Politics and Philanthropy

The heyday of the Jewish country house was an age of rising political antisemitism that culminated in genocide. For Jewish families like the Rothschilds and the Reinachs, wealth was both the basis of their power and privilege and a source of peculiar vulnerability. Without exception the Jewish origins of country house owners mattered in a social, cultural and political context where Jewishness was stigmatised and Jews regarded as other.

This research strand takes the Jewish country house as a starting point for reconceptualising the place of transnational Jewish business dynasties like the Rothschilds, Sassoons, Bischoffsheims, Philippsons, Warburgs, and Monds in European culture and society and in the Jewish world. In what ways were these houses connected to international Jewish networks, and what does their embeddedness in rural life tell us about the families who owned them? What role did these houses play in the political life of the Jewish elite, both nationally and within the global Jewish world? What role did these houses and their owners play in the geography of Jewish philanthropic activism, including during the traumatic ruptures of the Nazi period and its aftermath?

These families assumed key positions of leadership in the Jewish world, but historians of Jewish political and international activism have focused more on mass movements like socialism and Zionism, rooted in Eastern European social and political contexts. Rather than treating Jewish country houses simply as sites of assimilation and material self-fashioning, we situate them within a broader nexus of social, political, cultural and family life that was explicitly international in its connections and horizons, in which the Jewishness of these dynasties played a key structuring role - one which the fate of these properties during and after the Holocaust illuminates very clearly.



Key Events in this Research Strand
warburg brothers

September 2022

'Jewish Business Dynasties 1850-1950: Family, Power, Vulnerability'. This conference, which took place in September 2022, considered the economic, social, cultural and political role of the great international Jewish business dynasties and the critical part they played in the making of modern capitalism in an age of rising antisemitism that culminated in genocide. Read the conference report by Tova Benjamin here.
poster v2

May 2023

'Jewish Country Houses and the Holocaust in History and Memory'. Hosted by Villa Stiassni in Brno, and involving a visit to Villa Tugendhat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, this event provided an opportunity to reflect on the Holocaust histories of many Jewish country houses and on subsequent developments. This event was held in partnership with the National Heritage Institute (Czech Republic) and received assistance from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. Read the Call for Papers here and the Conference Report here.
montefiore thanet orphanage visit

Jewish Philanthropy: Solidarity, Antisemitism and Cultural Heritage 

This conference explores the objectives, consequences and diverse national cultures of Jewish philanthropy in Britain and Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 

This conference is for invited participants only.