Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rothschild's Second Son Solomon

The Rothschilds opens at Riverwalk this Thursday. It will be my son's first musical and I've been splitting child wrangling duties with my husband this past week so that one of us is always there for him backstage. It's been impressive to see the incredible scope of this musical. To throw out a statistic for you--there are more than 300 props in this show, all period props.

I spent some time talking with the director today about the show and we digressed into the history of the play. It got me curious about the character my son plays and what his life went on to be. Here's what I found:

Salomon Mayer von Rothschild was born September 9, 1774 and died uly 28, 1855. When Mayer sent the boys out, he was sent to Vienna where he was instrumental in establishing the finances of the Austrian empire. When he was 26, he married Caroline Stern and the two of them had two children, a boy and a girl. His eldest son, Anselm, married his cousin--Nathan's daughter. His daughter, Betty, married her uncle James (who is called Jacob in the play).

In Vienna, Salomon founded S M von Rothschild, a business that helpd finance Austria's first steam railway. In 1822, he was made a part of the Austrian nobility, being given the hereditary title of Baron. However, it wasn't until 1843 that he was given honorary Austrian citizenship--the first Jew to receive that honor.

Salomon invested much of his money in art and antiquities, though he also gave large amounts of money to charities. He became interested in engineering and foundries. He, like his brothers, was also interested in gold mines.

Salomon also became somewhat of the family's historian. He first began to gather family documents into an index that would record the history of their accomplishments. This index became known as Salomon's Archive. He saved letters to his brothers in which he reminisced on when the five of them lived in a single attic room in the ghetto. Salomon's archive contains the original court document naming Mayer as a court agent of Hesse in 1769.

It was also Salomon who hired Moritz Oppenheim to paint significant events in the Rothschilds' lives.

After handing the banking firm over to his son, he retired in Paris. When he died in 1855, some of his art works were donated to the Louvre.

S M von Rothschild stayed in the family for four generations. From 1911 to 1939, Louis Nathaniel von Rothschild was its president. When there was the financial crash of 1929, he personally shored up Austria's largest bank to prevent financial collapse. His fortunes soured when Nazi Germany took over Austria in 1938. His brothers Alphonse and Eugene escaped, but Louis was arrested for being Jewish. Louis was held in prison for a year. It was only when his family paid a large ransom that he was released. He was stripped of his Austrian citizenship and had to leave the country empty-handed. In 1939, the Nazis took over the banking firm and then sold it to the German private bank of Merck, Finck, & Co.

The Nazis had confiscated all of the papers and archives of the bank--including Solomon's Archive. Those papers made their way to Germany until 1945 when the Red Army found them and took all of the archives they found (50 rail cars full) to Moscow. They were maintained by the secret police and the West didn't find out about them until the 1990s. It wasn't until 2001 that what was left of the archives were returned to the Rothschild families. In return, the Rothschild families gave Russia a collection of letters of Tsar Alexander II and Princess Yuryevskaya.

A quote of Soloman's:
We are like the mechanism of a watch: each part is essential" ... Solomon von Rothschild, 1818.

I will also say that I found some pretty disgusting Websites created by conspiracy theorists. These are sites that are filled with seething hatred toward the Rothschilds and toward those of Jewish heritage. One goes so far as to say that the Rothschilds have reptilian blood and that Salomon impregnated an innocent maid in his house--a maid who went home and gave birth to Hitler's father.

It is sites like that which underscore Director Jane Falion's comment that we are still fighting the prejudices that are illuminated in this musical. There are still those in the world who will rail against those who have risen out of oppression and try to help others who are oppressed. There are still those whose lives are so small that they have no room for anything but hatred.


Alan Labovitz said...

I'm impressed with your research. I'm sure I will enjoy the show more now after reading your blog today. Thanks.

Bridgette Redman said...

You're very welcome. It was fun research to do and I wish I'd had time to do more of it. However, Jane Falion has done some wonderful research on her blog that you might enjoy: