This Man's Story Almost Made me Cry

This man overcame persecution and built one of the world's great fortunes. There's a lot of wisdom in his story.


Imagine this.

Imagine you were a Jew living in Frankfurt, Germany, in the early 1800s. You lived in the Judengasse (Judengasse is German for Jews lane).

The Frankfurt Judengasse. Source: The Rothschild Archive

The Judengasse was the Jewish ghetto and the size of one city block. And over 10,000 families lived in it. The Judengasse was walled off from the rest of the city. And the only way to enter was through a gate. The gate was locked by 9:00 every night. So every non-Jew had to leave by 9:00, and every Jew had to be inside by 9:00.

In addition to wretched living conditions, the Jews in Frankfurt were persecuted in other ways:

  • They had to pay higher taxes than their Christian neighbors.
  • They were forced to take loyalty oaths that declared them members of a cursed race.
  • They couldn't farm or trade in most types of commodities.
  • And if a Jew was walking down the street and a Christian said, "Jew, pay your dues," the Jew had to take off his hat, or in a woman's case, her vail, step aside, and bow before the Christian.

Ludwig the 1st, King of Bavaria, said this about the Jews:

You are ours in body and possession. We may make, do, and deal with you as it pleases us.

And if that doesn't show you how much the Jews were despised in Frankfurt, there was a large mural of a fat pig with Jews eating its excrement painted on the city's outer wall, visible to all travelers entering the city.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild was born into this environment. And he started his business at zero and at a time when Jews were heavily persecuted.

But in just a generation, his five sons, who took over his business, would be the wealthiest family in the world, and some argue the wealthiest family of all time.

I'm not going to get into the family business and how they made their money. However, there's links at the bottom if you want to learn how they made their money.

What inspired me about Mayer Rothschild was how he lived his life, especially at the end of his life, and what he wanted to be remembered for.


Legacy

My mom died of cancer during the pandemic in 2020. She died from a rare form of cancer that came out of nowhere. And that experience showed me how quickly life can be snatched away from you at any moment.

Ever since then, I have thought about legacy a lot. And what I want to be remembered for.

Here are a few things that stood out to me about Mayer Rothschild.

  • He begged his children to be charitable and remain faithful to the Jewish community.
  • Even though he was the wealthiest citizen in the Judengasse, nothing about his wealth was mentioned at his funeral.
  • Instead, people remarked on his charity and piety. Any money he had, he was always giving it away.
  • He often walked through the Judengasse at night, pressing money into the hands of poor people.
  • His charity didn't start when he was older and had money. He was a friend of the destitute and homeless as a young man.
  • He never moved into a mansion and always wore plain, simple clothing.

Mayer Rothschild died in 1812. And he wasn't the richest man in the world. But on his deathbed, he said to his oldest son Amschel "Amschel, keep your brothers together, and you will become the richest men in Germany."

Mayer's sons become not only the wealthiest family in Germany but the wealthiest family in the world.


One of my favorite things Mayer did was set the principles he wanted his family to live by.

They were Concordia, Integritas, and Industria.

  • Concordia: Harmony. He always put family first.

Today, they aren't the wealthiest family in the world. But parts of their fortune remain intact (over 200 years after Mayer started the business), even though the Nazis stole large portions of their wealth during WW2.

In his will, Mayer wrote that any child who disrupted family harmony would be excluded from the family fortune and booted out of the family business.  

  • Integritas: Integrity. Mayer was in banking and investments. People had to trust him with their money. He managed other people's money during tumultuous times in Europe. He managed other people's estates during the Napoleonic wars. There were multiple times he could've screwed people to save his own skin. But he didn't. He maintained integrity and kept his commitments.
  • Industria: Hard work. Energy. Ben Wilson, one of my sources for this episode, and host of the How to Take Over the World Podcast, said the one trait he found in people who achieved great things was boundless energy. And according to accounts of people who knew Mayer, he had inexhaustible energy.

This podcast is about finding smart ways to invest money. And hopefully, we'll find a few if we work hard, learn, and catch a few breaks.

And if we grow our wealth, great, that's awesome.

But I hope to stay grounded and not become a self-righteous prick who thinks I'm smarter than everyone. Because I'm not. I hope I remember what Mayer did with his kids, wealth, and what he wanted his legacy to be.

I hope Mayer's story inspires you in some way. If it did, tell me how. Email me at thecorner@tradesam.com.


Additional resources

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