How influential the Rothschilds are throughout history
Why Rothschild is still a catchy phrase today
The Rothschilds have long since disappeared from Vienna and yet became a political issue: On Thursday, the family's heirs and the magistrate in court over who should have control of a Rothschild foundation - the Rosenhügel hospital. Roman Sandgruber doesn’t miss the trial visit. The renowned historian has written a work on the history of the dynasty based on previously unknown sources, which became the science book of the year in 2019.
DEFAULT: A debate is raging about the legacy of the Rothschilds in Vienna, culminating in mutual accusations of greed and anti-Semitism. Why is this name still so electrifying today?
Sandgruber: In the entire history of mankind there has probably never been a family association that was richer in relation to the level of the respective time. In Austria, the Rothschilds were by far the wealthiest dynasty for over 150 years - they had ten times more wealth than the second richest family of the Habsburg monarchy. Many myths, conspiracy theories and clichés arose from this, some of which have survived in people's minds to this day. Whoever wanted to rant about capitalism, oppression, monopolies and Freemasons at the height of the house, at the end of the 19th century, only had to say one name: Rothschild. All of this, of course, was fueled by the anti-Semitism widespread in all camps.
DEFAULT: In fact, almost 60 percent of the 1,000 highest-income Viennese citizens were Jews at the time. How come
Sandgruber: In the 19th century, Jews were denied access to the highly respected, traditional professions, they were not allowed to practice a trade or become civil servants - a Jew as a judge was unthinkable. So they tried their hand at the liberal professions, in the money economy, in industry: all branches to which the future ultimately belonged. Because Jews were often forced to migrate, they had an international network and spoke more modern languages, while Catholic academics knew Greek and Latin. In addition, minorities often strive to obtain evidence of success.
DEFAULT: How did the Rothschilds get so particularly rich?
Sandgruber: In Frankfurt, where the family comes from, they started trading in colonial goods - there they profited from industrialization in England. The Napoleonic wars were of particular benefit to them: by transferring English aid payments, despite Napoleon's continental blockade, they risked a great deal, but also gained a great deal. The Rothschilds financed aristocratic houses with loans and the monarchy with government bonds, and rose from sugar factories to ironworks to become large industrialists. They built the Northern Railway, which opened a monopoly over the supply of coal to Vienna, and founded the Creditanstalt as by far the largest joint stock bank in the monarchy.
DEFAULT: The social democratic thought leader Otto Bauer stated that Austria was not only ruled by the Habsburgs, but also by the Rothschilds.
Sandgruber: That was true for the 19th century. Nothing went without the Rothschilds when it came to the economy and public finances. However, they never had any real contact with Austrian society, for their self-image they were too far above all others - this even applies to Jewish fellow citizens. The Rothschilds were related by marriage to the equally super-rich Ephrussi family through their French branch, but the Ephrussis never dined with them in Vienna.
DEFAULT: How much is there in the image of the exploitative turbo-capitalists without a social streak?
Sandgruber: That is certainly not true across the board. The Rothschilds were, of course, capitalists, but they also donated a lot to charitable institutions of all kinds - the 20 million kroner at that time, to 140 million euros today, for the neurological hospital on Rosenhügel in Vienna is almost certainly the largest single donation that ever made in Austria. The strategies varied depending on the area. In the North Moravian coal region, the Rothschilds were actually regarded as exploiters, but in the Eisenwurzen, where they owned the large forests, they enjoyed a tremendously good reputation - which did not prevent this area from becoming very anti-Semitic. The decision of the beating fraternities to expel Jews was not made by chance in Waidhofen an der Ybbs.
DEFAULT: The Rothschilds financed Metternich's policies, opposed the revolution of 1848, supported the anti-democratic Heimwehr. Have they always been on the side of the reactionary forces?
Sandgruber: In the English branch there were a few communists - outsiders who were more likely to be pushed out of the family. In Austria there is no evidence that the Rothschilds even supported the Social Democrats. The conviction that socialism endangered the bourgeois order was already ruling.
DEFAULT: It is understandable that the Social Democrats rubbed against the Rothschilds. But to what extent was anti-Semitism mixed in with the criticism, as was the case with the German Nationalists and Christian Socialists?
Sandgruber: The Social Democrats at least made use of anti-Semitism. Even with the Christian social leader Karl Lueger it is difficult to assess: Was he a real anti-Semite, or was he just using the cliché in order to be able to mobilize the masses more easily?
DEFAULT: Despite the anti-Semitic tirades, the Rothschilds paid a fair amount for Lueger's monument after Lueger's death. How come
Sandgruber: The two sides have come to terms with each other over time, which shows the ambiguity of populists. When building the spring water pipeline, the Rothschilds were very generous towards the city of Vienna.
DEFAULT: Even for Theodor Herzl and the Zionists, Rothschild was a hot word.
Sandgruber: Herzl had great hopes in the family as the financier of his vision: his book "Der Judenstaat" was originally conceived as a speech to the Rothschilds. But although they did a lot for Judaism, they did not want a Jewish nation-state and instead focused on assimilation. This created a bitter hostility towards Herzl.
DEFAULT: Why didn't Louis Rothschild, the fifth generation head of the family, flee the Nazis in time?
Sandgruber: Louis Rothschild was in Kitzbühel on March 10, the day before the "Anschluss", so it would not have had far to flee to Switzerland. Nevertheless, he went to Vienna ...
DEFAULT: ... and was promptly arrested, imprisoned and blackmailed by the Gestapo. When Rothschild was allowed to travel to the USA after 14 months, the Nazis had taken all of his Austrian family assets from him.
Sandgruber: It was a widespread belief that things wouldn't turn out so bad under the Nazis. A considerable part of the Jewish citizens considered themselves indispensable and inviolable because of their economic position - this was especially true of a man like Louis Rothschild.
DEFAULT: In spite of everything, why was he buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery in 1955?
Sandgruber: He was attached to Austria and chose Vermont in America as an area of exile that is reminiscent of the Alpine foothills. As far as I know, since his escape from the Nazis he has never come to Vienna alive - but when he was dead, he wanted to go to his parents' crypt. The relatives never understood.
DEFAULT: Even after the war you can find aversions of the Austrian institutions against the Rothschilds. In what way?
Sandgruber: I don't want to call this anti-Semitic, but what happened after 1945 was an eradication of the Rothschild legacy. The Chamber of Labor, for example, simply tore away the Rothschilds' Palais in Prinz-Eugen-Strasse, a cultural monument, and replaced it with a faceless building - and incorrectly claims in its documentation that the building was badly damaged. Or think of the restoration of the works of art, where the authorities prevented the most valuable pieces from being exported. The republic behaved in an extortionate manner.
DEFAULT: You attested that the Vienna Social Councilor Peter Hacker had a "not unknown undertone" when he said in the current case with reference to the Lower Austrian ÖVP that greed was out of sight. Do you think anti-Semitic prejudices survived there?
Sandgruber: I do not want to assume that, perhaps it is an unintentional statement. But this image of greed has been used so often that it is fatal in any connection with the Rothschilds. Hacker claims to have approached the Lower Austrian ÖVP, but it actually has nothing to do with the legal proceedings - the plaintiffs are the Rothschild heirs. So his sentence is either nonsensical - or anti-Semitic at least. (Gerald John, February 19, 2020)
Roman Sandgruber (73) was Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Linz until 2015. His book "Rothschild. Gloss and Downfall of the Wiener Welthaus" was published in 2018 by Molden-Verlag.
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