“It was a family from the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt. It all starts with a small coin dealer who sent each of his five children to European cities, including Vienna” in 1821, explains curator Gabriele Kohlbauer-Fritz.
“Its rapid success inspires cartoonists,” continues colleague Tom Juncker. So they become “the face of the nascent banking industry.”
After the abolition of censorship in 1848, the cartoons progressively address the theme of an “alleged world-Jewish conspiracy which has in fact been maintained until now”.
“We have singled them out as the culprits, instead of attributing responsibility for certain shortcomings in the system to the speculative mechanisms of capitalism,” adds Juncker.
A 19th century lithograph depicts, for example, the founder Mayer Amschel Rothschild with an opulent complexion and an aquiline nose, playing with the ruling classes as if they were juggling.
After 1945 and the genocide of Jews in Europe, openly showing anti-Semitism was punishable by law and the name Rothschild became “a code”, “a generic name” to criticize the power of the elites.
“Especially now, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it is topical again: we are still with the Rothschilds,” says Tom Juncker, in front of a large screen that reproduces conspiracy messages spread on social networks.
In the fall of 2020, posts shared thousands of times on Facebook, attacking the “covid scam”, claimed that a certain Richard Rothschild had registered a patent for a diagnostic test for the virus in 2015.
The man had no links to Rothschild & Co, as a spokeswoman confirmed to AFP at the time. But also, although the patent exists, which describes biometric data analysis techniques, the part devoted to covid was not added until an update in September 2020.
Even so, users from all over the world saw there the proof that the family knew before the rest of mortals in which situation the world would be dragged.
“Someone here realized very early that there was money to be made from a disease” that would begin to spread four years later, said an Internet user on Facebook.
In another case, a member of the dynasty appears posing in a luxurious setting in front of a painting that represents a diabolical creature that devours babies. It’s also fake: the original photo doesn’t show the same painting, according to investigations by AFP’s digital verification team.
Far from being responsible for all Western ills, the Rothschilds made a decisive contribution to Europe thanks to “their very modern management,” says Kohlbauer-Fritz.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was experiencing recurrent financial difficulties and Salomon Rothschild (1774-1855) quickly became indispensable to the monarchy until he won noble titles, although without giving in to assimilation or renouncing his Judaism.
The Credit-Anstalt bank, a state-of-the-art hospital, a large foundation, a station, a garden… Almost everything he and his family built in Vienna before Adolf Hitler’s annexation of Austria is gone today.
“The Nazis took practically everything,” laments the curator of the exhibition called “Rothschild in Vienna, a thriller.” The Viennese part of the family emigrated to the United States and their descendants never returned.
“Even after the war, we treated them indecently”, forcing them to give up part of their assets to demolish them and erect modern buildings, says Gabriele Kohlbauer-Fritz, who plunged into a treasure hunt to rediscover the traces of this forgotten heritage. .
It was not until 2016 that Vienna dedicated a place to the Rothschilds.
The Neapolitan part of the family closed the business in 1863 after the unification of Italy relegated the city to the background.
But the saga continues to be written today from London, Paris or New York, where hospitals, banks and investment funds keep the brand alive in public space.