The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebel­lious Rothschild

Han­nah Rothschild
  • Review
By – August 29, 2013

This is a fas­ci­nat­ing and grip­ping biog­ra­phy of Pan­non­i­ca de Koenigswarter—née Roth­schild — who was bet­ter known as Nica — the author’s great-aunt. It describes the life and escapades of a woman who enjoyed liv­ing on the edge of a soci­ety — and indeed, a world — which was strict­ly seg­re­gat­ed and racist. The book, writ­ten by a writer/​producer of film doc­u­men­taries in Great Britain, weaves a fas­ci­nat­ing pic­ture of an extra­or­di­nary mem­ber of a fam­i­ly that had built a finan­cial empire in a rather frag­ile world which was in search of eco­nom­ic solvency. 

The Roth­schild dynasty was estab­lished by May­er Amschel (17441812) whose five sons were dis­patched by him to Euro­pean finan­cial cen­ters, in order to estab­lish and run a world-class finan­cial empire. Nica had five chil­dren and 306 cats, drove a Bent­ley, was sen­tenced to three years in jail for doing drugs, and was a patroness of var­i­ous black jazz musi­cians. In a way, she was both a lib­er­tar­i­an and fem­i­nist, before either of those terms were in the pop­u­lar lexicon.

There’s much to be learned from this care­ful­ly etched and inter­est­ing book. For instance, Roth­schild women were allowed to work in the fam­i­ly bank only as book­keep­ers or archivists. You also come away from read­ing this book with the impres­sion that there’s some­thing rather edgy about jazz music and the life which must be ded­i­cat­ed to its pub­lic per­for­mance. The book also serves as a trib­ute to the mem­o­ry of the jazz pianist Thelo­nious Monk, whose hand­some­ly strik­ing pho­to­graph was on the cov­er of Time mag­a­zine Feb­ru­ary 29,1964. Acknowl­edge­ments, bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, inter­views, lists of Nica-relat­ed songs, doc­u­men­taries, film footage and archives and libraries vis­it­ed, photos.

Mor­ton Merowitz holds degrees from Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty, the Drop­sie Col­lege for Hebrew and Cog­nate Learn­ing, and the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Buf­fa­lo. He was involved in Jew­ish edu­ca­tion for some ten years and cur­rent­ly reviews non-fic­tion lit­er­a­ture which may be of inter­est and rel­e­vance to stu­dents and teach­ers of Jew­ish studies.

Discussion Questions