Stephen Norman, his last name was anglicized from Neuman before he entered the British Army in 1941, was the grandson, and the last descendant of Theodor Herzl.
He grew up in Vienna. His mother, Trude, was Theodor Herzl’s daughter and the only one of Herzl’s three children to have had a child.
The Neuman family, as were Herzl’s children, Hans, Pauline, and Trude, were not strong Zionists. To them, Herzl’s Zionist dream had been a failure. Herzl had spent his fortune and his wife’s significant dowry on his “Crazy” Zionist dream. He gave the last drop of his blood to Zionism, dying and being buried in Vienna at 44 years of age.
There was no Jewish State.
It was not surprising that Stephen grew up knowing little about his grandfather.
The Jewish Agency did know about Stephen.
As the darkening clouds of the Holocaust circled Europe, the Neumans were terrified for their future but, especially for their only child, Stephen. They appealed to the Jewish Agency for help and funding to get Stephen to England.
The Jewish Agency reluctantly agreed. Stephen arrived in the U.K. in 1938 to attend University. It was at University that Stephen learned about his grandfather and Zionism. He became a Zionist. But first, the war called.
Stephen Norman enlisted, becoming an officer in the Royal Artillery posted to Sri Lanka.
Late 1945, on his way back to England for demobilization, he had a stop in Cairo. His air connection went awry, leaving him with time and opportunity.
Stephen arranged for a short Air Stop, just a few days, to Mandate Palestine to see what his grandfather had begun. What he saw changed him from a curious Zionist into an ardent Zionist.
He expressed his feelings in his diary when his connections were reestablished to England.
On a wall next to the Herzl Educational Center on Mt. Herzl are inscribed Stephen’s words. In a very short text, he summarized the meaning, the essence of Zionism and Israel.
Many student groups, tour groups, soldiers, and visitors sit in the garden and can read the words easily. If they come away from their lectures with nothing else, Stephen’s words seared into their minds.
“You will be amazed at Jewish Youth in Palestine…They have the look of freedom.”
What was Herzl’s dream, what was and is the dream of all Jews everywhere…to be free, to live free and for their children to know freedom in their own ancient homeland- Israel.
It would seem the concept of freedom for Jews is a given. It is far from a given. The hoary head of antisemitism has arisen from its supposed Grave again, strengthened, energized and given frightening life by the Gaza War.
What is Hamas’ objective? What is Palestinianism’s objective? What is the objective of antisemitism but to take away, remove, exterminate Jewish Freedom.
The terrible belatedness of the IDF response to the horrific Hamas attack of Jewish genocide on October 7, amplified by hubris and arrogance, has brought the words of the Last Herzl back into focus.
Jews are fighting and dying for the continued survival of Jewish freedom.
Stephen tragically committed suicide in Washington, D.C., in 1946, a victim of genetically transmitted depressive illness. He had learned of the death of his family in the Holocaust. He knew survivors of the Shoah languished unwanted in European DP camps. He was a Herzl. He was specifically barred by the British from ever returning to what he hoped would be Israel because he was a Herzl. He could do nothing.
Despondent, in November of 1946, he walked to the Rock Creek Bridge, which spanned the creek 90’ below. The location was horribly ironic on that frost-filled morning as the sun rose. At one end of the bridge was the British Embassy. On the other end was the later Islamic Mosque and Cultural Center. He was trapped, the Jew in the middle between the intransigence of the British and the hate of the Muslim.
A passing cab driver observed the young man neatly fold his tweed jacket over the railing. The driver was shocked when the man suddenly leapt over the side. The last Herzl died on the rocks below. He was buried in a Jewish cemetery by the Adas Israel community and the Jewish Agency.
He was forgotten.
At the end of Amos Elon’s biography on Herzl is a short paragraph saying his last descendant had committed suicide in Washington, D.C. Living in Washington, I wondered where to go to put a stone on his Grave.
So began a seven-year odyssey, unexpectedly ugly, hard-fought against Zionist sclerosis, to bring him home. Stephen was reburied on Mt. Herzl in the Plot for Zionist Leaders in late December 2007. His grave site is off centered, at the end of the row from the rest of his family. There had been no provision or intention to bring home the only Zionist in Herzl’s family until they were forced to.
Ironic; the only member of Herzl’s direct family who had ever been to Israel and who had ever wanted to live in Israel would have to fight to be part of Israel.
Stephen’s story, his words for all to read forever on Mt. Herzl, ring again, even more truly today, why we must fight.
Israel has been required to confront its national meaning against a world of hate, ignorance, and bigotry, intent on taking Jewish Freedom and life away, permanently if possible.
Someday, Dk when, I should write the full behind the scenes story of the unexpected struggle to bring Stephen home. Olmert, Bielski, Rabbi Amar, Chaim Weizman, and many names play in the background.
It was and remains a strange honor to be the last living person to have held the bones of Herzl and felt his Dream as Stephen came home.