The News from Waterloo

The Nazi movie

Die Rothschilds – Aktien auf Waterloo (‘The Rothschilds – Shares in Waterloo’)

You can see this film (in German) here.

This was one of several anti-Semitic feature films released in Nazi Germany in 1940, the most famous and successful at the time being Jud Süss. Most accounts of the film's reception suggest that it suffered at the box office in wartime Germany because it conveyed a muddled message, leaving audiences uncertain whether they should hate the grasping Jews or the corrupt, arrogant British.

Nathan Rothschild is portrayed as a dandyish banker trying to make his way in London. We see his fortune grow thanks to his ruthless manoeuvring and to the assistance of a ‘Jewish International’, but socially he remains frozen out. The film’s climax (spoiler alert) is once again Waterloo, which enables him, not to win society over, but to assert ownership of it.

‘News is money’

Rothschild achieves this after realising that he can make a really big killing by being the first to have news of the battle’s outcome. ‘I must know what is happening,’ he declares. ‘I must have news, accurate news, you understand? News is money!’ He promises a fortune to anyone who can get it for him, incidentally corrupting a nice young Englishman from the romantic sub-plot, who is supposed to send him word by pigeon post.

When the young man discovers he is part of a profiteering scheme he sets all the pigeons free in disgust, but Rothschild gets the news first anyway, through a drunken sailor called Ruthworth who rushes to London from Ostend with a newspaper announcing the victory. While Ruthworth is cheated of his reward, Rothschild plunges the London stock market into panic by spreading word of a defeat. Rival banks fail, Baring dies of shock and crowds of ruined and distraught people fills the street while Rothschild celebrates a profit of £11 million. The young Englishman arrives too late with news of the victory – and in a nice twist he insists that it is not Wellington but the Prussians who have won it.

British plutocracy

The final frames of the picture drive home the propaganda message. A map of Britain is shown with a gleaming star of David over it, and then comes a postscript: ‘As work on this film was completed, the last of the Rothschilds’ descendants are fleeing Europe. The fight against their accomplices in England, the British plutocracy, carries on.’

This plot owes most to the Lucian Wolf account of the delivery of the news to London – the printed report rushed across the Channel from Belgium – though it also retains the engineered stock market panic which Wolf rejected, but which has been around since the late 19th century. None of this has any basis in evidence.