Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) was the youngest son of James and Betty de Rothschild. He bore the Hebrew name Benjamin. He was born in Paris on 19 August 1845. Edmond joined the Paris Banking House in 1868 becoming a director of the Est railway company and other family concerns (making journeys to Bukharu to examine the potential of the oilfields of the area), and devoting himself to art, culture and philanthropic interests. In 1877, he married Adelheid (1853-1935), the daughter of Wilhelm Carl Rothschild (1828-1901).
A strong supporter of Zionism, from 1882, his 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. Until his death, '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. In his goal for the establishment of a Jewish homeland, he promoted industrialization and economic development. Edmond played a pivotal 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 1923 PICA (the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association) was formed to oversee his affairs in Palestine. PICA acquired more than 125,000 acres (50,586 ha) of land and established a range of business ventures.
Until his death, '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. In 1923 PICA (the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association) was formed to oversee his affairs in Palestine. 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 Adelheid were brought to Ramat Hanadiv in Zikhron Ya'akov.
The Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association - PICA- was founded in 1924 by Edmond to administer the settlements he had created in Palestine and took over the role of the Jewish Colonisation Association of 1900. PICA was the largest Jewish landowner in Palestine. Edmond's involvement with Jewish settlements began in 1882 when he funded Rishon Le-Zion ('The First in Zion') He quickly began to establish more settlements including Zikhron Y aacov and Maskereth Batya (named after his parents) which were provided with social and religious institutions. Edmond also 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. After Edmond's death in 1934 his son James de Rothschild (1878-1957) presided over the affairs of PICA until in 1957, the year of his death, he decided to transfer all PICA holdings to national institutions. His determination to continue to support Israeli institutions was carried out after his death by his wife, Dorothy (1895-1988), who founded Yad Hanadiv.
Papers in The Rothschild Archive London
The Rothschild Archive holds very little material on Edmond and his work in Palestine and Israel. The Archive holds a collection of files concerning personal affairs of members of the French family that include a few papers and volumes of accounts relating to the Jewish colonies and to their funding and development, as well as personal papers of Edmond relating to his birth and marriage. One file concerns the Jewish Colonization Association and includes papers relating to its Memorandum and Articles of Association, 1891.
These files were deposited with the Rothschild Archive Trust by Baron Eric de Rothschild. They were previously held in Bank vault of de Rothschild Frères at rue Lafitte, Paris, and then Château Lafite.
Papers at Waddesdon Manor
There is also a collection of archive material relating to the Palestinian Jewish Colonisation Association (PICA), held at Waddesdon Manor (the Buckinghamshire estate formerly owned by Edmond's son, and successor to his philanthropic work, James de Rothschild (1878-1957). To find out more about these papers, please contact Waddesdon Manor. firstname.lastname@example.org
Further secondary sources
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)
Rothschild and early Jewish colonization, Dr Ran Aronsohn (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000)
Two older books which may be of interest are:
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)