Tag Archives: Austrian Jews

Jews of the Week: Amschel, Salomon, and Kalman von Rothschild

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 7th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the most famous (and sometimes infamous) Jewish family of all time: the Rothschilds. This is part two of five. Click here to see part one.

The eldest son of Mayer Rothschild was Amschel Rothschild (1773-1855). He continued his father’s business in Frankfurt, and was made a baron in 1817 (becoming “Von Rothschild”). He was the most religious of the brothers, and tremendously helped poor Eastern European Jews, who nicknamed him “the pious Rothschild”. Unfortunately, he died childless, so his Frankfurt branch was taken over by siblings and nephews. The branch was permanently shut down in 1901. Mayer’s second son was Salomon Rothschild (1774-1855), head of the Vienna branch. He played a huge role in Austria’s history, sparking its industrial revolution, igniting the Austrian economy, and financing massive public projects, including Austria’s first railway network. In honour of this, Emperor Francis made him a baron in 1822 (making him Salomon von Rothschild). Ironically, he was still not an Austrian citizen, which Jews were barred from! It was only twenty years later that he was officially made Austria’s first Jewish citizen, paving the way for equal rights for all Jews. Unfortunately, just a few years later, a wave of anti-Semitic riots broke out in Austria, with Rothschild being its main target. He had to hand over his bank, and fled to Paris. Many of the precious artworks that he collected he donated to the Louvre. The Vienna branch of the bank would ultimately be put to an end by the Nazis (having already suffered a devastating blow during the 1929 stock market crash). The Naples branch went under even earlier, during the Italian Reunification. It was founded by Kalman “Carl” Rothschild (1788-1855), the fourth son. He transformed his bank into the dominant financier in Italy, and was also made a baron. One of his clients was the Vatican Bank, and witnesses were shocked that Kalman never kissed the Pope’s feet, which everyone – even kings – had to do in those days when meeting the Pope. Kalman died in the same year as his oldest brothers, perhaps from grief after his wife and son tragically passed away as well. The remaining two sons, in London and Paris, would become the most influential Rothschilds by far, establishing institutions that continue to operate until this day. Their life and achievements will be explored next week. Click here to go to Part Three.

Words of the Week

The Rothschilds are the wonders of modern banking… we see the descendants of Judah, after a persecution of two thousand years, peering above kings, rising higher than emperors, and holding a whole continent in the hollow of their hands…
– Niles’ Weekly Register, Volume 49 (1836)

Rothschild Coat of Arms. Among the interesting symbols is a Star of David at the top left, and a hand holding five arrows, representing the five Rothschild sons, based on Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” At the centre of the logo is a red shield (for “Rothschild”) with an image of the “Judenhut”, a hat that Jews were forced to wear in Europe to distinguish them from others.

Jew of the Week: George Weidenfeld

The Lord Weidenfeld, Baron of Chelsea

George Weidenfeld (Credit: Getty Images)

George Weidenfeld (Credit: Getty Images)

Arthur George Weidenfeld (1919-2016) was born in Vienna. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Weidenfeld fled to London with the help of a Christian family. He started working for the BBC, and several years later became a political commentator and writer. In 1948, he co-founded a publishing company with Nigel Nicolson. Their most famous publication was Nabokov’s Lolita. By 1985, their company was large enough to acquire the American publisher Grove Press. In turn, they were bought out in 1991 by Orion Publishing. Weidenfeld continued to write throughout the years, in both English and German (all in all, he knew 7 languages). Meanwhile, he played a key role in both the Jewish community and in the world of philanthropy at large. Wishing to repay his debt to the Christian family that helped him escape the Nazis, Weidenfeld started a campaign to rescue 20,000 Christians victimized by the Syrian Civil War. The first flight of 150 Christian refugees landed in Poland last summer through the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, which also provided them with over a year’s worth of financial support. On the side, Weidenfeld served as a political adviser to many leaders, including former British prime minister Tony Blair, and was a frequent guest of Pope John Paul II. Back in 1949, he was Chief of Cabinet for Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann. In Israel, he chaired both Ben Gurion University and the Weizmann Institute. Weidenfeld was knighted in 1969, and later made Baron Weidenfeld of Chelsea, earning a seat on the House of Lords, where he often participated in debate. Sadly, Weidenfeld passed away last week, and was laid to rest in Jerusalem.

Words of the Week

Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician gives because we need them; and the proportions, the frequency, and weight of them, to what the case requires. Let us trust His skill and thank Him for the prescription.
– Isaac Newton