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Edmond James de Rothschild (1845-1934)

Edmond James de Rothschild, the youngest son of James and Betty, and bore the Hebrew name Benjamin. He was born in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine, on 19 August 1845. He grew up in the world of the Second French Republic and the Second French Empire, and was a soldier 'Garde Mobile' in the first Franco-Prussian War. 

Edmond joined the Paris House in 1868 becoming a director of the Est railway company and other family concerns. He made journeys to Bukharu to examine the potential of the oilfields of the area. In 1877, he married Adelheid von Rothschild (1853-1935) of Naples, the daughter of his cousin Wilhelm Carl von Rothschild. They had three children: James Armand Edmond ('Jimmy') (1878-1957), Maurice Edmond Charles (1881-1957) and Miriam Caroline Alexandrine (1884-1965).

Art and philanthropy

Edmond inherited the family estate Château Boulogne-Billancourt and owned the Château d'Armainvilliers in Gretz-Armainvilliers in the Seine-et-Marne département. Edmond acquired an important collection of drawings and engravings that he bequeathed to the Louvre, consisting of more than 40,000 engravings (including over 100 engravings and drawings by Rembrandt), nearly 3,000 drawings, and 500 illustrated books, A portion of his art collection was bequeathed to his son James and is now part of the collection at Waddesdon Manor. 

Edmond had a stong interest in science and founded research institutions such as the Institut Henri Poincaré, the Institut de Biologie physico-chimique, the pre-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, the Casa Velázquez in Madrid, and the French Institute in London. He served as a member of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts and through it sponsored the archaeological digs of Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau in Egypt, Eustache de Lorey in Syria, and Raymond Weill in Palestine.

Baron Edmond de Rothschild and Palestine

A strong supporter of Zionism, Baron Edmond's most outstanding achievements were involved in responding to the threats facing the Jewish people in Europe in the late 19th century by supporting massive land purchases and underwriting Jewish settlements in Palestine and Israel. Edmond's large donations lent significant support to the movement during its early years, which helped lead to the establishment of the State of Israel. In the 1880s, in his goal for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, Edmond’s philanthropy funded Jewish settlements and encouraged the development of agriculture and industry. 'The Benefactor', as he was known provided support for Jewish colonists, overseeing dozens of new colonies. Rishon le Zion (the First in Zion) was followed by others bearing the names of his parents. Edmond stimulated the economic development of the settlements by investing in new crops, such as wine, grapefruit and avocado, and industrial enterprises such as silk production; he played a key role in Israel's wine industry. Under the supervision of his administrators in Ottoman Palestine, farm colonies and vineyards were established, and two major wineries were opened in Rishon le Zion and Zikhron Ya'akov. Edmond paid his first visit to the colonies in 1887, to inspect the progress that had been made in the first five years. On this first trip, he was accompanied by his wife Adelheid. Edmond's yacht moored at Port Said, then on to Jaffa, before travelling on to Jerusalem.

In 1899, responsibility for the Rothschild settlements was transferred to form the Palestine branch of the Jewish Colonisation Association, which had been founded in 1891 by the Bavarian philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch to help Jews from Russia and Romania to settle in Argentina. Baron de Hirsch died in 1896 and thereafter the JCA began to also assist the Jewish settlement in Palestine. At the end of 1899, Edmond transferred title to his colonies in Palestine plus fifteen million francs to the JCA.

In 1924, the JCA branch dealing with colonies in Palestine was reorganised by Baron Edmond as the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association (PICA), under the direction of his son, James de Rothschild (1878-1957). PICA acquired more than 125,000 acres (50,586 ha) of land and established a range of business ventures. As well as offices in Palestine, PICA had offices in Paris. After the 1929 Palestine riots PICA helped to rehabilitate agricultural colonies that had been damaged.

When Edmond died in Paris in 1934, he left a legacy which included the reclamation of nearly 500,000 dunams of land and almost 30 settlements. In 1954, his remains and those of his wife Adelheid were brought to rest at Ramat Hanadiv in Zikhron Ya'akov. After Edmond's death, his son James de Rothschild (1878-1957) presided over the affairs of PICA. In his will of 1957, James instructed that PICA should transfer most of its land in Israel to the Jewish National Fund. On December 31, 1958 PICA agreed to vest its right to land holdings in Syria and Lebanon in the State of Israel. Edmond and James' determination to continue to support Israeli institutions was carried out after their deaths by James' widow, Dorothy (1895-1988), who founded Yad Hanadiv. Jacob, 4th Lord Rothschild has followed the family's charitable interests in Israel and is the chairman of Yad Hanadiv, the family foundation which gave the Knesset and the Supreme Court buildings to Israel. 

Death and burial in Israel

Edmond died at Château Boulogne-Billancourt in 1934; Adelheid died a year later. They were interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris until April 1954 when their remains were transported to Israel aboard a naval frigate. At Haifa, the ship was met with sirens and a 19-gun salute. A state funeral was held with former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion giving the eulogy following which Edmond and Adelheid were re-interred in Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens near the towns of Zichron Ya'akov and Binyamina, both of which he helped found and are named in his honour. Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv is named after him, as well as various localities throughout Israel which he assisted in founding. Also named after him is the Parc Edmond de Rothschild in Boulogne-Billancourt.

Archive sources

The Rothschild Archive London holds very few papers relating to Edmond's activities in Palestine. For a list of papers relating to PICA in the collection of the Archive see Rothschild family papers: papers of institutions: Palestinian Colonisation Association (PICA). A few sundry papers relating to PICA (including the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Jewish Colonisation Association, 1891, and some correspondence and reports relating to Palestinian colonies supported by Edmond, 1899) will be found in the Lafite Papers (OE 532). An Agreement terminating the administration and management of the Palestinian colonies, between Baron Edmond de Rothschild & the Jewish Colonisation Association, 1923 will be found in the Moscow Papers, (58-1-825). 

Administrative records created by the Paris office of PICA were transferred to Waddesdson Manor by Edmond's son James de Rothschild after the Second World War. They contain correspondence, financial records, censuses, photographs and publications relating to the management of the settlements, land ownership, individual settlers, and the politics of Jewish settlement in Palestine, as well as industry, vineyards, and agriculture. These records, together with other sundry papers relating to Edmond and Adelheid are now held by The Archive, Windmill Hill, Waddesdon Manor »

The Rothschild Archive London holds very little private correspondence of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, although some papers concerning his art collections (mainly concerning public exhibition of works rather than purchases) will be found in The Moscow Papers (58 series) »

A large collection of photographs transferred to the Archive from the Château de Pregny, will be found in 000/1586. The majority of the images are of the branch of the family descended from Edmond and Adelheid,  (there are many images of Edmond and Adelheid and their children), and the collection includes images of Edmond and Adelheid taken on their travels and in Palestine.

Secondary sources

The following published works may be of interest; copies may be found in the Reading Room Library.

  • Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel, Simon Schama (London: Collins, 1978)
    Edmond de Rothschild: l'homme qui racheta la Terre sante, Elizabeth Antebi (Monaco: Editions du Rocher, 2003)
  • Dear Lord Rothschild: birds, butterflies and history, Miriam Rothschild (London: Hutchinson, 1983)
  • Rothschild and early Jewish colonization by Ran Aronsohn (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000) gives a very good overview of the settlements’ development, and includes a useful bibliography and list of other archival sources
  • Baron Edmond de Rothschild: The Story of a Practical Idealist, David Druck, New York 1928
  • Edmond de Rothschild: Palestine Pioneer, Isaac Naiditch, Zionist Organization of America, Washington 1945

Edmond de Rothschild, artefacts, commemorative coins, 1982

000/778/2, 1 item

Israeli Coin: proof 10 shequalim, 1982, with cameo of Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

Edmond de Rothschild, sundry correspondence concerning charities, c.1860-1880

000/2676, 11 items

A small collection of letters concerning charitable donations, funds, and investments, sent to Edmond James de Rothschild. Many of the letters are in Edmond's hand and concern references to the contents of the letters he has received, and instructions he wrote to himself or to the recipient, about how to handle various requests addressed to him by various parties in Paris. The letters were sent between the 1860s and the 1880s on Aerogram with French postage stamps.

Edmond de Rothschild, autograph book, c.1850-1890

000/2470, 1 volume

Small green leather bound book of signatures which belonged to Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934). Includes signatures of Disraeli and the Duke of Montebello amongst others c.1850-1890, which would suggest that Edmond purchased the volume or acquired the signatures at a date later than the entries were made. It may also have been given to him by another member of the family. Note: many pages are empty. 

Edmond de Rothschild, catalogues of collections: 'Le Tresor D'Argenterie de Boscoreale', c.1895

000/2224/2, 1 volume

Le Tresor D'Argenterie de Boscoreale, a catalogue of the silverware from Boscoreale, near Pompeii donated to the Louvre by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, c.1895.

Edmond de Rothschild, catalogues of collections: 'Le Tresor de Tarente', 1930

000/2344, 1 volume

Le Tresor de Tarente (Collection Edmond de Rothschild), Pierre Wuillleumier, Paris, Librarie Ernest Leroux, 1930. A study and description of Baron Edmond de Rothschild's collection of Tarentine goldwork and decorative arts.

Edmond de Rothschild, 'TSY Atmah': postcards and ceremonial gavel, c.1898-1913

000/2265, 000/2291/4 and 000/2713, 3 items

TSY Atmah was a steam yacht commissioned by Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) in 1898, sailing under the flag of France, registered at Le Havre. She was launched 5 May 1898, as a a steel screw steamer two masted yacht built by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd, Govan, at the Fairfield Yard on the River Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland (Yard No. 403). Her inital tonnage was 1428 grt/1746 tm., length 289.5 ft, breadth 34.2 ft , depth 19.1 ft. In 1901 the vessel was  lengthened by Beardmore at Govan (Yard No. 477). Atmah reported on Admiralty service during the First World War. Subsequent registered owners were Edmond’s son, James Armand de Rothschild (1878-1957) (registered London, ON 167634). In July 1940, she was purchased by the Admiralty as a target yacht and renamed HMS Atmah, she was attached to the Fleet Air Arm for flying training, serving from 1944 as an accommodation ship. After the war she was sold, and was purchased by the Chagris Steamship Co. Ltd (Goulandris Bros.), London in 1947, converted to a passenger ship, and renamed Aegean Star. After brief service in this guise she was sent for breaking up, arriving at at La Spezia on 30 December 1950 for breaking by Cantieri di Portovenere S.p.A.

  • ceremonial wooden gavel with brass trim c.1898 from TSY Atmah. The gavel is elaborately carved, with the inscription 'TSY Atmah 1898' and a decoration of an anchor on one side and a flag on the other. The purpose of this object is not known - it may have been a commemorative piece on completion of the vessel;
  • two different postcard views of the TSY Atmah at Le Havre, c.1900 and 1913.

Edmond de Rothschild, memorial prayer, 1934

000/2151/1, 1 volume

Chief Rabbinate Palestine Broadside in Hebrew, exhorting the community to pray for Baron Edmond de Rothschild, 1934. It is not known if this was a prayer for Edmond's health or a prayer after his death.

Edmond de Rothschild, memorial announcement, 1934

000/1604/5, 1 item

Broadside announcing the death of Edmond de Rothschild in Hebrew. With overprinted Ottoman stamp. 

Edmond de Rothschild, memorial notice, c.1934

000/2056/3, 1 item

Notice regarding the eulogies for Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Hebrew. c.1934.

Edmond de Rothschild, memorial poster, 1934

000/1530/1, 1 item

Poster in Hebrew, produced in Tel Aviv in memory of Edmond de Rothschild, one month after his death, 1934.

Edmond de Rothschild, memorial sermon, 1935

000/1173/1, 2 items

Copies of the Memorial Sermon for Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) by The Chief Rabbi, Dr. J.H.Herzl, the Great Synagogue, London, 13 December 1934 (The Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, London, 1935).

Edmond de Rothschild, 'Charity Rules and Regulations', 1937-1938

000/1446/1, 1 item

Pamphlet in Hebrew, being the 'Rules and Regulations of a Charity, 1937-1938'. The pamphlet depicts Baron Edmond de Rothschild on the cover. The charity is not known but it is assumed that it was charity established by Baron Edmond de Rothschild or under his patronage.

Edmond de Rothschild, portrait photograph, c.1920

000/510, 1 item

Copy print of portrait photograph of Baron Edmond de Rothschild.

Edmond de Rothschild, press photographs of the entry of Baron Rothschild into Jerusalem , c.1924

000/1994/1, 4 items

Four photographs of Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) in Palestine, c.1924. The photographs by Yaacov Ben Dov (photographer) show the entry of Baron Edmond de Rothschild to Jerusalem, and were probably press photographs taken for publication.

Edmond de Rothschild, postcards, c.1955

000/1446/2, 000/1573, 2 items

Commerically produced postcards depicting Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934):

  • Monochrome postcard of Baron Edmond de Rothschild's mausoleum in Israel. The message on the reverse of the card is dated 1955;
  • Monochrome postcard depicting an engraving of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, undated.

Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) died at Château Boulogne-Billancourt in 1934; his wife Baroness Adelheid (1853-1935) died a year later. They were interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris until April 1954 when their remains were transported to Israel aboard a naval frigate. At Haifa, the ship was met with sirens and a 19-gun salute. A state funeral was held with former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion giving the eulogy following which Edmond and Adelheid were re-interred in Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens near the towns of Zichron Ya'akov and Binyamina, both of which he helped found and are named in his honour. 

Edmond de Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Baron Edmond Rothschild, The story of a Practical Idealist', 1928

000/2572/1, 1 volume

Baron Edmond Rothschild, The story of a Practical Idealist, David Druck (Hebrew Monotype Press, New York, 1928).

Edmond de Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Edmond de Rothschild, Palestine Pioneer', 1945

000/2572/2, 1 volume

Edmond de Rothschild, Palestine Pioneer, Isaac Nalditch (Zionist Organisation of America, Washington D.C., 1945).

Edmond de Rothschild, secondary sources, 'HaYishuv (Father of the Yishuv), Baron Edmond de Rothschild', 1954

000/2151/2, 1 volume

HaYishuv (Father of the Yishuv), Baron Edmond de Rothschild, by G. Avi Kressel 1954.

Edmond de Rothschild, secondary sources, Exhibition Catalogue, 'Les incunables de la Collection Edmond de Rothschild', 1974

000/2560, 1 volume

Exhibition Catalogue, Les incunables de la Collection Edmond de Rothschild, la gravure en relief sur bois et sur metal', Xe Exposition de la Collection Edmond de Rothschild, Musée du Louvre, 22 Juin-7 Octobre 1974. Catalogue of an exhibition of incunabula (early printed books, before 1501) with engravings in wood and metal from the Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) collection, which was bequeathed to the Musée du Louvre.

Edmond de Rothschild, secondary sources, 'Song of the Lark', 1996

000/1624, 1 VHS cassette

Song of the Lark, Alden Films, 1996. A dramatisation of the events in the life of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, and his role in the development of the economy in Palestine, Jewish Theological Seminary of America and NBC Television Network, Religious Programs; originally presented as an episode of the television series Eternal Light.