A Research Journey: From the Père Lachaise Cemetery to the Waddesdon Manor to Ramat Hanadiv
In my book Ideology and Landscape, which is about reinterring Zionist leaders in the homeland, I devoted a chapter to the reburial of Baron Edmond de Rothschild in Ramat Hanadiv. He and his wife Ada (Adelheid) were reinterred there in April 1954 in an imposing public ceremony. An Israeli battleship brought the coffins from Marseille to Haifa, and from there they were transported to the majestic burial estate south of the Carmel.
When the book was published I was already then aware of lacunae in the Rothschild chapter. The Baron’s funeral is well documented, thanks to a wealth of documents found in the National Archives. However, I knew little of the history of Ramat Hanadiv itself; it was not clear to me when the Rothschild tomb was erected, who designed it, and who decided to build the beautiful gardens around it. Rothschild apparently left instructions in his will, stating that he was to be buried at Umm el-Alek, in land he had acquired in the early 20th century. I was not able to find any original source documentation that would confirm or refute this.
Later, I discovered a ‘treasure’ in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. Lying untouched for years in the dusty basement of the Archives was the PICA (Palestine Jewish Colonization Association) collection, which came to light thanks to a grant from the Rothschild Fund for the purpose of cataloging it. Finally, scholars were able to examine these documents, which included material on Ramat Hanadiv and the Rothschild tomb. Of special interest to me were maps and drawings found in the files that enabled me to fill in missing gaps in information concerning the planning of the site.
Shortly before Passover this year, I traveled to the Waddesdon Manor located in Buckinghamshire, England, northwest of London. The manor was constructed in the 1870s by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and was occupied by various family members, lastly by James, the eldest son of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. I went there to examine the family archives, which contained important historical documents including PICA documents. I was pleased to discover that the collection had been recently restored and catalogued, and the Archival Director had ensured me that the many photos, maps and documents available for study were well worth a visit.
So, I set out from the country inn in a neighboring village and made my way to the Manor. It quickly became clear to me that this was a first rate British national heritage and major tourist site. The enormous gates open onto beautiful grounds covered in large expanses of lawn. I made the half hour walk to the archives, originally a farmhouse for animals and agricultural tools used to maintain the estate. Several years ago, the building underwent a major renovation and restoration, and the sight of it was truly breathtaking. The surrounding green English landscape and the imposing edifice in front me conveyed power and prestige. The numerous sculptures and the Rothschild coat of arms, with five arrows representing the five sons who built the family financial empire, indicated to me what I might find within.
I was graciously received by the archival staff, who presented me with files standing in a row like soldiers, containing letters, maps, photos, sketches and more. I spent three days photocopying hundreds of documents, unable to take the time to examine them. My priority was to bring back as much material as possible to Israel, where I could carefully study the documents and try to absorb the information they contained.
On my last afternoon there, I allowed myself a stroll through the gardens. It was early spring, the trees were still bare, but the orderly flowerbeds increased in number as I approached the neo-Renaissance manor house, surrounded by fountains and colorful flowers. I took in the loveliness of the gardens and the aviary that housed a collection of birds (one is even named after Baron de Rothschild). Before sunset I walked through the neighboring village and noticed the Rothschild shield with the five arrows decorating many of the homes, which were built by the Baron to house the estate workers.
Upon my return to Israel, I devoted time to reading and deciphering the numerous documents I had brought back with me. I was able to complete the puzzle surrounding the Rothschild burial at Ramat Hanadiv and an article on the subject is forthcoming.
I now believe that the Baron never requested to be buried at Umm el-Alek; it is not mentioned in his will. I now know that the architectural plans drawn up by Otto Schiller were approved in 1937 by James Rothschild, but other burial sites were also considered. Today I have a better understanding of the process that began in 1936 with the planning of Ramat Hanadiv and ended in 1954 with the re-interment.
I warmly recommend a visit to Ramat Hanadiv, an unusual spot in the Israeli landscape that combines beautiful gardens with an historic burial site, a living memorial to the Baron and Baroness de Rothschild.
TRANSLATED BY PENINA GOLDSCHMIDT
Doron Bar is the president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He earned his PhD from The Hebrew University in Historical Geography. Professor Bar is researching the development of popular and national holy places. He is a seventh generation descendant of an Old Yishuv Jerusalem family.