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Rothschild Banks on America Now : Baron Lives in New York, Continues Financial Activities

July 29, 1985|JODY JACOBS | Times Society Editor

Five arrows tightly bound in a sheath. It's the meaningful symbol of the close ties that bound the five sons of the first Rothschild, Amschel Mayer of Frankfurt. They were all highly individual, exceedingly successful, very rich and very resourceful. And for their entire lives they remained close.

Amschel Mayer urged them on his deathbed in 1812 to keep together, because united they would succeed, separately they might fail.

Amschel (the Rothschild and the titles came later) brought his brood of five sons and five daughters out of a Frankfurt ghetto by amassing a coin collection for Prince William of Hesse. The boys went on to spread the Rothschild expertise with money around Europe--to England, France, Austria and Italy--but Amschel, who remained in Frankfurt, was until his death their rallying point.

James, who settled in Paris, Nathan, who established the London branch of the family, Salomon, Amschel and Karl (who became Carlo when he moved to Italy) might have had their differences, but they followed their father's advice, remained tightly knit and passed on their father's advice to their sons. (Amschel's five daughters were expected to marry properly and in the Jewish faith, but they were not part of the Rothschild empire building.)

More Five Arrows

Later, when the luxury-loving James (he worked all day at the bank and entertained four nights a week at his rue Lafitte home) became a baron, he included the five arrows in his coat of arms.

In 1968, Amschel Mayer Rothschild's great-great-grandson, the elegant Baron Guy de Rothschild, titular head of the French Rothschilds, adopted the five arrows as a symbol of the Rothschild Bank in France. And Guy's cousin, the bon vivant Baron Philippe de Rothschild, has put the five arrows on labels for the Mouton Rothschild wines, part of his inheritance from his father, the Baron Henri.

The family motto that Amschel's descendants follow is: Concordia, Integritas, Industria (harmony, integrity, industry).

Although they go their own ways, Rothschilds share mutual causes, activities and life styles: finances and investments, Jewish philanthropies, Israel, art collecting, living well and helping those who are not as fortunate as they are. They donate magnificent homes to the state (Paris' Elysee Palace was once a Rothschild home), donate art to museums and money to medical research, hospitals, orphanages.

And according to Baron Guy, many Rothschilds share a penchant for what is known as the "Rothschild style." In his autobiography, "The Whims of Fortune," first published in French and this year published in English (Random House: $19.95), he describes it as "a Napoleon III decor, personalized not only by art objects of all sorts, but above all by a sense of comfort and intimacy that intermingles furs, flowers, plants, family photographs, precious miniatures and rare books." Edouard de Rothschild's Chateau Ferrieres (where his son, Guy, spent his early years) was, as he describes it in minute and nostalgic detail, a perfect example of that Rothschild style.

A Touch of Mischief

Impeccably tailored, blue eyes showing a touch of mischief, he conducted an interview over lunch at Le Saint Germain in Oxford-accented English. (An English nanny taught him English before he could speak French.) His memoirs, he said, were "on the national best-seller list (in France) for 22 weeks straight."

The U.S. book tour is "a bit of an effort," he said. "In France, radio and television is nationalized. Once you've said something and you've answered some questions, you've spoken to the whole public."

The huge success of the memoirs in France came as a surprise. "I had no idea it would happen. I wrote the memoirs because I had finished being an executive (he retired from the French Rothschild Bank in 1979 at the bank's mandatory retirement age of 70) and therefore I worked less and writing it was one of the things that had been suggested to me. And I thought, 'Why not?' I've lived virtually a century, I bear witness to many things (among them World Wars I and II when the Rothschilds lost their French citizenship and their property, and the German occupation of France). I've lived the most extreme ups and downs, nothing that would have been expected when I was a baby in my cot."

He has lived, he attests, through the "most unexpected and diverse challenges, through physical dangers (as a soldier with the French army, later with the Free French in England) and political and economic challenges."

Varied Interests

Between sips of port, he continued. "My interests are very varied--racing, Jewish activities. I did 33 years of what I call public Jewish service, as chairman of the United Jewish Social Fund. But when I married a Christian I resigned. It was only proper."

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