Theodor Herzl

The Hungarian-born Austrian Jewish author Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) founded the World Zionist Organization and served as its first president.

Theodor Herzl, son of Jacob and Jeanette Herzl, was born on May 2, 1860, in Budapest, Hungary, where he attended elementary and secondary schools. In 1878 he was admitted as a law student to the University of Vienna, but after a year of legal studies he switched to journalism. He worked for the Allgemeine Zeitung of Vienna until 1892, when he took an assignment in Paris as correspondent for the Vienna Neue Freie Presse. In this capacity he reported on the Dreyfus Affair in 1894, and he was greatly troubled by the anti-Semitism he saw in France at the time. In 1896 Herzl started his political career with the publication of his pamphlet The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question.

According to The Jewish State, persecution could not destroy the Jewish people but would accomplish the opposite: it would strengthen Jewish identification. In Herzl's view, effective assimilation of the Jews would be impossible because of the long history of prejudice and the competition between the non-Jewish and Jewish middle classes. Because of conditions in the Jewish Diaspora, some communities might disintegrate, but the people as a whole would always survive. Herzl believed that the Jews had little choice but to begin the concentration of the Jewish people in one land under its own sovereign authority. To achieve this purpose, he organized the First Zionist Congress, which met in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897. This meeting marked the establishment of the World Zionist Organization, whose executives were to be the diplomatic and administrative representatives of the Zionist movement. Herzl became president of the organization, a post he held until his death.

The official goal of the World Zionist Organization was the establishment of "a secured homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people." Because Palestine was part of Turkey and because Germany enjoyed a special relationship with Turkey, in 1898 Herzl met with Kaiser William II in an unsuccessful effort to win his support. In May 1901 Herzl was received by the sultan of Turkey, Abdul-Hamid II. But this meeting too had no positive results, since Turkey was not willing to allow mass immigration without restrictions to Palestine.

In view of the deteriorating situation of eastern European Jewry, Herzl considered other territorial solutions for the Jewish problem. The British government suggested Uganda for the Jewish mass immigration, but this plan was rejected by the Fourth Zionist Congress in 1903, which again stated the ultimate goal of Zionism as the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

During the Uganda polemics Theodor Herzl showed signs of grave illness. On July 3, 1904, he died and was buried in Vienna. According to his wishes, his remains were transferred by the government of the independent state of Israel to Jerusalem in 1949 and buried on Mt. Herzl, the national cemetery of Israel.

Further Reading on Theodor Herzl

The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl was edited by Raphael Patai (5 vols., 1960) and is also available in several abridged editions. Two biographies are Alex Bein, Theodor Herzl: A Biography (trans. 1940), and Israel Cohen, Theodor Herzl (1959).

Additional Biography Sources

Beller, Steven, Herzl, New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.

Blau, Eric, The beggar's cup, New York: Knopf, 1993.

Braham, Mark, Jews don't hate: how a Jewish newspaper died, London, Nelson, 1970.

Elon, Amos, Herz, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1975; Schocken Books, 1986, 1975.

Falk, Avner, Herzl, king of the Jews: a psychoanalytic biography of Theodor Herzl, Lanham: University Press of America, 1993.

Finkelstein, Norman H., Theodor Herzl, New York: F. Watts, 1987; Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Co., 1991.

Gurko, Miriam, Theodor Herzl, the road to Israel, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988.

Handler, Andrew, Dori, the life and times of Theodor Herzl in Budapest (1860-1878), University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1983.

Hein, Virginia Herzog., The British followers of Theodor Herzl: English Zionist leaders, 1896-1904, New York: Garland Pub., 1987.

Herzl, Theodor, The Jewish state, New York: Dover Publications, 1988.

Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst. Herzl comes home: 22nd anniversary Jewish Community House, Nov. 20, 1949, Brooklyn: Jewish Community House, 1949.

Kornberg, Jacques, Herzl year book, New York: Herzl Press, 1958-.

Kotker, Norman, Herzl, the kin, New York, Scribner, 1972.

Mystics, philosophers, and politicians: essays in Jewish intellectual history in honor of Alexander Altmann, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1982.

Pawel, Ernst, The labyrinth of exile: a life of Theodor Herzl, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989.

The Psychoanalytic interpretation of history, New York, Basic Books, 1971.

The Rise of Israel: From precursors of Zionism to Herzl, New York: Garland Pub., 1987.

The Rise of Israel: Herzl's political activity, 1897-1904, New York: Garland Pub., 1987.

Sela, Jaim, Teodoro Herzl, Jerusalem, Israel: La Semana Publicaciones, 1983.

Sternberger, Ilse, Princes without a home: modern Zionism and the strange fate of Theodore Herzl's children, 1900-1945, San Francisco: International Scholars Publications, 1994.

Stewart, Desmond, Theodor Herzl, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1974.

Theodor Herzl: a memorial, Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1976, 1929.

Vital, David, The origins of Zionism, Oxford Eng.: Clarendon Press, 1975.