10 December 2019

Tales of the Viennese Jews:
12, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild
and the railways in Vienna

Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (1774-1855) … his statue in the Nordbahnof station was the first sight to greet immigrants arriving in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Tales from the Vienna Woods is a waltz by the composer Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), written just over a century and a half ago, in 1868. Although Strauss was baptised in the Roman Catholic Church, he was born into a prominent Jewish family. Because the Nazis had a particular penchant for Strauss’s music, they tried to conceal and even deny the Jewish identity of the Strauss family.

However, the stories of Vienna’s Jews cannot be hidden, and many of those stories from Vienna are told in the exhibits in the Jewish Museum in its two locations, at the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse and in the Misrachi-Haus in Judenplatz.

Rather than describe both museums in detail in one or two blog postings, I decided after my visit to Vienna last month to post occasional blog postings that re-tell some of these stories, celebrating a culture and a community whose stories should never be forgotten.

In my teens I was surprised to come across a Rothschild family in Dublin, at rugby matches in the Clontarf/Raheny area. The Rothschild family in Ireland came to Dublin from Altona in Germany in 1839. At first, they were involved in the cigar and tobacco business, and many of the early generations are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Ballybough.

The late Asher Benson, in his Jewish Dublin, says there is no known connection between this Rothschild family and the famous Rothschild banking family that has spread across Europe.

The Rothschild banking family traces its ancestry back to 1577 and to Izaak Elchanan Rothschild, who took his name from the German for the red shield that was a sign outside his family home for many generations. The name Rothschild means ‘Red Coat,’ as in an heraldic coat of arms. His grandchildren and descendants used this as their family name, and kept it even after they moved house in 1664.

A statue in the Jewish Museum in at the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse in Vienna depicts Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (1774-1855), the German-born banker and founder of the Austrian branch of the Rothschild banking family.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) of Frankfurt had built the family banking business in Germany. In recognition of the Rothschild family’s services to the Habsburg Empire, the Emperor Francis I posthumously made Mayer Amschel Rothschild a member of the Austrian nobility. This privilege was inherited by his sons, although Nathan Meyer Rothschild, ancestor of the English branch of the family, declined the honour.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild’s third child and second son, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild, was born in Frankfurt-am-Main on 9 September 1774 and was the ancestor of the Austrian branch of the banking family.

As the family business expanded across Europe, the eldest Rothschild son remained in Frankfurt, while each of the other four sons were sent to different European cities to establish a banking branch.

Salomon von Rothschild became a shareholder of the de Rothschild Frères bank in Paris when it was opened by his brother James Mayer de Rothschild in 1817. Salomon was sent to Austria in 1820 to engage in financing Austrian government projects and established SM von Rothschild in Vienna.

Salomon von Rothschild and his brothers were further honoured in 1822, when the Emperor gave them the hereditary title of freiherr or baron. In 1843, Salomon became the first Jew to ever be given honorary Austrian citizenship. He made connections with the Austrian aristocracy and political elite through Prince Klemens Metternich and Friedrich von Gentz.

The Viennese bank was highly successful under the direction of Salomon von Rothschild, and played an integral role in the development of the Austrian economy. The bank in Vienna financed the Nordbahn rail transport network, Austria’s first steam railway, and funded many government undertakings.

Salomon von Rothschild’s personal wealth was enormous. But by the time of the revolutions of 1848 in the Habsburg areas, anti-Rothschild sentiments increased. With the fall of Metternich, Salomon von Rothschild lost some of his political influence and his bank lost a considerable amount of money.

At the age of 74, he handed over the bank to his son Anselm Salomon von Rothschild (1803-1874), left Vienna and retired in Paris. He died there on 28 July 1855.

The marble statue of Salomon von Rothschild in the current exhibition in the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse is the work of the Austrian sculptor Johann Meixner (1819-1872) in 1869/1870. Meixner was one of the founding members of the Vienna Künstlerhaus in 1861, and this statue originally stood in the hall of Nordbahnof station in Vienna.

The Nordbahnof station was built in 1865, ten years after Salomon’s death. In the second half of the 19th century, this station became the means of transport for Viennese transport, and its terminus became their point of entry. When they arrived in Vienna, the first thing they saw on their arrival was this statue of Rothschild, with its optimistic promise of unending possibilities.

The statue was removed in 1938 at the time of the German-Austrian Anschluss and the Nazi seizure of power, and was given to the Historisches Museum. It was transferred to the Railway Museum, later incorporated in the Technical Museum, and is on loan to the current exhibition in the Jewish Museum.

The crown of a Torah scroll in the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Other postings in this series:

1, the chief rabbi and a French artist’s ‘pogrom’

2, a ‘positively rabbinic’ portrait of an Anglican dean

3, portraits of two imperial court financiers

4, portrait of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis

5, Lily Renée, from Holocaust Survivor to Escape Artist

6, Sir Moses Montefiore and a decorative Torah Mantle

7, Theodor Herzl and the cycle of contradictions

8, Simon Wiesenthal and the café in Mauthausen

9, Leonard Cohen and ‘The Spice-Box of Earth’

10, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his Jewish grandparents

11, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his Jewish librettist

12, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild and the railways in Vienna

13, Gustav Mahler and the ‘thrice homeless’ Jew

14, Beethoven at 250 and his Jewish connections in Vienna

15, Martin Buber and the idea of the ‘I-Thou’ relationship

16, Three Holocaust survivors who lived in Northern Ireland.

17, Schubert’s setting of Psalm 92 for the synagogue.

18, Bert Linder and his campaign against the Swiss banks.

19, Adele Bloch-Bauer and Gustav Klimt’s ‘Lady in Gold’.

20, Max Perutz, Nobel laureate and ‘the godfather of molecular biology’.

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 10

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37) … a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter on Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

Why not join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent?

Luke 10 (NRSVA):

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

13 ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But at the judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum,

will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ 18 He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

21 At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

23 Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ 28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

An Orthodox icon of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, interpreting the parable according to the Patristic and Orthodox tradition (Click on image for full-screen viewing)

A prayer for today:

A prayer today (Human Rights Day) from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Let us pray for people who have suffered various forms of human rights abuse, that the Lord should guide us to respect the rights of all people irrespective of their sex, race and religion.

Tomorrow: Luke 11.

Yesterday: Luke 9.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Good Samaritan … a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)