Not-so-fab­u­lous wealth

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - David Aaronovitch

Wcounter-po­si­tion of these paint­ings was sug­ges­tive of the history of the great wealthy Jewish fam­i­lies of Europe. I am not a one for Roth­schilds, re­ally. My grand­par­ents were the op­po­site of the Jewish aris­toc­racy — il­lit­er­ate, im­pov­er­ished, pen­ni­less shtetlers — and my dad be­came a com­mu­nist in part as a re­bel­lion against the in­equities within the faith. Pos­si­bly, dur­ing the De­pres­sion my grand­par­ents ben­e­fited from some char­ity funded by Jewish phi­lan­thropists, but if so it wasn’t by much. My fa­ther de­scribed my grand­fa­ther as ground down by poverty and him­self as hu­mil­i­ated by it. Yet, at the same time, there were these Jewish fam­i­lies who lived ex­tra­or­di­nary lives of wealth and con­nec­tion. They met the Em­peror, hunted from lodges on Hun­gar­ian es­tates, built palaces in Aus­tria, ad­vised the Kaiser, win­tered in the South of France and jour­neyed from one Grand Ho­tel to another. And col­lected and com­mis­sioned (and do­nated) great works of art wher­ever they were.

I have just fin­ished read­ing for re­view a memoir — Fault Lines by the writer David Pryce-Jones. His mother was Therese Fould-Springer, an heiress be­long­ing to a mostly Vi­en­nese Jewish fam­ily of im­mense wealth. Her sis­ter mar­ried Elie Roth­schild. Their lives were mea­sured in coun­try palaces, town houses, por­traits and ser­vants. PryceJones was born in Vi­enna in 1936. His es­cape and that of his fam­ily to Bri­tain and to Amer­ica par­al­lels the jour­neys of many Cen­tral and Western Euro­pean Jews, in­clud­ing prob­a­bly those longdead ladies of Hamp­stead Heath.

What shines through Pryce-Jones’s fas­ci­nat­ing book is the pre­car­i­ous­ness of the Jewish­ness of even these hugely pow­er­ful fam­i­lies. The Fould-Springers even used a semi-se­cret name — Ibok — to mean Jewish. They had the money and sta­tus and yet were al­ways on the edge of the so­ci­eties in which they lived.

When the catas­tro­phe came, many es­caped. But just as their con­tacts in aid­ing es­cape were bet­ter than that of their poorer co-re­li­gion­ists, so also their vis­i­bil­ity was higher and their per­sonal ca­pac­ity for hard­ship was ini­tially lower. Many of the peo­ple in those great fam­i­lies met the same end in Auschwitz and other camps as the Jews who had lit­tle or noth­ing. We ended up in the same cre­ma­to­ria, our smoke min­gling.

It’s some­thing we al­ways need to re­mem­ber, not least in a time when we are con­tin­u­ally re­minded by the pub­li­ca­tion of this rich list or that bil­lion­aire’s self-re­gard­ing au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. No power is greater than that of pol­i­tics. Pol­i­tics sweeps away eco­nom­ics. Pas­sion trumps money. Even fab­u­lous wealth is no guard against fab­u­lous ha­tred. Let the pol­i­tics go and let all else go be­sides.

They had money and sta­tus but lived on so­ci­ety’s edge

David Aaronovitch is a colum­nist for The Times

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.