Theodor Herzel

January 14, 2013 Back

Theodor Herzl was the “Visionary of the State” and the individual most responsible for Modern Zionism and the movements that led to the establishment of the Modern State of Israel.  Consequently he is also known as “The Father of Modern Zionism.”  

Early Life

Theodor Herzl was born as Binyamin Zev Herzl on May 2, 1860 to Jeanette and Jakob Herzl, two assimilated German Jews, in Budapest, Hungary.  His family was originally was from Serbia.  Growing up, Herzl had no connection to Judaism and in fact was contemptuous towards Judaism.  Many of his early writing show his struggle to deal with his Jewish identity.

Herzl attended law school and was part of a fraternity called Albia.  He left the organization when they became rabidly anti-Semitic.  Following his graduation, Herzl briefly worked as a lawyer in Salzburg and Vienna.  He soon tired of law and became a correspondent and journalist for the Neue Frie Presse in Paris and then became a journalist in France.  He later showed his literary skill by writing several plays for the Viennese stage.

Zionist Thought

The Dreyfus Affair turned Herzl towards addressing anti-Semitism.  After witnessing the anti-Semitism exhibited by the French in their accusations against Dreyfus, who was a French Jew accused of spying for Germany, Herzl struggled to find a solution to the persecution Jews suffered for almost 2,000 years.

In 1895, Herzl published his solution to the problems that Jews faced in exile in a work called Der Judenstaat.  Der Judenstaat was a treatise outlining the reasons for a Jewish return to Palestine with the main reason being the inability of Jews to assimilate into outside cultures and therefore needing a land of their own in order to feel secure.  The book attracted global attention from Jew and Gentile alike.  Supporters rushed to ally with him; Jews associated with the establishment condemned him for his ideas and work.

Work Towards the Creation of a State

In 1896, William Hechler, a British Anglican Minister, visited Herzl and arranged for Herzl to meet with the Duke of Baden - Frederick I - one month later, and later with Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898.  Later that year, Herzl went to Turkey to negotiate with the Sultan for Jewish State that would pay off Turkish debt in exchange for Palestine as a Jewish homeland.  Herzl met with the Grand Vizier instead and later met with Sultan Abdmulhamid II, who refused Herzl’s offer.  Herzl visited Jerusalem for the first time in 1898.  During that trip, he also met Kaiser Wilhelm II outside of Holon and in Jerusalem.  During the last few years of his life, he tried to establish a Jewish homeland in Uganda, but the plan was rejected after he died.

Personal life

Herzl’s parents were successful people.  His sister, Pauline died in 1878 of Typhus.  In June 1889, He married Julie Naschauer.  They had three children, Trude, Hans and Paulina.  Their marriage was said to be a unhappy one, mainly because of Herzl’s involvement in Jewish politics and Herzl’s mother’s dislike for his wife.  Herzl’s children all died young and under tragic circumstances as did his grandson.

Herzl died July 3, 1904.  His final wishes were that he be buried next to his father in Vienna in the poorest-class funeral imaginable and kept there until Jewish people would take his remains to Palestine.  His remains were moved to Mt. Herzl in 1949.  Herzl’s older two children and his grandson were reburied nearby in 2006 and 2007.

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