Louis Nathaniel de Rothschild paid $400 million for his release
Notorious Heinrich Himmler, the head of SS, once said to an organizer of the Holocaust Adolf Eichmann: “Take whatever you can from the Jews.” With the Rothschilds, one of the richest Jewish families in the world, the Nazis had a lot to take from.
Louis Nathaniel de Rothschild (1882-1955) was an heir to the fortune of the Austrian branch of the Rothschild banking dynasty.
After the death of his father, Albert Rothschild, in 1911, he took over the management of the Creditanstalt bank and industrial companies owned by the Austrian branch of the Rothschilds.
In the 1930s, the wealth of Louis Rothschild was a staggering two billion schillings (over $10 billion in today’s worth).
Among many buildings owned by Louis in Vienna, a vast palace known as the Palais Rothschild stood out. Besides its enormous size and elegance, the palace was famous for its immense collection of paintings, statues, and coins.
In 1929, the Austrian state forced Rothschild’s Creditanstalt to merge with insolvent Bodencredit bank.
The bad merger combined with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to the collapse of the Creditanstalt. The bank became state-owned and Louis Rothschild had to pay for 30 million shillings out of the total bank’s debt of 160 million shillings.
Although warned by friends, Louis Rothschild refused to leave Austria. He was arrested at Vienna-Aspern airport on March 12, 1938, the same day that Austria got annexed by Nazi Germany. The arrest of one of the wealthiest persons was intensely covered by newspapers worldwide.
The Rothschild family offered £120,000 (around $11 million in today’s values) as a ransom.
However, the Nazis aimed much higher. Among others, the Nazis wanted the fifty-one percent stake in Witkowitz concern, one of the largest iron and steelworks companies in Europe. The Nazis needed steel for their armaments production.
On May 11, 1939, after being held hostage for fourteen months, the Nazis exchanged Louis Rothschild for a staggering $21 million (over $400 million in today’s value), a ransom believed to be one of the largest ever paid for an individual in history.
But that wasn’t the only thing the Rothschilds had to pay for one of its key people. The Nazis forced them to sell the Witkowitz concern at a discounted price of £2.9 million ($260 million in today’s value).
After the war, Louis Rothschild and his heirs got only a fraction of their enormous wealth back. Louis gave Palais Rothschild to the Austrian government with the provision that they provide pensions to his former employees. In 1954, the government tore the building down.
Louis Rothschild settled in Vermont, United States, and spent the rest of his life traveling around the world. He died of a heart attack while swimming near the coast of Jamaica in 1955.
In 1998, after being pressured by the United States, the Austrian government returned around 250 pieces of art to the Austrian branch of Rothschilds, which included paintings, scientific instruments, French furniture, and old weaponry. Most of the items were sold at the auction organized by Christie’s in 1999 for over $90 million (around $148 million in today’s value).