Every Jew knows the name Theodor Herzl. All Jews but the anti-Zionist haredim, honor his memory. His short life is a part of the treasury of modern Jewish history.
As he lay dying of a severe heart attack, his last words to his friend, Reverend William Hechler, the chaplain of the British Embassy in Germany who remained at Herzl’s bedside until his death on July 3, 1904, were, “When you go to Palestine tell them I gave the last drop of my blood for my people”. He was 44 years old when he died.
Herzl was born on May 2, 1860 in the section of Hungary then called Pest, before it united with Buda and became the capitol of Hungary..Budapest. At his brit mila he was given the Hebrew name Binyamin Zeev.
His parents, Jakob and Jeanette were wealthy assimilated German-speaking Jews. He had one sister, a year older than he, Pauline, who died on February 7, 1878 from a sudden attack of typhus.
After Pauline’s death, the Herzl family moved to Vienna, capitol of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Theodor became a student of law at the University of Vienna. However, he never practiced law and chose instead a career in journalism. He was an oustanding writer and soon became the Paris correspondent for Vienna’s most prominent newspaper, Neue Freie Presse.
He married Julie Naschauer, daughter of a wealthy Viennese family, on June 25, 1889. The marriage was a very unhappy one. His wife had no interest in his dreams of a restored Jewish nation.
Herzl’s mother, Jeanette, was constantly in conflict with Julie and Theodor was too often away from home. They had three children… Paulina, Hans and Trude.
Three years after Herzl’s death, his wife Julie died and was cremated.
His daughter Paulina suffered from mental illness and drug addiction and died of a heroin overdose in 1930 at the age of 40.
After his father’s death, Hans converted and became first a Baptist, then later a Catholic. He sought religious salvation everywhere but found none. He had no brit mila because his father refused to have him circumcised but Hans voluntarily became circumcised in 1905, after the death of his father.
On the day of his sister Paulina’s funeral, Hans shot himself to death. In his suicide note he wrote: “Tonight, I have said kaddish for my parents and for myself, the last descendant of my family. There is no one to say kaddish for me, who went out to find peace, and who may find peace soon….”
In 2006, the remains of Paulina and Hans Herzl were moved from France and were reburied not far from their father on Mt. Herzl.
Sadly, Paulina and Hans had little contact in their lives with their younger sister, Trude. She married Richard Neumann who was 26 years older. They were both shipped by the Nazis to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where they both died in 1943. Trude’s body, like that of her mother, was cremated.
The Neumann’s had one son, Herzl’s only grandchild, Stephen Theodor Neumann. His father sent him to England in 1935 for safety and he was cared for by the Zionist Executive office in London. He anglicized his family name from Neumann to Norman . When he read extensively about the life and work of his famous grandfather he became a devoted Zionist and visited Palestine in 1946.
He wrote in his diary : “I have come to see what my grandfather had started. You will be amazed at the Jewish youth in Palestine…. They do not look like the pale Jewish youth of the ghettos, but are very beautiful and they have the look of freedom”.
Sometime in late 1946, he learned from his former nanny in Austria that both of his parents had perished in the concentration camp. He fell into a deep depression and could not be consoled. On November 26, 1946 he ended his life by jumping to his death from a bridge in Washington, D.C.
Sixty-one years after his death he was reburied with the Herzl family near his grandfather in a beautiful green park which has been named for him…. The Stephen Theodore Norman Garden.
With his death, there are no surviving members of the Herzl family … the last of the tragic family history of the Father of Zionism.