Marking the 100th anniversary of the passing of the great thinker of Jewish ideology and the conceptual founder of today’s State of Israel, Jewish Community Zemun has organised on 27th of December THEODOR HERZL exhibition in the assembly hall of Zemun Grammar School. For this purpose we have published a special booklet about Theodor Herzl and his connection with Zemun, prepared especially for this exhibition by Danilo Fogel.
Theodor Herzl Exhibition
This exhibition is dedicated to one leading figure belonging to the Jewish nation - Theodor Herzl.
It is a great honour for Zemun to be chosen as the first host of this exhibition in our region.
This choice is not random. Suffice it to say that Theodor Herzl’s predecessors come from Zemun. His first ancestor that we know of in this town was Naftali Herzl, Theodor’s great-great-grandfather, and then came Leopold- Jehuda Leb Herzl, Theodor’s great-grandfather, and Simon Herzl- the grandfather. Theodor’s father Jakov was born in Zemun, on 26th Adar 5591, that is, at the beginning of April 1831.
Theodor Herzl’s ancestors are buried at Zemun Jewish Cemetery, which is a part of Jewish cultural heritage and represents a protected cultural monument. His father moved to Budapest where Theodor was later born.
We can guess that the reason for Jakov’s moving to Budapest lies in the events that happened around that time. In 1849, Simon, Jakov’s father and Theodor’s grandfather, was sentenced to ten days in prison and to be put in irons for supporting the Hungarian uprising in 1848. Probably this deteriorated the living conditions for Jakov Herzl and made him leave Zemun.
But Zemun deserves to host this exhibition for many other reasons. It is not an overstatement that this town was one of the cornerstones of the Zionism. This, owing to Jehuda ben Shlomo Hai Alkalai, who was a rabbi in Zemun for a half of a century, from 1825 to 1874. His activity surpassed his religious duties. His work proved him to be a forerunner of Zionism. In 53 of his books and publications he endorsed the establishing of a Jewish state. His books are translated into numerous languages. He was a great visionary. Way back in 1864, he wrote about the future Jewish state in Palestine:
“Our holy land will be the land of freedom; all its citizens, regardless of their confession or nationality, will be free.”
He even predicted that in this future state there would be political parties, since it is not possible for all the Jews to have the same views. This was just one of his many predictions.
It is understandably difficult to find a direct link between these aspirations and the later work of the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl.
However, T.Herzl’s family was religious, and we can easily suppose that Jehuda Alkalai used all his contacts with the religious people from Zemun in order to propagate his ideas. The following fact shows the scope of his influence: around 1867, Alkalai founded AIU (Alijans Israelite Universej) in Paris, and already in 1868, a branch of AIU, consisting of 24 members, was set up in Zemun. They accepted and spread the ideas regarding the return to Palestine and the creation of the Jewish state.
Theodor was born in 1860. He started school in Budapest and continued it later in Vienna where his parents moved.
In those days, the circumstances in Austria-Hungary provided a false impression that Jews shared an equal standing with the rest of the citizens.
Theodor believed that anti-Semitism existed in the East, and that it was obsolete in the West.
He would realize that he had been under a misapprehension while working as a correspondent from France on the Alfred Dreyfus trial. After coming to a realisation that the Jews are everywhere seen as foreigners who are to be tolerated, he committed himself to the idea that after 2000 years of wanderings the Jews should create there own state.
In 1896, he published his most important work “The Jewish State”. He transformed the centuries-long, messianic dream of returning the Jewish people to Zion into practical ideas and acts. In this visionary work, he writes:
“…We shall live at last as free men on our soil, and die peacefully in our homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth…And whatever we attempt to accomplish there for our own welfare, will spread and redound powerfully and beneficially for the good of all mankind.”
Theodor Herzl was more than just an ideologist of the new movement. He was also a very capable organizer. In the August of 1897, at the first Zionist Congress convened in Basel, Switzerland, the World Zionist Organization was established. In the next few years, he set up a large number of institutions that would turn Zionistic ideas into reality.
Those ideas fell on a fertile ground. Already in 1904, the first Zionist Congress of Yugoslav Youth took place in Osijek. The delegation from Zemun was the largest. At that time, there was a Zionist organization from Zemun called “Esperanca” (hope), with Aladar Polak, a near relative of Theodor Herzl’s, at its head. Aladar was a passionate Zionist. In one of his poems he wrote:
“Don’t wait for ‘The White Donkey’ (Messiah)
Spring to your feet, don’t flag;
Theodor once showed you the way
Which leads you out of the darkness and into the light.
Wake up, my people, and gird yourselves, remember the audacity of your ancestors.
Don’t bend down, don’t stoop
Ever again to your enemy…”
Halucim, or pioneers, were coming to Israel from all over the world. They came to an unwelcoming land. Often, they have to endure thirst, even hunger. With great effort and hard work, the barren deserts and boggy land were turned into fertile green oasis. The pioneers suffered due to diseases, lack of adaptation to the hot climate and many other calamities. Moreover, they were often forced to defend their settlements with arms. With their hard work and sacrifice these halucim laid the cornerstone to the State of Israel which was officially established and internationally recognized at the United Nations in 1948.
Today we realize that not all of Theodor Herzl’s visions could have been fulfilled. The very fact that the neighbouring countries didn’t recognise the formation and existence of the State of Israel had a disadvantageous effect on the structure and orientation of the newly-formed state. Suffice it to say, that instead of a regular army Israel has to maintain powerful armed forces. Nevertheless, Israel has positioned itself among the developed industrial countries with a highly developed social, cultural, health-service and educational structure.
The number of Jews now living in Israel makes up nearly one half of the total number of all the Jews in the world!
Since the foundation of Israel, Theodor Herzl has been respected and regarded as a visionary whose role has been vital to the creation of the Jewish state. The Jews will always see him as an epitome of their national ideal, providing them with the strength to persevere in the political and social circumstances of today.
This year we mark 65 years since the staging of the exhibition “Review of Jewish Life in Zemun for the Last 50 Years through Photographs”. The exhibition was staged on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of December 1939, which was 200 years from the establishing of the Jewish Community in Zemun. At the exhibition, considerable space was dedicated to the Zionist movement, Erec Israel, and a special stand to Theodor Herzl. The picture of Theodor Herzl dominated the exhibition. On the left of the picture, there were his words:
“IF YOU SO WILL IT, IT NEED NOT REMAIN A DREAM”,
and on the right, there was the following quote:
“IF I FORGET YOU JERUSALEM, MAY MY RIGHT ARM WITHER”
At the end, let us not forget that Theodor Herzl also wrote the following words:
“ALL OF MAN’S DEEDS WERE AT FIRST JUST DREAMS”
For the purpose of the exhibition we have translated and published a special visitor’s guide “Herzl: Up Close and Personal” in 1000 copies. This visitor’s guide was prepared in English by David Breakstone and Steve Israel, and published by The Herzl Museum and Educational Center, department for Zionist Activities and World Zionist Organisation.