ATHE UTRIA TRAGEDY is that only a small number of Jews from Vienna returned to the city after the Second World War, once the sparkling home of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Stefan Zweig and Arthur Schnitzler. Some 150,000 Jews lived in Vienna at the start of the 20th century; today the city’s Jewish community is only 7,000, many of whom are new immigrants from eastern Europe or Russia. The unofficial Jewish royal family, the Rothschilds, never returned to Vienna full-time.
A Rothschild descendant, Geoffrey Hoguet, traveled from his home in New York to Vienna this month for a family mission (Mr. Hoguet is a distant cousin of the Rothschilds who own a stake in The Economist). He is suing the city of Vienna for the manner in which the municipality managed a charitable trust created by his great-grandfather, Albert Freiherr von Rothschild, to honor the will of his childless brother Nathaniel. The first hearing was held on February 20.
Mr. Hoguet is dismayed by the way the city of Vienna treated the Nathaniel Freiherr von Rothschild’sche Stiftung für Nervenkranke, a foundation created in 1907 to pay hospitals for the treatment of the mentally ill, which was expropriated by the Nazis in 1938 and taken over by the second newly independent republic in 1956. The foundation was once fabulously wealthy, with an endowment estimated at 120 million euros ($ 130 million). Nathaniel’s donation is the largest charitable donation ever made in Austria.
Mr. Hoguet wishes to re-establish a committee of 12 members (of which the Rothschilds would appoint nine) to manage the foundation. By keeping control of the foundation, Vienna “in fact perpetuated the Nazi aryanization program”, indicates his court file. Hoguet also wants to cancel the 2002 sale of the Maria Theresa Schlössl, a baroque palace that was one of the world’s first psychiatric hospitals – which he said sold the city at a “largely undervalued” price. “. And it aims to cancel a clause added in 2017 stipulating that the wealth of the foundation would go to the city of Vienna in the event of dissolution.
The city insists that it has always dealt responsibly with its Nazi history. His lawyer told the court that the foundation’s assets had declined to 8 million euros by the time the Nazis annexed Austria. He said the city had invested between 500 and 600 million euros in the foundation over the years, so that it could manage its hospitals. However, the president of the court, Ursula Kovar, reprimanded the city, describing as “massively alarming” the clause which she added by making herself the sole beneficiary of the wealth of the foundation in the event of dissolution. On his recommendation, the two parties have now agreed to negotiate.
M. Hoguet says that he remains attached to Austria and to the many friends he has made in the Alpine Republic. He worked for Creditanstalt, a large Austrian bank founded by his ancestor. Until recently, his family still owned a lot of land. Last year, they separated from the last piece, selling around 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of forest in Lower Austria.
The sale marks the end, after more than 200 years, of the physical presence of the Rothschilds in Austria. However, Mr. Hoguet’s ancestors would approve of his struggle for their posthumous rights. Although he was an exile in America at the time of his death in 1955, his great-uncle Louis, the last Austrian man Rothschild, chose to be buried in the central cemetery in Vienna. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Charity confiscated”