Tag Archives: Legion of Honour

Jews of the Week: Nathan Rothschild and Jacob de 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 three of five. Click here for part one and here for part two.

Jacob James de Rothschild

The youngest of Mayer Rothschild’s sons was Jacob “James” Rothschild (1792-1868). He moved to Paris in 1811 and opened a new branch of the family bank in 1817. Jacob play a central role in rebuilding post-Napoleonic War France, and financing the empire’s industrial revolution. He financed some of France’s first railroads and factories, imported tea and other goods, and invested in mining and wine-making. He would become the richest man in the world, and his fortune alone (not including the rest of the family) is estimated to have been over $300 billion in today’s dollars. Jacob, too, was brought into the nobility (becoming “de Rothschild”, while his brothers in the Holy Roman Empire were “von Rothschild”). He served as an adviser to French kings, and was awarded the French Legion of Honour. Jacob also served as an ambassador to Austria. He was a noted philanthropist and arts patron, funding greats like Chopin, Rossini, and de Balzac. He and his wife were French icons, and symbols of culture and sophistication. (When King Louis XVIII refused to host Jacob’s wife because she was Jewish, Jacob stopped doing business with him.) The couple was admired by the French people, and Jacob’s funeral drew countless thousands.

Nathan Rothschild

By far the most famous of the Rothschild sons was Nathan Rothschild (1777-1836). He moved to Manchester in 1798 to start a textiles business before opening a branch of the family bank in London in 1805. In 1809, he switched his focus to dealing gold, and in 1811 won a contract to take care of British payments to their soldiers fighting Napoleon. Nathan won this contract because, unlike other bankers, careful coordination with his brothers allowed him to transport gold safely across war-torn Europe. By 1825, Nathan’s bank was so wealthy and successful that he single-handedly saved the Bank of England from a serious crisis. Nathan, too, was a philanthropist, as well as a social justice advocate, playing a key role in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. At the time of his death (from an infection), he was the wealthiest man in the world. Nathan is infamous because of a myth that he made much of his fortune by speculating on the London stock exchange one day. Supposedly, he knew that the British had won the Battle of Waterloo before everyone else, and created a false panic by selling all his bonds as if Britain had lost. This led everyone else to sell their bonds, too, before Nathan quickly bought them all for very cheap right before news of Britain’s victory came and bond prices soared. Researchers have traced this legend to an anti-Semitic French pamphlet published ten years after Nathan passed away. It has no historical basis, nor does it make any sense according to both financial and historical experts. Accurate estimates suggest that if Nathan made any money at all from knowing about the Battle of Waterloo, it could not have been more than a million pounds. Nonetheless, the legend persists and is popular among conspiracy theorists. (Nathan did make a fortune in bonds some years after the war.) Interestingly, Nathan also played a critical role in Brazil’s independence from Portugal. His son Lionel, whose life we shall explore next week, continued to run the London branch, and it would go on to become the most successful of them all. Click here to go to Part Four.

Words of the Week

It requires a great deal of boldness and a great deal of caution to make a great fortune; and when you have got it, it requires ten times as much wit to keep it.
– Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild

Jew of the Week: Simone Veil

President of Europe

Simone Annie Liline Jacob (1927-2017) was born and raised in Nice, France. Just after finishing high school, her entire family was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Jacob’s mother, father, and brother perished in the Holocaust; two sisters survived. After being liberated from the camps, Jacob settled in Paris and studied law and politics. There, she met her soon-to-be husband Antoine Veil, with whom she would be married for 66 years. In 1956, she became a magistrate, and worked for the French Ministry of Justice, heading its penitentiary system. She was hailed for her role in dramatically improving prison conditions, and was known to regularly visit prisons on her days off. By 1964, Veil had become France’s Director of Civil Affairs. She worked tirelessly for women’s rights, and succeeded in finally getting French women full equality in legal matters. In 1970, Veil took over as secretary general of the Supreme Magistracy, then became Minister of Health in 1974, making her the first female minister in French history. Among her most famous laws was opening access to contraceptives, legalizing abortion (still known as “Veil’s Law”, which she intended only as a “last resort, for desperate situations”), and banning smoking in public areas. She also introduced maternity benefits, improved hospital conditions, enhanced the medical school curriculum, and worked to stop the illegal harvesting of organs from the deceased. Meanwhile, Veil worked for the European Economic Community, believing that a unified Europe was the only way to prevent another devastating war. When the EEC was reformed as the European Union, she was elected to its parliament, and shortly after, as its first president. She would serve on the European Parliament until 1993, in its Environment, Health, and Political Affairs Committees. Veil then returned to the French government, serving as Minister of State and Minister of Health until 1995. She continued her work in France and Europe until her last days, and faced a great deal of anti-Semitism throughout, including death threats and swastikas painted on her car and home. Not surprisingly, in recent years her greatest passion was Holocaust education, and she was president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah. Among her many awards are the prestigious Charlemagne Prize, the Truman Award for Peace, the Legion of Honour, and the Order of the British Empire. In 2008, Veil became one of the forty “immortal” members of the illustrious French Academy. She also held 18 honourary degrees, including one from Yale and another from Yeshiva University. Sadly, Simone Veil passed away earlier this year, just shy of her 90th birthday. She was laid to rest with full military honours in the Pantheon, Paris’ famous mausoleum, alongside just 71 of France’s most cherished figures, including Voltaire and Rousseau. She remains among the most revered women in French history.

Words of the Week

I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?
– Voltaire