Mumbai's National Centre for Performing Arts recently organised a musical evening, "Family Connections", with Charlotte de Rothschild as soprano and Danielle Perrett on harp, narrating the Rothschild family history from the 18th century onwards. Musical works by famous European composers like Liszt, Rossini, Mendelssohn and Chopin were sung or rendered on harp. I attended the programme out of curiosity and nostalgia. They were personal family friends. I knew the Rothschilds' contribution in business and intelligence but was curious to know of their connection with music. There was nostalgia since my wife and I used to meet the pleasant and unassuming young heir of their French dynasty at a mutual friend's house in Paris in the early 1980s.
Mayer Amschel Bauer, the family founder, who adopted the surname Rothschild (Red Shield), sent his five sons to France, Germany, Austria, England and Italy to do business. CIA chief Allen Dulles said in Craft of Intelligence (1963), "One of the great intelligence services of the nineteenth century in Europe was that maintained not by a government but by a private firm, the banking house of Rothschild." Even earlier, business and intelligence went together. In the 16th century, Augsburg's "Fuggers" lent money, even to kings, only after assessing the risks involved through intelligence. In 1815, Nathan Rothschild, the London family supremo, depressed the markets by selling British securities to mislead others into believing that they were losing the Battle of Waterloo. But he knew in advance that they would be victorious. He then purchased the securities at a low rate and made a killing when the prices soared with the British victory.
In 1875, Lionel Rothschild who was hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli learnt that the shares of Suez Canal company were for sale. Disraeli wanted to purchase the shares, but Parliament was in recess. Rothschild offered to spend an equivalent of US $44 million to purchase the shares for the British government. Dulles recounts that the Rothschilds utilised advanced communication network in that era through carrier pigeons and balloons for intelligence collection. Frederic Morton, another writer says that the Rothschilds' friendship with Napoleon, despite the latter's initial prejudice against them for being "upstarts", came in handy to do business with France.
In fact, the Rothschilds were the only ones to do brisk business even as the British and French were blockading each other's coastlines.
Subsequent writers alleged that the Rothschilds funded the French Revolution and even the Bolshevik movement. Some even imputed that Nazism and Communism were "fake opposition concocted by illuminati bankers".
The Rothschild family's role in creating the Jewish homeland is well known. On 2 November 1917, James Balfour, then British Foreign Secretary, wrote to Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron, after a Cabinet meeting on 31 October that Her Majesty's government viewed with favour "the establishment in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people". It is said that the initial draft contained the words "Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people". This was amended because of opposition from others, including Lord Montagu, then Secretary of State for India, who although a Jew, was anti-Zionist.
The Rothschild family's relations with the Nazis have always been a matter of speculation. Emil Georg Von Stauss, president of Deutsche Bank and a leading Nazi fundraiser had close business relations with the Rothschilds. European writers say that the Germany based Rothschilds smoothly migrated during the Nazi rule and returned after the war without any convulsions.
However, their relationship with rival intelligence services was controversial. Ronald Perry, in his book The Fifth Man (1994), alleges that Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron, was the fifth man in the "Cambridge spy ring" comprising Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and Antony Blunt. However, Chapman Pincher, investigative reporter, in Too Secret, Too Long ( 1984) says that Victor Rothschild, then working for MI-5 had leased his flat at Bentinck Street to those who were later identified with the Cambridge Ring, also known as "Bentinck Street Establishment". He does not say that Victor was in the spy ring, although he was friendly with Blunt. On the other hand, he says that MI-5 chief Roger Hollis was a Soviet mole, he having been recruited in Hong Kong by American revolutionary Agnes Smedley. Incidentally, Smedley lived in Berlin for seven years with our Sarojini Naidu's brother Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, alias Chatto. But that is a different story.