Baron Guy Edouard Alphonse Paul de Rothschild is dead. He died at 98 years of age.
In his youth, Baron Guy de Rothschild had three things going against him. The French government of Leon Blum had declared war on the 200 powerful families that were said to dominate France at the time. The Rothschilds were at the top of the list. Anti-semites, notably in Hitler’s Germany, had announced that they were mortal enemies of all Europe’s Jews, notably the Rothschilds. And, in 1940, the Germans attacked the French army, in which Guy de Rothschild was an officer.
Capitaine de Rothschild fought the Wehrmacht at the battle of Carvin; afterwards, he was one of only 3 officiers still fit for duty. He was evacuated from Dunkirk, to England, where he was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his conduct on the beaches.
Sent back to France immediately, he was trapped by German forces near Angouleme, escaped, and made his way through Spain and Portugal to New York, where his parents were living. A year later, he was on his way back to Europe to join the Free French forces when his cargo ship, Pacific Grove, was hit by a torpedo. Rothschild spent 12 hours freezing on a raft before being picked up. In London, he finally joined his cousin Jimmy who greeted him with a bottle of 1895 Chateau Laffite – owned by the Rothschild family.
Being a Rothschild had its advantages and its disadvantages. “To the Right wing, a Jew; to the Leftists, a capitalist,” he remarked. After the war, he found his fortune in ruins. The family had left France before the Nazis arrived. This gave enemies an opportunity. They had “abandoned French soil” was the charge. It was a choice, said Guy, “between fleeing the German army or volunteering for cremation.” Nevertheless, in 1940, the Rothschilds were deprived of their French nationality, taken off the register of the Legion d’honneur and stripped of their extensive property.
The war over, Guy de Rothschild got back what was his and proceeded to enjoy life. He was on the French golf team in 1948. His horses won at Chantilly. He and his wife gave stunning parties. He sponsored gala charities to raise money for Jewish causes. Charles de Gaulle refused to attend, however, saying the Jews were too “dominating.”
Meanwhile, Rothschild kept his eye on money too. He took big losses from his Caledonian nickel mines and then the Algerians nationalized his oil interests. But he built up the Banque de Rothschild to 70,000 clients – enough to make it attractive to the government. The Mitterand government nationalized it in 1981.
You win some, you lose some. One of his big wins came when he hired George Pompidou to run his business. Pompidou seems to have done it well; the business flourished. And it didn’t hurt that Pompidou was later elected president of France, either. Them that has, gits. Guy de Rothschild began life with a silver spoon in his mouth, and ended it that way too. He rode to the Lycees Condorcet and Louis le Grand in Paris in a chauffeured limousine, with a footman for a little extra protection. He lived large. But he seemed to get enough out of life to make it – at least so it appeared – profitable and pleasurable. Who could ask for more?
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