Tragedies of a Great Man’s Life

A great man, a Jewish hero, creator of a nation, was separated for 14 years from an unhappy marriage to his wife in Vienna and he moved to Paris. He returned to Austria in 1904 where he died that same year from heart failure due to previous syphilis disease. He was 44 years old.

His alienated wife died in Vienna in a psychiatric hospital from a drug overdose in 1907, three years after the death of her husband.. She was 39.

His older daughter became a morphine and later a heroin addict and committed suicide in Austria in 1930. She was 40 years old.

His only son shot himself to death on the day of his sister’s funeral. He was 39.

His youngest daughter died in the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt in 1943. She had just turned 50.

Her son, the great man’s only grandson, committed suicide by jumping off the Massachusetts Avenue bridge in Washington, DC in 1946. He was 28 years old.

These are the tragedies of the life and death of Theodor Herzl, father of the Zionist movement and dreamer of a Jewish state in Palestine.

He came from a prominent Jewish family in Budapest and later moved to Vienna where he was educated. As a young lawyer and journalist he married Julie Naschauer in 1889 but the marriage was an unhappy one from the beginning. He was completely devoted to his mother and was soon alienated from his wife.

Theodor and Julie had very little in common. She could not accept his ideas and considered him only a foolish dreamer.

He was employed as a journalist and news reporter for the very prestigious Vienna daily newspaper, Neue Frei Presse, and was sent by his editor to Paris to cover the infamous trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army who had been falsely accused of selling military secrets to the Germans.

Herzl was amazed at what he heard and witnessed. How could such a humiliating trial occur in France, the cradle of European democracy? It was the turning point in his life.

He concluded that anti-Semitism was a European disease and that Jews would never be safe there. It caused him to advocate for a Jewish independent state in Palestine, in the ancient land of Zion.

His visions became reality and forty years after he founded the Zionist movement, the dream of a Jewish state called Israel was born.

Due to his unhappy marriage, he separated from Julie, She remained in Vienna and he re-located to Paris. They had three children, products of the unhappy marriage. Julie became a drug addict and died in a psychiatric hospital in Vienna in 1907, three years after the death of her husband. She was 39 years old.

His first child, Pauline, was difficult and suffered from mental illness. In her twenties she became addicted to morphine and later to heroin and she committed suicide in 1930 at the age of 40.

He had only one son, Hans, whom he refused to circumcise. At the age of 25, Hans had himself circumcised, became baptized and studied Christian theology. Dissatisfied with it, he later returned to Judaism and occasionally attended synagogue services.

Alone and in despair, he committed suicide by shooting himself on the very same day as his sister, Pauline’s funeral in 1930. He was 39 years old.

The youngest Herzl daughter, Margarethe (Trude) died in the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt in 1943. She was 50 years old and had only one son.

That son, Stephan Norman, was Theodor Herzl’s only grandson and the last survivor of the Herzl family. He served as a captain in the British army during World War II and it was in England that he learned about his famous Zionist grandfather, Theodor Herzl.

He became affiliated with Zionist organizations in Britain and then in the USA but lonely and depressed he jumped to his death from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Washington, DC. In 1946.

He was only 28 years old.

Theodor Herzl, father of Zionism and founder of the beginnings of Jewish independent statehood, was a dreamer who worked feverishly until his dying day.

To those who laughed at his dream, Herzl replied in the words that live still today:

“Im tirtzu ain zo agada”. If you will it, it is no legend. We willed it and our beloved Israel was born.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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