Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the “father” of Palestine colonisation, attained his 86th birthday today. The Baron, who was born in Paris on August 19th, 1845, the youngest son of Baron James de Rothschild, entered the Paris banking house of de Rothschild Freres on his father’s death, which took place when he (Baron Edmond) was only 23, and he has 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 35 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 organising 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 50,000 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’ Ma’aleh, 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 Colonisation Association (Ica), but it was entirely financed by the Baron. Finally, the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association (Pica) was created in 1924, under the Presidency of Mr. James de Rothschild, M.P., the Baron’s eldest son, in order to administer the Palestine colonies.
It has always been 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 Palestinian “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. An interesting story is told in connection with his first visit to Palestine in 1895. After he had visited Petach Tikvah, about which he was very enthusiastic, he gave out that he would not visit Rishon-le-Zion because too many members of its younger generation had left the country to look for more congenial employment abroad than farming in Evez Israel. But being at heart desirous of seeing Rishon with his own eyes, he organised a clandestine expedition to the colony at midnight, with the intention of returning to Jaffa before daybreak. The secret was apparently not well kept, however, and when he entered the colony by a back road at midnight, the entire population — men, women and children — was there to give him a hearty though silent welcome.
CREATED PALESTINE WINE INDUSTRY.
His visit to Palestine in 1914 was made under better auspices. The Jewish colonies had then reached an unprecedented degree of prosperity and he came away enchanted with his colonies. The War soon followed, however, and crippled the development of the colonies, and in many cases there was a wholesale destruction of property there, from which they were not able to recover for years. As soon as the War was over, he threw himself into the work of restoration and development of the colonies, and he saw in 1925, when he again visited the colonies, to what a great extent the damage had been made good, and the colonies restored to a flourishing condition. The important Palestine wine industry, with the great wine-cellars in Rishon-le-Zion and Zichron Jacob, owes its development to Baron Edmond de Rothschild, and among the other enterprises which he has been instrumental in establishing are the big flour mills in Haifa and the silk factory at Rosh Pinah.
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 has said, is dearest to him because it is 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 organisations in the country. Sir Herbert Samuel, who was then High Commissioner, was among those present, and in his speech he 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. Mr. Nahum Sokolov, the new President of the Zionist Organisation, who was also there, expressed to the Baron on behalf of the Jews of Palestine and the whole world the feelings of love and admiration in which he is held. All shops were closed, and the day was observed as a general holiday.
The Baron, in his reply to the speeches, appealed to the younger generation in Palestine to follow the path of their parents, and to remain on the land in Palestine and develop agriculture, instead of going into the cities or into other countries. He emphasised the importance of religion and of the Jewish traditions, which he urged should occupy the foremost place in the Jewish National Home.
BARON DE ROTHSCHILD’S PART IN THE PRE-BALFOUR DECLARATION NEGOTIATIONS.
The Baron played an important part also in the negotiations which resulted in the issue of the Balfour Declaration. Lord Bertie, who was the British Ambassador in Paris during the War, reported in his diaries, which were published in 1924, an interview which he had on January 23rd, 1915, nearly three years before the Balfour Declaration, with Baron Edmond de Rothschild and Dr. Weizmann, whom he describes as “a Russian co-religionist of his, established in Manchester”. Lord Bertie was not sympathetic to the views for which they sought his support. They came to talk about, what I think, is an absurd scheme, he wrote, though they say it has the approval of Lloyd George, Lord Grey, Sir Herbert Samuel, and Lord Crewe. They did not mention Lord Reading. They contemplate the formation of Palestine into an Israelite State, under the protection of England, France, or Russia, preferably of England. Baron Edmond de Rothschild has spent a great deal of money on the establishment of Jews in Palestine, Lord Bertie remarked further. It is his hobby. He does not wish to go thither himself, for he has become French, he says, but there are thousands of his brethren who, for material and sentimental reasons, long to leave the countries where they are now and go to the Promised Land. The Jews, they say, are the only people capable of reclaiming Palestine by intensive culture. However, Lord Bertie concluded, this scheme, like many others, is a counting of the chickens before the issue of the War.
HONORARY PRESIDENT OF THE JEWISH AGENCY.
When the extended Jewish Agency was formed in August 1929, Baron Edmond de Rothschild was elected Honorary President, and in that capacity he has shown great interest in the continued upbuilding work which is being 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. Weizmann in Paris, and congratulated him on the achievement. Immediately after the sessions of the Joint Palestine Survey Commission, which preceded the formation of the Jewish Agency, Mr. Felix M. Warburg, one of the members of the Commission, saw the Baron in Paris, and conveyed to him the results of the meetings of the Commission. I was very happy, he told the J.T.A., to find the Baron in good health and so keenly interested in the Palestine work. I discussed with him the economic problems of Palestine reconstruction.
When the Passfield White Paper was published last October, the Baron sent a letter to Dr. Weizmann in which he wrote: In my capacity as Honorary President of the Jewish Agency, and as the founder of the first Jewish colonies in Palestine, I fully associate myself with the protest which you have made against the British Government’s Statement of Policy. The principles laid down in that are contrary both to the spirit and the letter of the Mandate for Palestine, which is based on the Declaration made by Lord Balfour, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the name of his Government. 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.”
Last February, 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 favourable 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.
In Palestine, the Baron is interested also in the archeological wealth of the country, and he financed the first expedition to carry on excavation work on Mount Ophel, the site of the City of David. Professor Raymond Weil, 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 1929, Baron Edmond de Rothschild presented many of the archeological objects which were excavated by Professor Weil to the Hebrew University.
THE BARON’S IMPORTANT GENERAL BENEFACTIONS.
From his earliest youth, Baron Edmond de Rothschild has taken a deep interest in art and science. At the age of 13, he began collecting engravings, and he has formed one of the most important collections of engravings and paintings in France. In recognition of his artistic knowledge, he was elected in 1906 a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts, in succession to Bouchot, the Keeper of Engravings at the State Museum. He has lectured to the Academie Des Inscriptions at Belles Lettres. On this occasion he presented to the Academy a work by Andre Blum — one of the foremost French scholars in the do-rain of history of art, a coreligionist and the principal custodian of Baron Edmond’s art collections –containing conclusive proofs of the genuineness and age — about 1330 — of an engraving made in France, thus establishing the priority of French wood engravers over those of Nuremberg. Until that year (1927) Nuremberg was generally supposed to be the place of origin of this genre.
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.
MR. JAMES DE ROTSCHILD.
The Baron’s eldest son and heir, Mr. James de Rothschild M.P., maintains his father’s interest in the Palestine work, and he constantly takes an important part in Palestine developments. As President of the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association (Pica) and in his capacity as a member of the British Parliament, he has repeatedly given practical demonstration of his Palestine interest. An outstanding occasion was the speech which he delivered in the House of Commons last November, in the debate on the Passfield White Paper, when he said inter alia: I am qualified to address the House on these matters, for by the accident of birth I happen now to be Chairman of the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association, of which much is written both in the White Paper and in the Hope Simpson Report, while it has been referred to several times tonight. Secondly, during the War, in 1918, I was detailed by Lord Allenby to recruit the Jewish Battalion in Palestine. There were then, in that part of Palestine which had been conquered by the British Army, about 18,000 to 20,000 Jews. They were mostly in Jerusalem, and a few of them in the surrounding colonies, but the greater number had already been deported to the north, to Syria, Damascus, and Konia, by the Turks. In just over a fortnight, out of this population of 20,000 a great number over age, and a great number tired out by the fatigues and the hardships of a long famine during the War, a thousand men came forward, solid good soldiers, who were enrolled in the 40th. Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. These men fought in the British Army. I know that today these men who wore the British uniform are the only soldiers who served in the British Army to whom no offer was given to settle on the land. While out of a population of 20,000 Jews in Palestine, a battalion of 1,000 men was recruited in a very short time, if my memory serves me right, out of several 100,000 Arabs who were then in Palestine, only 165 volunteered and went to help the Emir Feisal in his campaign. I do not want to put one patriotism against the other, but still, if there is any measure by which patriotism can be judged, it is only that of sacrifice.
I am qualified to approach this question, I think, from another point of view, Mr. de Rothschild said, namely, that I have inherited a long tradition of Palestinian colonisation. The Pica was founded about 50 years ago. It was the first manifestation of practical Zionism. In those days, when it was founded the word “Zionism” did not exist, and I, personally, rather fight shy of any words ending in “ism”, like Capitalism and Socialism. It was the first manifestation of this movement, because the men and women who went to Palestine then as settlers chose to go there in preference to going to the Argentine or New York. There have been comparisons raised both in the White Paper and in the Hope Simpson Report between the Pica colonies and the colonies of the Zionist Organisation and the Jewish National Fund, he went on. They do not touch the heart of the matter of the White Paper, and I should like to mention that Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the founder of the Pica, associated himself with Dr. Weizmann, when he resigned the office of head of the Jewish Agency and the Zionist Organisation.
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