Monday, April 16, 2012

Theodor Herzl (1860-1904)

Theodor Herzl was born on May 2, 1860 in PestHungary. His family was Jewish and lived in a house next to the Great Synagogue. Even so, he grew up speaking German and not practicing Judaism.

In 1878 Herzl moved with his family to Vienna. In 1884 he graduated from the University of Vienna with a doctoral degree in law. He then worked as a lawyer in Vienna and Salzburg, but only for a year.

In 1891 he became the Paris reporter for the New Free Press of Vienna.

In 1895 Herzl started to write articles for his newspaper about Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army. In 1894 some unknown French army officer was giving secret information to the German government. Because Dreyfus was Jewish, others believed he was this officer. He was arrested in November 1894. In January 1895 he was convicted and sent to prison for the rest of his life. Thousands of people were in the streets shouting for the death of every Jew. Herzl wrote about all this. After many years, Dreyfus was proven innocent of all the bad things said about him.

At the same time, back in Herzl’s hometown of Vienna, a man named Karl Lueger—and his Christian Social Party—took control of local politics. Karl was famous and popular for his strong anti-Semitism.

So in 1895, in both Paris and Vienna, Herzl saw thousands of people hating Jews, and shouting for their death, even though Jews were successful and respectable citizens. Many Jews, like Herzl, didn't even practice their religion but were still hated as Jews.

In response to all this, Herzl decided that anti-Semitism would never go away. He decided that Jews would need to have their own government to be safe. In 1896 he talked about this idea in a book he wrote called The Jewish State.

Many Jews strongly agreed with him. Many others strongly disagreed. About 200 Jews who strongly agreed met with him in August 1897 in Basel, Switzerland. At this meeting they started a group called the Zionist Organization. They also wrote that their goal was to start a permanent and legal home for Jews in Palestine.

For the rest of his relatively short life, Herzl worked very hard to achieve this goal. He traveled widely to increase Jewish support for this idea. He also spoke with many political leaders to make it a reality.

Herzl died of a bad heart on July 3, 1904 at the young age of 44. His goal of an independent Jewish government in Palestine became a reality, with the start of the state of Israel, on May 14, 1948.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.