From the cartoonish anti-Semitic posters of the 19th century to the misinformation linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rothschild dynasty, which contributed to Europe’s golden age, remains a favourite target of conspiracy stories.
Vienna City Hall and the Vienna Museum of Judaism have decided to launch an exhibition, running until June 5, that traces its history and attempts to understand why it continues to generate so many wild rumours.
“It was a family from the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt. It all started with a small coin dealer who sent each of his five sons to European cities, including Vienna” in 1821, explains curator Gabriele Kohlbauer-Fritz.
“Their rapid success inspired caricaturists,” continues her colleague Tom Juncker. They became “the face of the emerging banking industry”.
Following the abolition of censorship in 1848, the cartoons gradually took up the theme of an “alleged worldwide Jewish conspiracy that has in fact continued to this day.”
“They were pointed out as the culprits, instead of blaming the speculative mechanisms of capitalism for some of the failings of the system,” Juncker relates.
A 19th-century drawing, for example, depicts the founder Mayer Amschel Rothschild, overweight and with a hooked nose, manipulating the ruling classes like juggling balls.
Since the end of World War II in 1945 and the genocide of the Jews in Europe, openly displaying anti-Semitism was punishable by law, the name Rothschild became “a code word”, “a generic name” to blame the omnipotence of the elites.
“Especially now, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it is again very topical: we always find Rothschild”, emphasizes Tom Juncker, in front of a large screen reproducing in the exhibition of conspiracy messages spread on social networks.
In 2020, several publications shared thousands of times on Facebook, screaming “COVID scam”, claimed that a certain Richard Rothschild had filed a patent on a test for the virus in 2015.
But that person has no connection to Rothschild & Co, as a spokeswoman confirmed at the time. Moreover, while the patent, which describes techniques for analyzing biometric data, does exist, the Covid portion was added during an update process in September 2020.
The antisemites were just waiting for this to create fear and use this false information to show users around the world that the family knew before the average person what the world would soon be thrown into.
“Someone here realized early on that there was money to be made from a disease” that would spread four years later, for example, commented one user on Facebook.
In other aspects, a member of the dynasty appears posing in a luxurious setting in front of one of his paintings representing an evil creature devouring babies.
Wrong again: the original photo does not show the same painting, according to research by an AFP digital investigation team.
On the contrary, the Rothschilds had a decisive contribution in Europe thanks to “their very modern management”, notes Mrs. Kohlbauer-Fritz.
The Credit-Anstalt bank, a state-of-the-art hospital, a major foundation, sumptuous palaces, a railway station, a garden… almost everything that he and his lineage built in Vienna before Adolf Hitler’s annexation of Austria has disappeared today.
“The Nazis took almost everything,” laments the curator of the exhibition entitled “Rothschild in Vienna, a detective story.” The Viennese branch emigrated to the United States and its descendants never returned.
“Even after the war, they were treated indecently” by forcing them to give up many of their properties, which were then demolished to make way for modern buildings, recounts Gabriele Kohlbauer-Fritz, who had to go on a treasure hunt to find traces of this forgotten heritage.
It was only in 2016 that Rothschild square was inaugurated in Vienna.
As for the Naples line, it closed in 1863 following the unification of Italy, which relegated the city to the background.
But the family saga continues to be written today from London, Paris and New York where hospitals, banks and investment funds bring the brand to life in the public space.