by Barnaby Marder with contributions from Dan Jacobs
Those who are on the left, use social media and have friends with whom they interact on social media will in all likelihood have seen a number of conspiracy theories referred to or supported from time to time, though this of course isn’t just confined to the left.
Some of these have no connection to Jewish people and have no antisemitic intent (perhaps the best-known are the countless ones about the assassination of John F.Kennedy, and the death of Princess Diana). Others, however, do. They usually fall under the subset of conspiracies known as ‘New World Order’ conspiracy. Of these, the one in the most widespread circulation is the theory that the Rothschild family owns all the central banks in the Western world including the Federal Reserve, and that they are responsible for many of the world’s wars.
Here, we examine the actual history and activities of the family, and try to separate the truth about the family from the conspiracy theories which are all too frequently still referred to.
The first time the name Rothschild is recorded as being in use by an ancestor of the present family was when Isaak Elchanan Rothschild was born in Germany in 1577. It was not until the mid 18th century that the family started to acquire any prominence or wealth. Many jobs were forbidden to Jews in Europe for large portions of previous centuries. It was partly through necessity that some Jews went into money changing, banking and other finance-related occupations. Usury was forbidden to Christians so many Jews became successful in moneylending which opened them up to finance and banking. This goes all the way back to medieval times. In the 12th century many Jews were successful moneylenders in the UK until conspiracy theories about Jews killing Christian babies led to a series of deadly pogroms and culminated in England being the first country in Europe to expel its Jews in 1290. It’s therefore fair to say that antisemitic laws and Christian dogma led to a small number of Jews becoming successful in finance.
Amschel Moses Rothschild, born about 1710, was a moneychanger trading with the royal family of Hesse. His son, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, born in 1744 in Frankfurt am Main (still today the major financial centre of Germany), built up a finance house with breathtaking rapidity, and was able to spread his activities to all the major financial centres of Europe. Thereafter the family itself spread to a number of countries, which is still the case today.
This process was helped on its way by numerous intermarriages, which have been compared to those sometimes seen within royalty. Parts of the family have branched out from banking to other commercial activities, probably the best-known of which has been wine-making in France. Other major commercial activities either are or have been mining and farming. The family was immensely wealthy by the early 19th century, pretty much wherever its members lived, and at times during that century was the wealthiest family in the world. Some analysts believe that at certain times it was the wealthiest family in human history.
The Rothschilds, though no longer a homogenous group, are still immensely rich. However, there are now many entrepreneurs in the world who are wealthier than anyone in the Rothschild family. It is not that uncommon to see memes describing Jacob Rothschild as the wealthiest man in the world. This is incorrect.
The family is large enough to have accommodated members with a variety of positions regarding Zionism. Some members of the family have donated enormous amounts of money towards projects in Israel both in the private and the public sector (the family are known philanthropists and have donated to many causes, some Jewish, some otherwise). Others however opposed the formation of Israel. Lord Victor Rothschild in 1938 opposed granting asylum to Jewish refugees to Britain. They have also donated estates and homes to the nation. In Britain, there was for many years an almost hereditary parliamentary seat, Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire, which was occupied by members of the family, sitting as Liberals. This came to a close in the 1945 election when the Conservatives gained the seat.
In general, while the family remains influential and wealthy, its wealth has now been outstripped by others, such as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett (none of whom are Jewish). Indeed, no member of the family is now in the Forbes “rich list”, of the 100 wealthiest individuals (or in some cases families) in the world. The wealthiest person of Jewish origin is not a Rothschild, but Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook.
At the time that the Nazis began to come to prominence as a serious political force in the early 1920s, the Rothschilds were almost certainly the wealthiest Jewish family in the world and, as shown above, were active in a number of countries. The Nazis were of course obsessed with the Jews and in promoting antisemitism in any way they could. Not surprisingly therefore the Rothschild family became the subject of conspiracy theories invented by the Nazis and Hitler, which accused them of secretly having their fingers in far more pies than they actually did, however influential they nevertheless were. They were caricatured and were used as propaganda, showing the German people how ruthless and exploitative Jewish capitalists were.
By this time, the family fortunes of the original German branch of the family had long since passed to the Austrian branch, since Amschel Mayer Rothschild had died childless, and his fortune passed to his brother’s children in Vienna. The Austrian family was forced to surrender vast amounts of its wealth to the Nazis after Anschluss in 1938, although no member of the family ended up perishing in the Holocaust, a number of them escaping (mostly temporarily) to the United States. Another factor in the (albeit relative) decline in the fortunes of the family came much more recently when France’s President Mitterand nationalised and renamed the French branch of the family’s banking interests.
Before that time the French Rothschilds bought and sold businesses (including banks, but also including Club Med for example) with remarkable frequency. The family remains extremely wealthy and active in the French banking and wine industries, but is not quite the force it once was, to a considerable extent because of Mitterand’s nationalisation of their bank in 1982. Essentially, then, we see a picture of a hugely wealthy family, spread over a fair number of countries, including Britain and France. But it is a family which is, partly through the effects of both democratic and Nazi politics, and partly through its own free will, significantly diminished in its prominence, wealth and influence. Whilst in the early days of its operation the family had worked collectively, over time this has become less and less as the family has grown and become less cohesive.
Why then are the theories invented by the Nazis still in circulation today? And why are they believed and spread by people who regard themselves not as Nazis but as socialists? – indeed, by people who would be very upset if they were accused of being sympathetic to the ideas and practices of the Nazis? It is easy enough to see why the Nazis propagated these lies. After all, the Nazis did not arise out of thin air. Their ideology was based on earlier writings. Most of these were garbage dressed up as serious theory, such as those of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. It is unsurprising that the Nazis should use these theories of Jewish world domination and adapt them to Germany, and the world, they lived in. What is harder to understand is how the Nazis’ theories have survived into the modern democratic world, when in most respects they have been so comprehensively exposed and discredited. I will attempt to analyse it.
Since 1967, the left’s love affair with Israel has dissipated, and outright hostility has often become the norm. Most socialists have avoided straying into hatred, either direct or implicit, of Jewish people as people or adopting antisemitic theories and tropes. For others, simplistic explanations have become attractive, including the idea that Israel acts with impunity – so surely they must be involved in the ruling of some or all of these western countries? For conspiracy-minded people, the Rothschilds fit in nicely here. As mentioned earlier, some of the family had invested in and donated heavily to the pre-state settlements, allowing the conflation of Rothschild ‘New World Order’ and Zionist ‘New World Order’ conspiracy theories.
The Nazis’ conspiracy theories had been largely discredited along with almost everything else they stood for except autobahns and Volkswagen Beetles, but had never completely disappeared. Now, helped by people like David Icke, they have made a comeback. Icke has enthusiastically fostered the use of the term “Rothschild-Zionist”, which other antisemites, both claiming to be left-wingers and not, now use especially online. People have come to believe that the Rothschilds are the main force behind the success of the Israeli state, and that their tentacles spread far and wide. And now the use of Icke’s term has enabled him, his followers and assorted others to claim that they are not against Jewish people, just the Rothschilds and the Zionists, who are synonymous in their distorted eyes.
Icke lists a group of people he likes to blame for wars and society’s ills in the world, calling them “Rothschild-Zionists”. These people, surprise surprise, are almost all of Jewish origins. Usually, however, he inserts a token Gentile, such as a Rockefeller, to attempt to seem non-antisemitic. This theory then spreads to rumour that some very prominent and wealthy non-Jews (Rupert Murdoch is a frequently-mentioned example) are actually Jewish.
The theories tend to go something like this :
1 ) the Rothschilds are the wealthiest family in the world.
2 ) The Rothschilds are in control of the central banks of most advanced capitalist countries, including the Federal Reserve.
3 ) The Rothschilds also control the direction of the state of Israel.
4 ) and by extension, Israel is telling the USA how it should be administered and is playing an active part in this process.
And there are plenty more of a similar nature. None of this, of course, is true in any way. The Rothschilds are very wealthy; they are spread over a number of countries; they are influential in banking and in other industries. But they simply do not have the all-pervasive influence that some believe that they have. They’re just a very old, very wealthy family which has influence, but nothing like as much influence as some believe, or as some other families or individuals have. A hundred years ago, they probably were the wealthiest family in the world. Now, they are well down that particular league.
Because many people have eventually realised that the Rothschild theories are no more than myths, and Nazi-inspired myths at that, some people who like to believe conspiracy theories are turning their attention instead to the Jewish-born Hungarian philanthropist and investor, George Soros. He is genuinely influential and is listened to by many equally influential people. He is now starting to become the subject of almost as many conspiracy theories, in terms of what or whom he allegedly controls, as the Rothschilds. However, the Rothschild theories are still alive, and need to be opposed.