suez Canal in October 1973 after a career in the Israeli military of truly heroic proportions.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Criminal Justice System (2010).

Home ] Up ]