"To Return is to be Reborn"


Stephen Theodore Norman, the last descendent of Theodor Herzl
Plot for Zionist Leaders, Mt. Herzl


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The Unwanted Prince

By Jerry Klinger

The Last Herzl, Barred from Israel because he was a Herzl
Abandoned, forgotten, sixty-one years later, he came home

He was born wanted yet unwanted in Vienna, April 1918. The only child of a marriage that endured yet quickly fell apart. Shortly after his birth, his mother's mind receded into the darkness of mental illness. She could not cope. She could not function. She could not mother. His father, a moderately successful small businessman, much older than his wife, had to do the unthinkable. He institutionalized his wife. It would be the first of many hospitalizations in one failed sanitarium experience after another. The torment of the parents would not end until their murder in Teresienstadt. His mother's body was burned. His father, unknown, other than he too perished in Teresienstadt.

A nanny was hired to take care of the baby as the household struggled to exist. Her name was Wuth.

At eight days the baby was circumcised and named Stephan. Stephan was not a particularly Jewish name. It was never meant to be. It was Austrian. The family were proud Austrians.

Circumcising Stephan, bringing him into the covenant, linked him to the ancient heritage of the Jewish people. There never was any question of uniting him with his heritage. No one questioned it openly. Savage tongues gossiped secretly. Scandalous rumors said his great- grandmother had not been Jewish. Her background was shrouded in a distant fog of mystery. It was rumored that she was not Jewish but chose to raise her children in the faith of her husband. She risked her social status, her very life, her everything to ensure that her daughters were raised as Jews, even if she never went to a mikvah or practiced her own Catholicism. The rumors, the talk of vicious mouths, were never proven. Stephan was circumcised as a Jew as was his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather and their fathers before them back to Abraham.

Stephan's grandfather died fourteen years before his birth. Stephan was given the middle name Theodor in his honor. No doubt his grandfather would have approved of his joining in the covenant eventhough he had came to his own Judaism late in his short life.

Stephan's grandfather had once understood Jewish identity and Judaism as part of a past, an anachronism that had brought only misery, oppression and illusionary hope to the chosen people. Being chosen had not brought anything better to the Jews. Their refusal to accept the dominant culture in which they lived, adopt their values, worship their Gods, had only brought millennia of repeated misery and oppression.

In 19th century Austrian emancipation, European liberals sang of Jewish freedom, acceptance, a bright hope tomorrow. It was more than a promise. It was real to his grandfather. Jews who abandoned their medieval caftans and side locks were, unprecedently, being welcomed into the mainstream of Austro-Hungarian life. Jewish intermarriage with non-Jews blossomed. Anti-Semitism did not diminish.

Vienna in 1860 had 7,000 Jews. Vienna in 1910 was home to 150,000 Jews. Vienna, the center and affirmation of all that was good about European culture, opened a new future, a better social and material future, to Jews willing to cross the barrier into Christian society. Stephan's grandfather did not attend synagogue or educate his children Jewishly. The grandfather and his children adorned their Christmas tree while he considered that the best course for the Jew's was to renounce Judaism. The Jewish future lay in joining with the universal, welcoming arms of the Catholic Church. It was the natural evolution. It was the natural solution to the Jewish question he reasoned. In the future there would be no Jewish question. They would be normal.

Only one country was considered on a par with the Hoch Kultur, the high culture and social advancement of Austria. France, the birthplace of liberte, egalite and fraternite offered as much or more than Austria for the Jewish future. Jews by the thousands, liberated from the oppression of the ghetto shaved their beards, donned the uniforms of Napoleon's liberating armies and gave their blood for France.

French Jews saw themselves as part of France. The French military establishment did not. In the late 19th century, the trumped up charge of betrayal and disloyalty against a French assimilated Jew crushed the Jewish illusion. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a member of the French military command staff, was falsely accused of heresy - treason against France. He was accused, tried and convicted of passing French military secrets to the Germans. How else could the French military have been defeated so easily in the recent war with Germany? How else could the French army have lost, so disgracefully, Alsace-Lorraine to the "Hun" if not for treason, reasoned the French High Command? The disloyal Jew, the treacherous Jewish officer pretending to be a Frenchman had betrayed France.

The French court convicted Dreyfus, the Jew. Though later exonerated and restored to his rank, Dreyfus was sentenced to infamous Devil's Island, off the coast of French Guiana, where they hoped he would die.

Stephan's grandfather was sent to Paris to cover the Dreyfus story for his newspaper. He had gone to observe the trial accepting that Dreyfus, the French military officer, might have betrayed his country. He never believed that France could or would convict Dreyfus of treason because he was a Jew. He learned he was wrong in Paris. French mouths spit vengeance against the Jew not just against the individual. Dreyfus did not consider himself a Jew. He considered himself a Frenchman and an honorable French officer. Dreyfus was convicted as a Jew and sent to Devil's Island.

The sudden rush of virulent anti-Semitism and systemic hatred of French Jews and all Jews in the heart of European liberalism shocked Stephan's grandfather. Stephan's grandfather had faced anti-Semitism in Vienna. He had joined fencing societies to show that Jews could participate in sports and manly fraternities. Anti-Semitism was declining, vanishing in his rose colored view. Its demise was on the horizon. Jews emerging under emancipation could and were being accepted into normal society.

The Dreyfus story shattered Stephan's grandfather's rose-colored glasses forever. The Jew was not wanted no matter how closely he shaved his beard, how good he was with a rapier, or how much he assimilated. His grandfather realized – in Europe – the Jewish question was real. It was going to remain real. If the world did not want the Jews in Europe there had to be another solution. There had to be somewhere in the world that they could go to and be welcome. There had to be somewhere in the world they could go and show the world they were a normal people. Jews were not just another normal people but an extraordinary people. Once Jewish energies were liberated, they would show the world what good the chosen people could give to humanity.

The grandfather’s solution was radical. He proposed a solution so radical for the Jewish question that even the Jews vilified him. The orthodox Jewish community hated him. Liberal Jews, struggling toward emancipation, each in their own country, felt threatened by his rejectionism. He called for the Jews to solve the Jewish question themselves. For those Jews that wished it, a country of Jews, a solution that had not existed since the Romans destroyed Israel almost two thousand years earlier, Stephan’s grandfather called for Jews to reach for the Golden Ring. They could and should return to Palestine.

Perhaps it was the confluence of historic events. Maybe it was the universal rise of nationalism. Perhaps it was the merging of jingoistic culture. Maybe it was the re-imposition of horrific Jew hatred in Eastern Europe and all of the Russia's that coalesced into hope. Jewish traditional ability to endure suffering had reached a breaking point. If the Jew was not wanted in Europe there was another proposed solution – return to their ancient homeland.

Twenty-two years before Stephan was born, Stephan's grandfather returned to being a Jew. He returned to Judaism. The Christmas tree was gone from his home forever. The light of the Chanukah candles burned in his window as he took his son and daughters, hand in hand. They learned, they sang the songs of Jewish liberation and of Israel.

Jews around the world, jolted by the cardiac resuscitator of the vision, were invigorated with a dream that might be: a solution, a real solution, to the Jewish problem. Their children would no longer have to suffer. The price - believe. God could still send the Messiah but until then the Jews would no longer wait as victims for the Messianic age. Jewish future, Jewish lives, Jewish hopes would be in Jewish hands.

For nearly eight years, Stephan's grandfather stepped, with electrifying presence, to the very front of the world's stage. He proffered a solution to their Jewish problem. The eternal, unwanted Jew would leave; go to their ancient homeland that they had been driven from so many, many years ago. They would go, if they could choose to, to Palestine

Emperors, Kings, Sultans considered the Jewish problem and its final solution. They too wished a solution to the Jew in their midst. In the end, Stephan's grandfather bankrupted his family, destroyed his health, at times sinking into prolonged deep depression. He perished of a heart broken by stress and sickness. His dream unrealized, his hope for his family and his belatedly understood relationship to his people, unfulfilled. His will asked that someday his bones be brought to rest in the land of Palestine, in a reconstituted Jewish State. He wished his children to be buried with him – free at last.

Stephan's grandfather was buried in Vienna's Central Friedhoff, in anguish and pain, as thousands upon thousands of Jews mourned him. The best hope of the Jews, dead. Others picked up his mantel though there was none such as he again. The vision lived on; a fools dream to most, a faith and hope to others.

Stephan's grandfather had three children. His first born, a daughter, he named Pauline. His second child, a son, he named Hans. His third child was Stephan's mother, Trude (Margaret). Of the three, only Trude had had a child.

All three children died under tragic circumstances, each suffering from an inherited malady that reached back into the family for at least five generations – severe, severe – familial depressive illness. The deep, debilitating darkness of familial depressive illness is genetically passed from generation to generation. Each individual sufferer declined into periods of terrible, personal darkness. The disease was not new to the medical world. One of the United State's greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, the man who ended the horror of state sanctioned slavery, suffered from horrific bouts with depressive illness. At times, Lincoln's friends would lock him in a room fearing for his safety. They feared that Lincoln, in one of his "black" emotional periods, would harm himself.

Stephan's Uncle and Aunt each suffered terribly in different ways. Stephan never knew them well. His father, Richard Neumann, did his best to protect his son from them. His Uncle and Aunt had little to do with Stephan.

Pauline married early to get away from her "crazy" mother. Her one-year marriage quickly failed and she never remarried.

Pauline's mother, Julie Nachauer, was locked into an unloving emotionally violent relationship with Stephan's grandfather. The two parents grew to detest each other. His grandfather's will left no provision for her to be buried with him. In the end it did not matter. When she died, she was cremated. Her ashes were entrusted to Hans, a boy of 16, who who misplaced them one day. They lived a loveless, dysfunctional life, which they imprinted on their children.

Uncle Hans, his life one failed professional and human relationship after another, sought, like his father, a final solution to the pain and suffering of the Jewish people. He sought an answer, a universal, peaceful solution to the Jewish problem. Hans converted to Catholicism and hoped the Jews would follow his example; so did the Church.

The Church was too limiting, too rigid for Hans. It was not the solution for the Jewish people that he had hoped it would be. Hans left the Catholic Church to become a Baptist. Perhaps, in a simpler Christianity closely linked to what he felt was the true meaning of the Gospels, Hans hoped to find a solution, an end Jewish suffering. The Catholic Church excommunicated him. As a Baptist he realized that the looser structure did not provide an answer to the Jewish problem. The Baptists soon rejected him as well.

His spirit wandered unsuccessfully from one path to God to another. Near the end of his life he returned to Judaism. Han's deep respect for the simple human meaning of the Gospels remained unabated.

It was as a Jew that the news reached him. His older beloved sister Pauline was dead of a drug overdose in Bordeaux. He had failed to protect his family. He was the failed male head of the household and his sister had wandered, like he, from failed relationship to failed relationship. She sank into the morose escape of drugs and death. Hans, in his final letter, wrote of his failed life:

    "If a ritual can really calm our spirits and give us the illusion of being in the company of our beloved dead once more I can't think of anything better than a visit to the Temple: there I can pray for my parents, ask their forgiveness and repent my apostasy before God. I am destitute and sick, unhappy and bitter. I have no home. Nobody pays any attention to the words of a convert. I cannot suddenly turn my back on a community, which offered me its friendship.
    Without prejudice, even if all my physical and moral impulses urge me to: I have burned all my bridges… What good is the penance which the Church has ordained for my "spiritual healing"! I torture my body in vain: my conscience is torturing me far worse. My life is ruined… Nobody would regret it if I were to put a bullet through my head. Could I undo my errors that way? I realize how right my father had been when he once said: "Only the withered branches fall off a tree – the healthy ones flourish."
    A Jew remains a Jew, no matter how eagerly he may submit himself to the disciplines of his new religion, how humbly he may place the redeeming cross upon his shoulders for the sake of his former coreligionists, to save them from eternal damnation: a Jew remains a Jew….I can't go on living. I have lost all trust in God, All my life I've tried to strive for the truth, and must admit today at the end of the road that there is nothing but disappointment. Tonight I have said Kaddish for my parents – and for myself, the last descendent of the family. There is nobody who will say Kaddish for me, who went out to find peace – and who may find peace soon….. My instinct has latterly gone all wrong, and I have made one of those irreparable mistakes, which stamp a whole life with failure. Then it is best to scrap it".1

A bullet ended his life, ended his pain. He was buried with his sister in a common grave by a very reluctant Rabbinate forced to act by the Zionists. It was 1930.

Stephan was studying for his Bar Mitzvah in Vienna.

Richard Neumann was nearly financially ruined by the great depression. He struggled mightily to keep his home together. At the same time the heavy expenses of the sanatoriums for Stephan's mother bore heavily on him. The only constant in Stephan's young life was Wuth, his nanny. There was little talk to Stephan about his family. His Aunt and Uncle were dead. His grandfather, a dreamer, had ruined the family financially in pursuit of his dream, killing himself in the process. Stephan knew little of his grandfather, what he believed in or why did anyone care who he was. There was nothing to talk about. The clouds over Europe turned increasingly dark for all people and especially for Jews. Fear filled the air. Austria and Vienna reemerged as leading centers of European anti-Semitism.

Richard and Trude, in her more lucid moments, worried for their only child's safety, as would any parent. It was clear that evil times were ahead for the Jews of Austria. What to do? They turned, as many Jews did, to the Jewish relief efforts to find safe shelters. Some turned to the Ezra Society to get Jews out of Austria and Germany into other parts, safer parts, of Europe that would have them. Most places did not want Jews. The Neumann's turned to the Zionists to get their only child out of Austria to England. Financially the Zionists had been helping Hans and Pauline while they lived. They agreed to help Stephan. He would go to school in England.

The teenage Stephan left Vienna with tearful faces and sobbing hearts, not knowing for sure when he would see his parents, if ever, again. He was a very young man, with no home, no roots, no family and no clear future. His parents wished him to live and they were sure that that was not assured in Vienna. They were correct. After the Anschluss and the open welcome of Nazism in Vienna, most of Austria's Jews were exterminated. Stephan was safe in England.

Stephan wrote home regularly and received much longed for mail. He was far away, lonely, but at least through the mails he was still home with him family. Stephan still knew little of his grandfather.

There was not much to know about his uncle and aunt, they had been buried and long forgotten. No one wanted to know much about a drug addict and a Christian convert suicide. His mother and father were one set of lives he knew intimately and loved very much. But who was his namesake, Theodor? In England, at boarding school be began to read who his grandfather was. Why did people remember and revere his name even if it was not the same as his.

As Stephan read, he learned, he understood and he believed. He too saw the uncompleted vision of his grandfather. He understood why his grandfather was willing to pay, and did in fact pay with everything, to accomplish the vision that seemingly had failed. But it had not failed totally. The Balfour Declaration was real. The Balfour Declaration was real. Tens of thousands of Jews had gone to Palestine picking up the vision with their hands and their souls. The land, slowly, returned from swamp, miasma, and desolation to productivity. The vision was being built for the lucky few to have gotten there – away from the European death that was unfolding. Stephan read and read everything that he could about his grandfather. Stephan became an ardent believer. Stephan became a Zionist.

It was wartime in 1939. German names were not recommended. Stephan, like many other German/Austrian Jewish refugees, anglicized his name. Stephan could have simply picked a name from the telephone book. Others had done that by running their fingers down a page until they found an English sounding name they liked. Stephan simply anglicized his name. Stephan became Stephen. Theodor became Theodore and Neumann became Norman. He would forever be known as Stephen Theodore Norman.

Stephen graduated from officer training school - an officer of the British Royal Artillery. He was assigned to duty in India and Ceylon. He rose to the rank of Captain of the Royal Artillery. He also lost contact with his parents and family, as had many other Jews. He feared the worst yet he remained hopeful that somehow their fate would not be as terrible as others. He hoped they would survive the war somehow.

Captain Norman served honorably. The war ended and he like many others was being drawn back to England for discharge. It was late 1945. Passing through the Middle East, he had the opportunity to take a small detour.

For continuation, go to Page Two

1 Princes Without a Home, Modern Zionism and the Strange Fate of Theodor Herzl's Children 1900-1945. Ilse Steinberger, International Scholars Publications, San Francisco 1994.

2 Airstop in Israel, Stephen Theodore Norman, Azure Magazine, Autumn 5767, 2006, This essay is reproduced from the Central Zionist Archives, file no. H3425.

3 Princes Without a Home, Modern Zionism and the Strange Fate of Theodor Herzl's Children 1900-1945. Ilse Steinberger, International Scholars Publications, San Francisco 1994.

4 The Assembly, A Century in the Life of the Adas Israel Hebrew Congregation of Washington, D.C., Stanley Rabinowitz, Ktav Press.

5 Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem

6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration_of_1917

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For more articles on Zionism, see our Zionism Archives


from the Passover 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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