The influence and strength of German Zionists obtained over time and until the Nazi regime was established, was concentrated in part to having the offices of the World Zionist Organization located in the German cities of Cologne and Berlin; more, its leaders were forceful and unique personalities. Researchers point out that after World War I, when the WZO transferred its headquarters to London its influence increased even more (Reinharz, 1996).
Early in the Zionist movement, the idea of a transfer of European Jews to British Mandate Palestine had wide currency. Specifically, Max Bodenheimer (1865 – 1940), a leading figure of German Zionism, and president of the Zionist Federation in Germany, declared in 1891 the need of the settlement of Eastern European Jews in Palestine for their protection and for their social rehabilitation (Reinharz, ibid). The very same idea also existed in the thought of Theodor Herzl (1860 – 1904), of the World Zionist Organization.
He was influential within the Zionist movement (Reinharz, ibid), and he is the person considered the founder of modern Zionism (Shoenman). Herzl shaped the idea that the Jews consisted primarily of a national community and not a religious one. Such a thought shaping the Jewish national identity, later contributed to the perception,and confrontation, of the Jewish question as a political matter, to be resolved strictly by political means: “The Jewish question, he maintained, is not social or religious. It is a national question. To solve it we must, above all, make it an international political issue …” (Shoenman, ibid). When Theodor Herzl made his political plans publicly known, regarding the attainment of Palestine as a Jewish Homeland, most German Zionists accepted the notion. The difference between the two men was that Bodenheimer didn’t intent to agitate the civil and political status of the German Jews (Reinharz, ibid).
For the Zionist movement the “Jewish question” was linked to the condition of Jewish life in the Diaspora. They believed that it was an issue that could not be solved by legal means; thus, it was not an issue of primary concern, at least in the early stages of the movement. It became a central issue when extreme circumstances began to emerge, as for example the outbreak of violence against Jews in Germany during the Reichstag elections in 1930. Gradually the Zionists started to shape the idea that anti-Semitism couldn’t be confronted by Jewish assimilation into German society.
They believed that they should replace the idea of assimilation with the promotion of the ideas of the Jewish autonomy and national pride. Such an approach was adequate in the eyes of the Zionist movement to deal constructively with the “Jewish question.” This was the basic frame in which the first generation of German Zionists, who had been influenced to an extent from the ideas of Herzl, perceived themselves and set their aims. They differentiate though from Herzl regarding one important thesis. They didn’t reject their status as German citizens as Herzl proposed. This notion, we shall later see, changed in the next generations of German Zionists. So while the issue of settlement in Palestine was still their aim they didn’t reject Jewish life in the Diaspora, their main concern was being seen possessing dual loyalty as Germans and Zionists (Reinharz, ibid).
After 1914 the second generation of the Zionist movement, in an attempt to shape and define its identity, started to distance itself from the first generation by formulating a more radical ideology, orientated to the issue of Jewish nationalism and to the recognition of the settlement of Palestine as their personal goal. When World War I ended, the third generation of the Zionist movement faced some new realities that had to cconfront. This condition was linked with the expansion of anti-Semitism in Germany, and affected German Zionism in its attempt to deal with issues such as the Jewish nationality, and the status of Jews in a nation that was beginning to behave more and more hostile towards them. In this manner, the issue of immigration to Palestine became more urgent for the third generation of German Zionists,who in their attempt to regenerate Jewish life in Palestine, began to be attached to the Palestinian labor movement (Reinharz, ibid).