The Rothschilds banking dynasty: probably one of history’s wealthiest families, but also the single most prolific source of conspiracy theories. The Rothschilds’ huge and veiled riches has survived for decades, making it difficult to distinguish between reality and fiction.
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Story of Jews in Europe
The story takes place in Medieval Europe. By the 10th century, Christianity had conquered the vast majority of Europe. Political authority was generally linked to religion, making being non-Christian extremely unfavourable. The Jews were probably the most vulnerable to these situations. The Jews were dispersed throughout the country since they had no state of origin to fall back on. Europe, with many settling in the Holy Roman Empire. This huge multi-ethnic realm included modern-day Germany, and it, like the rest of Europe, was not pleased to harbour Jews.
In many cities, Jews were compelled to reside in specific neighbourhoods known as ghettos, and Frankfurt was no exception. It limited all Jews in the city to a single small lane outside the city walls beginning in 1462. That street became known as the Judengasse, or Jewish Alley, because of its densely packed dwellings. Buildings were differentiated by signs rather than numbers back then. One structure may be the “ship” home, for example, while another could be the “golden stone” house.
One of the homes had a red shield, or Rothschild in German, and the family that lived there had done so since at least 1528. The Rothschilds, like most Jewish families at the period, were active in money. Because Christianity prevented anybody from lending money with interest in Mediaeval Europe, this otherwise prosperous enterprise fell into the hands of the Jews. Experience with money lending, and hence anything related to finance, was passed down through generations, and the Rothschilds were no exception. Mayer Rothschild was the finest of them all when it came to exchanging currency and dealing collectable coins.
Mayer Rothschields association with European Government
In 1763, Mayer Rothschilds took over the family company, and his vast coin collection drew the attention of the Holy Roman Empire’s wealthiest aristocracy. Crown Prince Wilhelm of Hesse was among them. The prince met Mayer in 1769 and rapidly came to trust him with all financial concerns, not only rare coins. When Wilhelm IX of Hesse took power in 1785, he appointed Mayer as his hofjude or “Court Jew” to administer his money.
Remember, this was a regular arrangement in Central Europe: the nobility would outsource their finances to Jews in exchange for security, money, and sometimes even true noble titles. Mayer was in charge of collecting taxes on Wilhelm’s territories and had to keep his money safe, which proved impossible in 1806. That was the year Napoleon conquered Hesse, forcing Wilhelm into exile and jeopardising his riches. But Mayer was a wise man who was prepared for Napoleon.
In 1798, he sent one of his five sons, Nathan Rothschild, to London to start a currency company identical to his father’s. With this foundation in place, Mayer had little issue transporting Wilhelm’s riches to London, where he lent it to the British Crown. In essence, Wilhelm was financing the British to fight Napoleon in order to recover his sovereignty. Now, Mayer died in 1812, leaving Wilhelm’s money and the Rothschild heritage in the hands of Nathan. He stayed in London while his elder brother took over the original Frankfurt operation. Meanwhile, the three remaining brothers dispersed around Europe, establishing branches in major European towns.
Despite their remoteness, the brothers pursued a cohesive strategy: they lent their money to the nobility and municipal administrations. For example, the brother in France became a banker to Leopold I of Belgium, while the brother in Vienna lent money to the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II. In 1818, he bestowed the noble title of baron on all five brothers, thereby raising the Rothschilds to nobility.
Throughout the next decades, whenever a European government fell and was changed, it was the Rothschilds who were first in line to give loans. That’s exactly what happened following the French Revolution of 1830 or the demise of the Holy Roman Empire. The loaning company was enormously successful: the Paris branch, for example, went from the equivalent of $5 million in 1820 to more than $500 million in 1850.
In essence, the five Rothschilds families offered the same service that the International Monetary Fund does today: they stabilised major currencies and made loans to governments, all while making a lot of money. Of course, in addition to their government loans, the five branches made numerous private investments during the nineteenth century. They obtained one of France’s most important wine properties in 1868.
The Huge Investments of Rothschilds
In 1875, The Rothschilds purchased a minority ownership in the Suez Canal from Egypt, and in 1883, they supported the drilling of the first big oil well in the old world, threatening the Rockefeller monopoly in America. They also became majority shareholders in De Beers, the diamond monopoly, and Rio Tinto, one of the world’s biggest mining firms. During the twentieth century, however, the newer generations of the five Rothschild families made less and fewer successful movements. The branch in Naples went extinct in 1900 when the only male heir died without children, passing his inheritance to the branch in Paris.
The German branch had an odd fate: the two Rothschild heirs had 11 females and not a single son, dividing the riches and eroding its authority. The Rothschild branch in Austria was flourishing, until, of course, Hitler came to power. When Nazi Germany invaded Austria in 1938, the Rothschilds were forced to sell their bank for a fraction of its real value. Most of them left with whatever liquid assets they could muster, but at least one was apprehended on his way out, and he was only released after paying the highest ransom in history, $21 million.
The ransom effectively bankrupted the Rothschilds of Austria, while the Nazis took all of their palaces, enterprises, and art. The same event occurred to the Paris branch a few years later. In fact, the collections were so fine that Hitler and Hermann Goering personally went there to inspect them and select what they preferred. The Nazis took a total of 5003 pieces from the Rothschild collections, according to comprehensive inventories, and the vast majority of them were never recovered.
The Hidden wealth of Rothschilds
The French Rothschilds had considerable success recovering their companies after the war, but their bank was nationalized by the French socialists in 1981. Only the English branch made it through the twentieth century unscathed. During the second part of the twentieth century, its patriarch was Sir Evelyn Rothschild, who is still Queen Elizabeth’s financial advisor today. He stepped down as patriarch in 2003, handing up the baton to David Rothschild, a member of the Paris branch who later combined both branches into a single corporation.
He kept the family’s money hidden by building a sophisticated network of shell companies that began in Switzerland and ended who knows where. But, at the end of the day, while the Rothschild banking family was once one of the wealthiest in the world, they are now a shell of their former selves. In reality, the first Rothschild appears on the Forbes list of billionaires at #822: Jeff Rothschild, a man who has nothing to do with the Rothschild banking dynasty.
He has no blood relation; he only shares the name, just as two individuals with the surname Goldman may or may not be connected. The first true Rothschild on this list appears at #1284, and his fortune is linked to an asset management firm that handles other people’s money. So, in the end, the once-powerful Rothschild family is nothing more than a blip on the world wealth radar. And that makes sense; according to statistics, 90% of rich families lose their money by the third generation. It’s difficult to be financially responsible when you’re born into affluence and have little regard for money.