Life

From Banker to Scapegoat: The Untold Story of Gerson Bleichröder

In the last years of his life, Gelson Bleichröder was once again haunted by this scandal.

It all began with an affair that has never been officially confirmed. In 1868, a Berlin woman named Dorothee Corona claimed that she had divorced her husband because of Bleichröder’s presence. The 44-year-old Bleichröder is one of the richest and most well-known businessmen in Prussia. As Bismarck’s personal banker, he also has privileges that are difficult for ordinary businessmen to achieve, even though he is a Jew.

The scandal was quickly suppressed. Berlin’s police system intervened, and Bleichröder also paid a sum of money to arrange for the woman to leave Germany. After this brief interlude, Bleichröder’s wealth, reputation, and power were about to experience a dramatic increase due to his special relationship with Bismarck.

The woman did not disappear. A few years later, she returned to Berlin and began to harass Bleichröder relentlessly, threatening public scandal and constantly demanding money. Berlin’s police and judicial system had no special methods for dealing with this woman. To make matters worse, the woman is joined by Schwerin, a sleazy ex-cop who teams up with her to blackmail the banker. Behind their shamelessness and bravery is an increasingly strong anti-Semitic trend. In Europe, discrimination against Jews has a long history. Even though there was a trend of “emancipation” in the mid-19th century, Jews have never been truly treated as equals. When the economic crisis broke out in 1873, wealthy Jews became the target again. It seemed that their greed and speculation caused the depression.

The woman fell silent, and Schwerin continued his accusations, gaining a new ally in the form of an anti-Semitic leader. The private scandal gained contemporary significance when, in a pamphlet published in 1891, Bleichröder was portrayed as a man who not only drained the German economy but also represented “a tale of excess, perjury, and corruption.” Two years later, they wrote in another pamphlet: “The Germans have so accepted an alien race that has been corrupted for thousands of years. They regard money bags as their God and fraud as their faith. Germans, unite and fight for Germany.” Fight the legal system or you will never get ahead.”

This naked attack was also associated with Bismarck’s ouster in 1889. Even while in office, the Prime Minister may not be willing to provide protection to his Jewish friends, let alone out of power. Bleichröder finally died amid this slander and condemnation. For a long time before his death, he suffered from the pain of his private life. Apart from this ever-present scandal, he has been completely blind since the late 1870s and needs to rush to appointments with an assistant on his arm. For every increase in his wealth and glory, there was an increase in public anger and revulsion. What’s more, the people he tried to be loyal to—whether Bismarck, the royal family, or the powerful—never showed sincere respect for him. They needed his money, relied on his judgment on business changes, and even gave him medals and praise, but they never really regarded him as one of their own.

He died amid a curse. Until his death, he continued to play his public role, continuing to meet with nobles and cabinet ministers to discuss the German economy as well as their personal finances.

To me, nothing better expresses the personal dilemma of the Jewish banker and the atmosphere of the times behind it than this banal adulterous episode. He must be a lonely and depressed person to have a relationship with an inexplicable woman due to a sudden impulse. It is also said that this woman “completely lacks beauty, charm and status”. Judging from her words and deeds, it is obvious that she has mental problems. It is conceivable that Bleichröder must have been both ashamed and upset about this.

Then, his Jewish identity, his money, and, more importantly, the mood of the times, turned this accidental mistake into a lifelong wound. It was an anxious Germany. The rapid expansion of industrial and financial power not only symbolized the power of the country, but also spawned dissatisfaction. Ordinary people abandoned by development felt resentful. It was also a Germany where journalism exploded. Various newspapers, The pamphlet needed a variety of themes that could capture the public imagination, and the conspiracy of Jewish bankers fit this need best; it was also an era of constant sexual anxiety, and people before Freud didn’t know how to face their own desires. This kind of repression breeds scandals, and even breeds people’s love for scandals… All of this is also related to his protector Bismarck.

The most amazing political strongman of the 19th century not only created a unified and aggressive Germany, but also brought unhappy times to the new Germans. He has a natural distrust of freedom, and has no interest in establishing a system that protects basic individual rights. His absolute worship of power and his tough personal style have plunged the entire society into a constant sense of tension. Long-simmering tensions increased intolerance and anger, and Bleichröder would become the scapegoat for these complex, entangled forces.

In 1858, Bleichröder met Bismarck. They come from two completely different worlds. One is the ancient Junker family, which is proud of its noble title and land ownership; the other is from Jewish bankers. They have been discriminated against for hundreds of years, but they are rich because they specialize in managing money.

The Rothschilds facilitated the meeting. When Bismarck needed a trustworthy private banker, the 36-year-old Bleichröder got the opportunity. He had just taken charge of the private bank founded by his father, which had also followed Rothschild with great respect. The De family. The 43-year-old Bismarck was a rising member of the Prussian bureaucracy and was about to leave for St. Petersburg. Like many similar cases at the time, their initial relationship could not have been simpler. Bismarck needed someone to take care of his money, and the latter needed such clients to improve his social status.

Historical trends soon pushed them to a new stage, and their cooperation evolved into a more complex story. First, in 1866, Bismarck, who had been politically frustrated for a long time, suddenly became the founder of a new empire, and Prussia unified the divided Germany. Then in 1871 it defeated France and became the absolute new power on the European continent. As the first prime minister of the empire, Bismarck has become a mythical figure. His iron fist, shrewdness, and deterrence have played a central role in the European political stage. He has also reshaped domestic politics with his strong personal style.

Bleichröder’s status rose rapidly with Bismarck. During the two uncertain wars, he was Bismarck’s most enthusiastic and loyal supporter, taking the initiative to raise funds for this purpose. He also received corresponding rewards. Not only did he become closer to Bismarck, he also met with the new emperor and crown prince and participated in many decisions. At the age of 49, he became the most famous private banker in Germany and the only Jew awarded the Iron Cross. Then, he was awarded the title of nobility and could add “Von” to his name. This was the recognition he dreamed of. He also benefited from a new round of economic growth created by railroads, steel, and overseas trade, in which he gained huge wealth, which in turn gave him new vanity and influence.

He even entered the ranks of the most prominent figures in Europe and was called the “Rothschild of Berlin.” British Prime Minister Disraeli described him as “Bismarck’s close friend”, the only person who dared to tell the truth to him. The diplomatic community fawned over him, and he eventually assumed the honorary position of British Consul General in Berlin, for which he also declined the title of Consul General of Austria-Hungary. And his home became the center of German social life. One socialite recalled: “Almost all the nobility and government officials in Berlin would go there…The entire banquet table was filled with the best of the best. People used silver tableware. , with the most luxurious things laid before them. Then (violinist) Pablo De and (court pianist) Esipov began to perform, followed by a ball.”

He not only pursued this superficial vanity, but also participated in the adventure of a new empire. Like the most outstanding European bankers of his generation, he set his sights overseas, whether it was lagging Russia, the declining Ottoman Empire and new countries such as Bulgaria and Serbia, as well as Africa, which lacked a complete financial system and needed these foreign capitals. Bleichröder lent money to the Turkish government in an attempt to build a railway connecting Turkey with Austria-Hungary. He invested in Mexican bonds and also tried to enter China.

This rapidly expanding new world and new experiences gained also increased his personal influence. Bismarck gave him asylum, and he also expanded Bismarck’s understanding of this era. Not only did Bismarck often rely on his intelligence, bankers often delivered diplomatic messages faster than ambassadors, so-called “eight days early”; Bismarck also learned to understand the world through the eyes of bankers, and the new world composed of money, technology, and trade world, it is different from a Junker world. Bismarck’s fascination with money, his shrewdness and his ability to spend every penny surprised even Bleichröder.

Their inner conflict also persists, a symbol of the tension between the old elite and the new rich. They have never had an unequal relationship. Even in the most favored era, Bleichröder was only the one who entered through the back door of Bismarck’s house. The rich and powerful turned to him for financial help but never truly respected him. Bismarck never attended his banquets, and even when celebrities gathered, German officers rarely appeared – they were the “elite of the elite.” The socialite who praised his banquet also said that although his banquet was luxurious, it was “inadequate” and the participants “expressed regret afterwards.”

This inequality not only shows the strong identity anxiety of the Jewish community, but also the anxiety of the Junkers in power towards an emerging world composed of money, industry, and high mobility. Bismarck also knew that his power was neither a gift from God nor the support of the people. It all depended on the emperor. If the emperor changed his mood, he would lose everything immediately. Bleichröder was even more aware of his dependence on Bismarck. Fortunately, they all have unique character traits to bridge this tension. Bismarck used his arrogance and desire for power and control to maintain this self-centeredness, while Bleichröder relied on dullness – “insensitive to many slights, fully thinking that his wealth, status and wisdom are enough to withstand attacks from below.” . In a sense, they are an alliance between two anxious people.

Alliances must one day end. 1889 was a turning point for them. In the face of an aggressive young emperor, Bismarck easily lost power and fell into a terrible isolation. He retired to his hometown. Bleichröder’s huge money was even more fragile, and he was unable to face the hostility of the times.

Death makes this alliance even more fragile and cold. When Bleichröder died, he aroused a brief outpouring of mourning and praise, and the funeral was as pompous as a state funeral. The always acerbic press also issued such words: “One of Germany’s most generous people, the most noble philanthropist… (German financial circles) lost its most outstanding representative.” But then, he was quickly forgotten. This forgetfulness is related to money, but also to the rapid changes in German politics and society. Unlike the Rothschilds and even the Warburgs, the Bleichröder family’s money did not last long. The Jews entered the era of Hitler from the Bismarck era, from an era of identity anxiety to an era of erasure.

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