Theodor Herzl תֵּאוֹדוֹר הֶרְצְל; Hungarian: Hebrew name given at his brit milah Binyamin Ze’ev בִּנְיָמִין זְאֵב), also known in Hebrew as חוֹזֵה הַמְדִינָה, ‘Visionary of the State’; 2 May 1860 – 3 July 1904 was an Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist, playwright, political activist, and writer who was the father of modern political Zionism. Herzl formed the Zionist Organization and promoted Jewish immigration to Palestine with the goal to form a Jewish state. Though he died before its establishment, he is known as the father of the State of Israel.
Herzl is specifically mentioned in the Israeli Declaration of Independence and is officially referred to as “the spiritual father of the Jewish State”, i.e. the visionary who gave a concrete, practicable platform and framework to political Zionism. However, he was not the first Zionist theoretician or activist; scholars, many of them religious such as rabbis Yehuda Bibas, Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and Judah Alkalai, promoted a range of proto-Zionist ideas before him.
Theodor Herzl was born in the Tabakgasse a street in the Jewish quarter of Pest (now part of eastern Budapest), Kingdom of Hungary, to a secular Jewish family. His father’s family were originally from Zimony (Serbia). He was the second child of Jeanette and Jakob Herzl, who were German-speaking, assimilated Jews. It is believed Herzl was of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic lineage predominately through his paternal line and to a lesser extent through the maternal line. He claimed to be a descendant of the Greek Kabbalist Joseph Taitazak.
Jakob Herzl (1836–1902), Herzl’s father, was a businessman. Herzl had one sister, Pauline, a year older than he was, who died suddenly on 7 February 1878, of typhus. Theodor lived with his family in a house next to the Dohány Street Synagogue (formerly known as Tabakgasse Synagogue) located in Belváros, the inner city of the historical old town of Pest, in the eastern section of Budapest.
Herzl admired and hope to be like Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal, but developed an enthusiasm for poetry and the humanities.
In 1878, after the death of his sister, Pauline, the family moved to Vienna, Austria-Hungary, and lived in the 9th district, Alsergrund. At the University of Vienna, Herzl studied law. As a young law student, Herzl became a member of the German nationalist Burschenschaft (fraternity) Albia, which had the motto Ehre, Freiheit, Vaterland (“Honor, Freedom, Fatherland”). He later resigned in protest at the organisation’s antisemitism.
After a brief legal career in the University of Vienna and Salzburg, he devoted himself to journalism and literature, working as a journalist for a Viennese newspaper and a correspondent for Neue Freie Presse, in Paris, occasionally making special trips to London and Istanbul. He later became literary editor of Neue Freie Presse, and wrote several comedies and dramas for the Viennese stage. His early work did not focus on Jewish life. It was of the feuilleton order, descriptive rather than political.
Zionist intellectual and activist
As the Paris correspondent for Neue Freie Presse, Herzl followed the Dreyfus affair, a political scandal that divided the Third French Republic from 1894 until its resolution in 1906. It was a notorious antisemitic incident in France in which a Jewish French army captain was falsely convicted of spying for Germany. Herzl was witness to mass rallies in Paris following the Dreyfus trial. Herzl stated that the Dreyfus case turned him into a Zionist and that he was particularly affected by chants of ‘Death to the Jews!’.
Herzl rejected his early ideas regarding Jewish emancipation and assimilation and to believe that the Jews must remove themselves from Europe. Herzl grew to believe that antisemitism could not be defeated or cured, only avoided, and that the only way to avoid it was the establishment of a Jewish state. In June 1895, he wrote in his diary: ‘In Paris, as I have said, I achieved a freer attitude toward anti-semitism … Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-semitism.’ Herzl started writing pamphlets about ‘A Jewish State’. His testimony before the British Royal Commission reflected his fundamental, romantic liberal view on life as the ‘Problem of the Jews’.
In late 1895, Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), which was published February 1896 to immediate acclaim and controversy. The book argued that the Jewish people should leave Europe for Palestine, their historic homeland. The Jews possessed a nationality; all they were missing was a nation and a state of their own. Only through a Jewish state could they avoid antisemitism, express their culture freely and practice their religion without hindrance. Herzl’s ideas spread rapidly throughout the Jewish world and attracted international attention. Supporters of existing Zionist movements, such as the Hovevei Zion, immediately allied themselves with him, but he also encountered bitter opposition from members of the Orthodox community and those seeking to integrate in non-Jewish society.
In Der Judenstaat he writes:
“The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level.”
The book concludes:
Therefore I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans will rise again. Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.
On 10 March 1896, Herzl was visited by Reverend William Hechler, the Anglican minister to the British Embassy in Vienna. Hechler had read Herzl’s Der Judenstaat, and the meeting became central to the eventual legitimization of Herzl and Zionism. Herzl later wrote in his diary, “Next we came to the heart of the business. I said to him: (Theodor Herzl to Rev. William Hechler) I must put myself into direct and publicly known relations with a responsible or non responsible ruler – that is, with a minister of state or a prince. Then the Jews will believe in me and follow me. The most suitable personage would be the German Kaiser.” Hechler arranged an extended audience with Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, in April 1896. The Grand Duke was the uncle of the German Emperor Wilhelm II. Through the efforts of Hechler and the Grand Duke, Herzl publicly met Wilhelm II in 1898. The meeting significantly advanced Herzl’s and Zionism’s legitimacy in Jewish and world opinion.
With the assistance of Count Philip Michael von Nevlinski, a Polish émigré with political contacts in the Ottoman Court, Herzl attempted to meet Sultan Abdulhamid II in order to present his solution of a Jewish State to the Sultan directly. He failed to obtain an audience but did succeed in visiting a number of highly placed individuals, including the Grand Vizier, who received him as a journalist representing the Neue Freie Presse. Herzl presented his proposal to the Grand Vizier: the Jews would pay the Turkish foreign debt and help Turkey regain its financial footing in return for Palestine as a Jewish homeland. Prior to leaving Istanbul, 29 June 1896, Herzl was granted a symbolic medal of honor. The medal, the “Commander’s Cross of the Order of the Medjidie,” was a public relations affirmation for Herzl and the Jewish world of the seriousness of the negotiations.
Five years later, 17 May 1901, Herzl met with Sultan Abdulhamid II, who turned down Herzl’s offer to consolidate the Ottoman debt in exchange for a charter allowing the Zionists access to Palestine.
Returning from Istanbul, Herzl traveled to London to report back to the Maccabeans, a proto-Zionist group of established English Jews led by Colonel Albert Goldsmid. In November 1895 they received him with curiosity, indifference and coldness. Israel Zangwill bitterly opposed Herzl, but after Istanbul, Goldsmid agreed to support Herzl. In London’s East End, a community of primarily Yiddish speaking recent Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Herzl addressed a mass rally of thousands on 12 July 1896 and was received with acclaim. They granted Herzl the mandate of leadership for Zionism. Within six months this mandate had been expanded throughout Zionist Jewry: the Zionist movement grew rapidly.
In 1897, at considerable personal expense, he founded the Zionist newspaper Die Welt in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, and planned the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. He was elected president of the Congress (a position he held until his death in 1904), and in 1898 he began a series of diplomatic initiatives to build support for a Jewish country. He was received by Wilhelm II on several occasions, one of them in Jerusalem, and attended the Hague Peace Conference, enjoying a warm reception from many statesmen there.
His work on Autoemancipation was pre-figured by a similar conclusion drawn by Marx’s friend Moses Hess, in Rome and Jerusalem (1862). Pinsker had never yet read it, but was aware of the distant and far off Hibbat Zion. Herzl’s philosophical instruction highlighted the weaknesses and vulnerabilities. To Herzl each dictator or leader had a nationalistic identity, even down to the Irish from Wolfe Tone onwards. He was drawn to the mawkishness of Judaism rendered distinctively as German. But he remained convinced that Germany was the centre (Hauptsitz) of antisemitism rather than France. In a much quoted aside he noted “If there is one thing I should like to be, it is a member of old Prussian nobility”. Herzl appealed to the nobility of Jewish England – the Rothschilds, Sir Samuel Montagu, later cabinet minister, to the Chief Rabbis of France and Vienna, the railroad magnate, Baron Hirsch.
He fared best with Israel Zangwill, and Max Nordau. They were both well-known writers or ‘men of letters’—imagination that engenders understanding. Hirsch’s correspondence led nowhere. Baron Albert Rothschild had little to do with the Jews. Herzl was disliked by the bankers (Finanzjuden) and detested them. Herzl was defiant of their social authority. He also shared Pinkser’s pessimistic opinion that the Jews had no future in Europe; that they were too antisemitic to tolerate because each country in Europe had tried antisemitic assimilation. In Berlin they said Juden raus in a well worn phrase. Herzl therefore advocated a mass exodus from Europe to the Judenstaat. Pinkser’s manifesto was a cry for help; a warning to others Mahnruf, a call for attention to their plight. Herzl’s vision was less about mental states of Jewry, and more about delivering prescriptive answers about land. “The idea that i have developed is a very old one; it is the restoration of the Jewish State” was a follow-up of Pinkser’s early weaker version Mahnruf an seine Stammesgenossen von einem nassichen Juden.
Herzl visited Jerusalem for the first time in October 1898. He deliberately coordinated his visit with that of Wilhelm II to secure what he thought had been prearranged with the aid of Rev. William Hechler, public world power recognition of himself and Zionism. Herzl and Wilhelm II first met publicly on 29 October, at Mikveh Israel, near present-day Holon, Israel. It was a brief but historic meeting. He had a second formal, public audience with the emperor at the latter’s tent camp on Street of the Prophets in Jerusalem on 2 November 1898. The English Zionist Federation, the local branch of the World Zionist Organization was founded in 1899, that Herzl had established in Austria in 1897.
In 1902–03, Herzl was invited to give evidence before the British Royal Commission on Alien Immigration. His appearance brought him into close contact with members of the British government, particularly with Joseph Chamberlain, then secretary of state for the colonies, through whom he negotiated with the Egyptian government for a charter for the settlement of the Jews in Al ‘Arish in the Sinai Peninsula, adjoining southern Palestine.
In 1903, Herzl attempted to obtain support for the Jewish homeland from Pope Pius X, an idea broached at 6th Zionist Congress. Palestine could offer a safe refuge for those fleeing persecution in Russia. Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val ordained that the Church’s policy was explained non possumus on such matters, decreeing that as long as the Jews denied the divinity of Christ, the Catholics could not make a declaration in their favour. The pogroms included 47 Jews murdered at Kishinev, and hundreds more injured, their property looted and destroyed. The delegates to the Congress backed Herzl’s line of argument. A vociferous minority of opposition came from those who thought adoption of a Ugandan Plan over Palestine was a sell-out. Still later the East African Scheme failed, dying with Herzl himself. It was taken off the agenda in 1905. Yet another nationalistic splinter group with Zionist aspirations, in England called the Jewish Territorial Association (JTO) was founded.
After the failure of that scheme, which took him to Cairo, he received, through Leopold Greenberg, an offer (August 1903) from the British government to facilitate a large Jewish settlement, with autonomous government and under British suzerainty, in British East Africa. At the same time, the Zionist movement was threatened by the Russian government. Accordingly, Herzl visited St. Petersburg and was received by Sergei Witte, then finance minister, and Viacheslav Plehve, minister of the interior, the latter placing on record the attitude of his government toward the Zionist movement. On that occasion Herzl submitted proposals for the amelioration of the Jewish position in Russia. He published the Russian statement, and brought the British offer, commonly known as the “Uganda Project”, before the Sixth Zionist Congress (Basel, August 1903), carrying the majority (295:178, 98 abstentions) on the question of investigating this offer, after the Russian delegation stormed out. In 1905 the 6th Zionist Congress, after investigations, decided to decline the British offer and firmly committed itself to a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A Heimstatte—a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine secured by public law.
Herzl did not live to see the rejection of the Uganda plan. At 5 p.m. 3 July 1904, in Edlach, a village inside Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria, Theodor Herzl, having been diagnosed with a heart issue earlier in the year, died of cardiac sclerosis. A day before his death, he told the Reverend William H. Hechler: “Greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart’s blood for my people.”
His will stipulated that he should have the poorest-class funeral without speeches or flowers and he added, “I wish to be buried in the vault beside my father, and to lie there till the Jewish people shall take my remains to Israel”. Nevertheless, some six thousand followed Herzl’s hearse, and the funeral was long and chaotic. Despite Herzl’s request that no speeches be made, a brief eulogy was delivered by David Wolffsohn. Hans Herzl, then thirteen, read the kaddish.
In 1949, his remains were brought to Israel and buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, which was named for him. The coffin was draped in a blue and white pall decorated with a Star of David circumscribing a Lion of Judah and seven gold stars recalling Herzl’s original proposal for a flag of the Jewish state.
Herzl Day יום הרצל is an Israeli national holiday celebrated annually on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Iyar, to commemorate the life and vision of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl.
Herzl’s grandfathers, both of whom he knew, were more closely related to traditional Judaism than were his parents. In Zimony (Zemlin), his grandfather Simon Loeb Herzl “had his hands on” one of the first copies of Judah Alkalai’s 1857 work prescribing the “return of the Jews to the Holy Land and renewed glory of Jerusalem”. Contemporary scholars conclude that Herzl’s own implementation of modern Zionism was undoubtedly influenced by that relationship. Herzl’s grandparents’ graves in Semlin can still be visited. Alkalai himself witnessed the rebirth of Serbia from Ottoman rule in the early and mid-19th century and was inspired by the Serbian uprising and subsequent re-creation of Serbia.
On 25 June 1889, he married Julie Naschauer, daughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman in Vienna. The marriage was unhappy, although three children were born to it: Paulina, Hans and Margaritha (Trude). Herzl had a strong attachment to his mother, who was unable to get along with his wife. These difficulties were increased by the political activities of his later years, in which his wife took little interest. His wife is the protagonist in the fictitious historical novel, “His Alienated Wife”, written by Eda Zoritte and published by Keter Publishing House in 1997.
His daughter Paulina suffered from mental illness and drug addiction. She died in 1930 at the age of 40 of a heroin overdose.
His only son Hans was given a secular upbringing and Herzl notably refused to allow him to be circumcised. After Herzl’s early death, Hans successively converted and became a Baptist, then a Catholic, and flirted with other Protestant denominations. He sought a personal salvation for his own religious needs and a universal solution, as had his father, to Jewish suffering caused by antisemitism. Hanz Herzl voluntarily had himself circumcised 29 May 1905; Hans shot himself to death on the day of his sister Paulina’s funeral; he was 39 years old.
Hans left a suicide note explaining his reasons.
“A Jew remains a Jew, no matter how eagerly he may submit himself to the disciplines of his new religion, how humbly he may place the redeeming cross upon his shoulders for the sake of his former coreligionists, to save them from eternal damnation: a Jew remains a Jew … I can’t go on living. I have lost all trust in God. All my life I’ve tried to strive for the truth, and must admit today at the end of the road that there is nothing but disappointment. Tonight I have said Kaddish for my parents—and for myself, the last descendant of the family. There is nobody who will say Kaddish for me, who went out to find peace—and who may find peace soon … My instinct has latterly gone all wrong, and I have made one of those irreparable mistakes, which stamp a whole life with failure. Then it is best to scrap it.”
In 2006 the remains of Paulina and Hans were moved from Bordeaux, France, and reburied not far from their father on Mt. Herzl.
Paulina and Hans had little contact with their young sister, “Trude” (Margarethe, 1893–1943). She married Richard Neumann, a man 17 years her elder. Neumann lost his fortune in the Great Depression. Burdened by the steep costs of hospitalizing Trude, who suffered from severe bouts of depressive illness that required repeated hospitalization, the Neumanns’ financial life was precarious. The Nazis sent Trude and Richard to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where they died. Her body was burned. (Her mother, who died in 1907, was cremated. Her ashes were lost by accident.)
At the request of his father Richard Neumann, Trude’s son (Herzl’s only grandchild), Stephan Theodor Neumann, (1918–1946) was sent for his safety to England in 1935 to the Viennese Zionists and the Zionist Executive in Israel based there. The Neumanns deeply feared for the safety of their only child as violent Austrian antisemitism expanded. In England he read extensively about his grandfather. Zionism had not been a significant part of his background in Austria, but Stephan became an ardent Zionist, was the only descendant of Theodor Herzl to have become one. Anglicizing his name to Stephen Norman, during World War II, Norman enlisted in the British Army rising to the rank of Captain in the Royal Artillery. In 1945 visited the British Mandate of Palestine
Norman planned to return to Israel following his military discharge. The Zionist Executive had worked for years through Dr. L. Lauterbach to get Norman to come to Israel as a symbol of Herzl’s returning.
Discharged from the army in late spring 1946, without money or job and despondent about his future, Norman followed the advice of Dr.Selig Brodetsky. Dr. H. Rosenblum, the editor of Haboker, a Tel Aviv daily that later became Yediot Aharonot, noted in late 1945 that Dr. Weizmann deeply resented the sudden intrusion and reception of Norman when he arrived in Britain. Norman spoke to the Zionist conference in London. Haboker reported, “Something similar happened at the Zionist conference in London. The Chairman suddenly announced to the meeting that in the hall there was Herzl’s grandson who wanted to say a few words. The introduction was made in an absolutely dry and official way. It was felt that the chairman looked for—and found—some stylistic formula which would satisfy the visitor without appearing too cordial to anybody among the audience. In spite of that there was a great thrill in the hall when Norman mounted on the platform of the praesidium. At that moment, Dr.Weizmann turned his back on the speaker and remained in this bodily and mental attitude until the guest had finished his speech.” The 1945 article went on to note that Norman was snubbed by Weizmann and by some in Israel during his visit because of ego, jealousy, vanity and their own personal ambitions. Brodetsky was Chaim Weizman’s principal ally and supporter in Britain.
Chaim Weizmann secured for Norman a desirable but minor position with the British Economic and Scientific Mission in Washington, D.C. In late August 1946, shortly after arriving in Washington, he learned that his family had perished. Norman had re-established contact with his old nanny in Vienna, Wuth, who told him what happened. Norman became deeply depressed over the fate of his family and his inability to help the Jewish people “languishing” in the European camps. Unable to endure his suffering any further, he jumped to his death from the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge in Washington, D.C. on 26 November 1946.
Norman was buried by the Jewish Agency in Washington, D.C. His tombstone read simply, ‘Stephen Theodore Norman, Captain Royal Artillery British Army, Grandson of Theodor Herzl, 21 April 1918 − 26 November 1946’. Norman was the only descendant of Herzl to have been a Zionist, been to Israel and openly stated his desire to return.
On 5 December 2007, sixty-one years after his death, he was reburied with his family on Mt. Herzl, in the Plot for Zionist Leaders.
The Stephen Norman garden on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem—the only memorial in the world to a Herzl other than Theodor Herzl—was dedicated on 2 May 2012 by the Jerusalem Foundation and the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.