The "Hungarian" Theodor Herzl


Did you know that Theodor Herzl, father of modern political Zionism, was born in Budapest, in a house next to The Great Synagogue in Dohany Street?

Theodor Herzl's house and birthplace, in the centre of the picture and next to the Dohány Street Synagogue . Today the house is gone and in its place stands a modern building hosting the Hungarian Jewish Museum.

Herzl, whose real first name was Tivadar, was born in 1860 in Budapest (today Hungary's capital but then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire) in a house next to the Dohány Street Synagogue, the biggest in Europe and second biggest in the world.

Being educated in a secular German-speaking atmosphere and having graduated from the Budapest Lutheran High School, Herzl was an ardent Germanophile who considered the Germans to be the most cultured people in Central Europe, something he thought was an ideal to reach for Hungarian Jews as himself.

In 1878 the family moved to Vienna and as a young law student, Herzl became a member of a German nationalist fraternity, to which he later resigned in protest at the organization's antisemitism.

After a brief legal career he became a journalist and as the Paris correspondent for Neue Freie Presse, Herzl followed the "Dreyfus affair", a notorious antisemitic incident in France in which a Jewish French army captain was falsely convicted of spying for Germany. Herzl later stated that the Dreyfus case turned him into a Zionist.

Theodor Herzl's passionate advocacy of the founding of a Jewish state grew out of his conviction that Jews would never be assimilated into the populations in which they lived. Therefore, he concluded that the only solution for the majority of Jews would be organized emigration to a state of their own.

In 1897 he planned and organized the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. He was elected president of the Congress, a position he held until his death, and in 1898 he began a series of diplomatic initiatives to build support for a Jewish country.

At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903, Herzl proposed the British Uganda Program as a temporary refuge for Jews in Russia in immediate danger. While Herzl made it clear that this program would not affect the ultimate aim of Zionism, a Jewish entity in the Land of Israel, the proposal aroused a storm at the Congress and nearly led to a split in the Zionist movement.

The Uganda Program was finally rejected by the Zionist movement at the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905 but Herzl did not live to see the rejection of the plan as he died in 1904 of a heart failure.

His will stipulated "I wish to be buried in the vault beside my father, and to lie there till the Jewish people shall take my remains to Israel".

In 1949, his remains were brought to Israel and buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, which was named after him. The coffin was draped in a blue and white pall decorated with a Star of David circumscribing a Lion of Judah and seven gold stars recalling Herzl's original proposal for a flag of the Jewish state.

Herzl is specifically mentioned in the Israeli Declaration of Independence and is officially referred to as "the spiritual father of the Jewish State".