Baron Edmond de Rothschild was known as the “father of Palestine colonization.” Born in Paris August 19, 1845, the youngest son of Baron James de Rothschild, he entered the Paris banking house of Rothschild Freres on his father’s death, which took place when Baron Edmond was only twenty-three, and he continued to be associated with the firm in conjunction with his older brothers, Barons Alphonse and Gustave de Rothschild.
He immediately began to interest himself in Jewish communal activities, and contributed generously to Jewish institutions in France and abroad. He was thirty-five when he became interested in Palestine. He was roused by the pogroms in Southern Russia in 1880, when large numbers of refugees came to Constantinople, with a view to organizing groups to purchase land in Palestine and settle there as farmers.
It was Joseph Feinberg, the leader of the pioneers in Rishon-Le-Zion, the first of the Jewish colonies in Palestine, who obtained 30,000 francs from the Baron to enable the settlers to overcome their difficulties. The early settlers belonging to the Bilu Society received generous financial and moral help from the Baron in the establishment of the important colonies of Petach Tikvah, Zichron Jacob, Hederah, Rosh Pinah, Yesod Ha’ Maaleh, and most of the older Jewish colonies in Palestine.
Over thirty of these colonies were founded with his aid between 1880 and 1895. The administration of the colonies was carried on through the Jewish colonization Association, but it was entirely financed by the Baron. Finally the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA) was created in 1924, under the Presidency of James de Rothschild, the Baron’s eldest son, in order to administer the Palestine colonies.
INTERESTED IN JEWISH FARMER
It was always the ambition of the Baron to create a Jewish farmer, who not only would be well off in the material sense of the term, but who would become the Palestine “par excellence,” who could serve as a model to other farmers and who would be the heart and core of the Jewish settlers in the land of their ancestors.
When the Baron visited Palestine in 1925, he was received on landing by Jewish and Arab horsemen who escorted him to Zichron Jacob, the colony which he said was dearest to him because it was named in memory of his father, and in the synagogue he received the colonists of all the Rothschild colonies, and the representatives of the principal Jewish organizations in the country.
Sir Herbert Samuel, then High Commissioner, was among those present, and in his speech said that the Baron’s visit was a great event in the history of Palestine, for the Baron was the benefactor of Jews and Arabs alike.
The Baron played an important part also in the negotiations which resulted in the issuance of the Balfour Declaration.
HONORARY PRESIDENT OF AGENCY
When the extended Jewish Agency was formed in August, 1929, Baron Edmond de Rothschild was elected honorary president, and in that capacity he showed great interest in the continued upbuilding work carried on in Palestine. He followed with interest the negotiations which resulted in the extension of the Jewish Agency, and on their conclusion, he saw Dr. Chaim Weizmann in Paris, and congratulated him on the achievement.
When the Passfield White Paper was published, the Baron sent a letter to Dr. Weizmann in which he wrote
“The Jews of the whole world are in a state of consternation, and I share their distress, but when engaged in defending a cause so noble and as great as ours, one is justified in having confidence in a better future. “
When the Jewish Agency found itself in financial difficulties, Dr. Weizmann saw the Baron in Paris, and informed him of the position, and asked for his help. An official statement that was issued by the Jewish Agency, stated that the Baron had returned a favorable reply to Dr. Weizmann’s request for help, and that the Jewish Agency greatly appreciated the generosity of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, and the spirit in which he had acted.
The Baron was interested also in the archeological wealth of the country, and he financed the first expedition to carry on excavation work on Mount Ophel, the state of the City of David. Professor Raymond Wel, the head of his expedition, conducted excavations twice, in 1913-14 and in 1924, unearthing four of the thirteen tombs in which David and his descendants were buried.
In recognition of his artistic knowledge, he was elected in 1906 a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts. He lectured at the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres.
He presented to the Academy a work by Andre Blumâ€”one of the foremost French scholars in the domain of history of art, a coreligionist and the principal custodian of Baron Edmond’s art collections â€” containing conclusive proofs of the genuineness and age â€”about 1330â€”of an engraving made in France, thus establishing the priority of French wood engravers over those of Nuremberg.
In 1921 Baron Edmond gave ten million francs to establish the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation for scientific research, directing that physics and chemistry should equally benefit. Six years later he decided greatly to extend the scope and means of the Foundation and gave another thirty million francs to that Foundation. The Foundation Institute, which adjoins the Curie Radium Institute and the Pasteur Institute, is conducted very much on the lines of the Rockefeller Foundation, with the different sections under the charge of three eminent authorities in the respective fields of physics, chemistry and biology.
In 1920 the Baron founded in London a branch of the Institute of France, for the purpose of promoting friendship and collaboration between France and England, and in 1928 he gave it a sum of six million francs.