From 19th-century antisemitic caricatures to disinformation linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Rothschild international banking dynasty has been a favourite target of conspiracy theorists blaming it for the world’s ills.
Now an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Vienna seeks to debunk some of these long-standing theories and explore why the Rothschild name continues to attract them.
“We often hear the names of George Soros or Bill Gates, Jewish or non-Jewish people who are responsible for everything,” said exhibition curator Tom Juncker.
“And the name Rothschild keeps coming up and is used as a wild card,” he added.
The fame — and conspiracy theories – that the Rothschilds have long drawn have their roots in the family’s success in banking.
With “their rapid success”, the Jewish family — which made its fortune setting up banks in the 1800s around Europe — became “the face of the emerging banking industry”, drawing public attention and comment, Juncker said.
After censorship was abolished in the Habsburg Empire in 1848, cartoons and caricatures about them became ever more virulent and began to evoke an “alleged worldwide Jewish conspiracy, which has in fact continued until today”, he said.
After 1945 in the wake of the Shoah when being openly antisemitic became a crime, the name of Rothschild became a “code” to blame the omnipotence of the elites.
“After the Shoah, open hatred against Jews was taboo,” the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Antisemitism said.
“So right-wing extremists and other antisemites started finding code words for the alleged conspiracy of the Jews.”
At the Vienna exhibition, a large screen reproduces social media posts to highlight how this continues even today.
“Especially now, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it is again very current: we always find a mention to Rothschild in social media,” Juncker said.