"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

For Previous Page, go to Page One

Norman wrote in his diary:

    "My ever-mounting excitement at the prospect of seeing Palestine had been a matter of days: My desire to visit it was of many years' standing. I cannot say that my upbringing had been markedly Jewish or Orthodox. Nor was the idea of Zionism, in spite of my family connection with it, ever at any time rammed down my throat, either at home or subsequently at school and university. But I had found and read my grandfather's writings, which make, I think, fascinating reading to anyone even remotely interested in Judaism, and which were, of course, of considerable interest to me.
    I had long determined to see this Palestine that had grown from the prayers and longing of centuries of dispersed Jews; that had been shown the way to practical realism by Herzl; and that had, especially in the last thirty years, become socially and economically real.
    As soon as the news of my leave had come through, I knew I would be going by air: Knew, too, that Palestine lay en route. I was not aware of the length of my stay there, which might be a ninety-minute fuel stop or a two- or three-day "acclimatization halt." How I hoped it would be the latter.
    It had been my intention to visit Palestine after the completion of my studies in 1939, but the war that had been threatening for so long came at last, and once again my visit was postponed indefinitely. Now, chance had presented me with an opportunity. I determined to make the most of my few hours in the land of Israel. I believed in the idea and the aims of Zionism, and in the moral, ethical, economic, and social need for it that had been made even more urgent and important by world events and the tremendous problems created by the new scientific anti-Semitism of the last decades.
    The Dakota, caught in an air pocket, bumped, leveled, and bumped once more. The tarmac of the landing strip rushed towards us, appeared below our windows, straightened out. Braking gently, the plane came to a stop, turned, and taxied rapidly to dispersal. A last revving of engines and silence, but only momentarily; the door of the plane was opened, and a red-haired, sandy-faced flight lieutenant appeared, grinned, and said: "Welcome to Palestine. This is Lydda." Another moment and I stood, inhaling fresh air, on the soil of Palestine.
    I hitched a lift into Tel Aviv as soon as I was free. Driving along good, even roads, we soon reached the outskirts of the city and saw the first Hebrew street sign. Notices warned drivers to proceed slowly and beware of children. I looked around, and there they were, the children. They were playing, like children play in an English street. But here they romped in a Jewish street. I thought of their little brothers and sisters who had not been allowed to play in German streets, and it was good to see these free Jewish children. I had been told, you will be amazed at Jewish youth in Palestine: They are fair and sturdy and handsome. Therefore, I might have known what to expect, yet when I saw them, it was somehow new. These children bore the mark of freedom. It was quite unmistakable: In their bearing, in their eyes. I did not know who they were; workers' children, no doubt, for this was a workers' district, not a residential quarter. They might have been born in Palestine-sabras, cactuses, as they are called-or they might be recent arrivals. Whoever they were, they had the look of freedom. I thought of the dark, sallow, unhappy Jewish children of Europe. I had seen pictures of their faces; their youthful frames had borne the features of old men and women, and now I saw these little ones who look like children again.
    I strolled around most of the day, occasionally sitting in one of the many boulevard cafés. I watched the busy life of the city before me, and saw also many unhappy continental faces.
    For in the faces of young Jews in Palestine, there is a quiet strength of feature and of purpose the likes of which I had never witnessed before. It made the contented faces of English Jewry seem decadent. These young Jews and Jewesses, whether they were Palestinian-born or had succeeded in throwing off the shackles of Europe, were strong. And about them was the breath of freedom.
    To happy people like the English or Americans, such freedom is a birthright; to Jews, it is not. Yet here in Palestine, looking at them dispassionately and even critically, I saw it. You may hear about these things and read of them, and you may be glad; but to understand this look of freedom, you must see it with your own eyes. Only then will you know its meaning. The Jews of the world are an old, old people. But the Jews of Palestine are young - the youngest people in the world. They are not carefree. They have great and difficult problems. And in their hearts they carry the memory of the fate of their brothers and sisters in Europe, a fate that an indifferent world is rapidly forgetting. But they are young and strong, the Jews of Palestine, and they are eager to shoulder their problems, although they will never forget their Jewish brothers and sisters.
    I had joined up with a fellow traveler from my aircraft, a flying officer of the RAF. Together we went into the Old City….. In the midday sun we stood at the foot of the Wailing Wall, towering high above our heads in space and in time. Untold numbers of Jews had come here throughout the centuries, had wept, and had received consolation. Into its thousands of crevices the prayers of our people had been inserted.
    I had never been a religious Jew, but the silent, regal dignity of the Wall stirred me deeply…. There were few people present at this time of day. Among them was an old lady who wept quietly as she prayed close to the Wall. A sturdy peasant girl stood near us and kissed the sun-baked stone with infinite tenderness. Walking backwards, she seems almost unable to take her farewell. And strangely, my companion and I had the same feeling. We left slowly and almost unwillingly, casting another and yet another glance back, hesitating to depart from "a sight so touching in its majesty."
    … I wanted to see something especially representative of Jewish initiative and endeavor, and was delighted when the Jewish Services Club arranged for a visit to Hadassah Hospital. A short drive took us to Mount Scopus, with the beautiful buildings of the university and the hospital. We were met by the secretary and given the history of this magnificent hospital. Its erection had been the work of the American Hadassah, and it ranked among the foremost hospitals in the world. … The hospital will take all but the very rich: These must go to private clinics or nursing homes. Patient's pay according to their means; the poor, of course, not at all. The hospital takes all patients irrespective of race or creed. Arab women, used throughout the centuries to giving birth at home and without medical assistance, were at first reluctant to come; now, having heard of the wonders of modern medicine, they are arriving in increasing numbers. I saw Arab women of all classes in various parts of the hospital. The presence of these women impressed me. You read so much, these days, of the insoluble differences between Jew and Arab. In this Jewish hospital, unobtrusively and without any fuss, patients were sick people whom it was desired to heal, and there were no differences. …
    Ireturned to Jerusalem early the next morning, for there was so much I still wanted to see. Most of all a room that means a great deal to Jews the world over, to Palestine's Jews even more, and that had for me a great personal interest: The room from his house in Vienna where Theodor Herzl worked for Zionism. It had been transferred bodily to Jerusalem and was situated in the building of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund.
    It is difficult for me to describe my feeling as I entered that room and saw, for the first time, all those belongings of which I had heard so much. Loving hands had arranged everything in the precise way it had been in Vienna, forty-one years ago: The pens, the rulers, the blotting paper on the desk were exactly as they had been left. The very building itself had been altered structurally to permit the addition of the alcove window, which had been in Herzl's home. The books, the tables and chairs, all were there, and the topee which he had worn during his visit to Palestine, and in which, in Roman letters, he had written his Hebrew name: Benjamin Ze'ev. I could have spent many hours in the room.
    I was shown the golden books of the Jewish National Fund, enormous in their beautiful bindings. I went into the vaults where the Herzl archives are kept. I saw the original manuscripts of Der Judenstaat and of the Diaries, and other writings; files of personal documents and letters, all kept with loving care and devotion. I met the head of the archives and other officials. From Leib Jaffe, that Grand Old Man of Jewry, I heard many tales of the early Congresses. Together with him I visited the Hebrew University. Together we stood in the amphitheater where Balfour had declared this Jewish university open, and we looked for miles across the hills to the Jordan and beyond. Together we stood at Pinsker's grave. He, too, had a vision. Independently, and indeed, before Herzl.
    Throughout the centuries of the Diaspora, Jews had had that vision: It was given to a few to express the prayer and the dream that had been in the heart of every Jew, if not in his mind.
    And now the dream was coming true. Daily, hourly, it was becoming more of a reality. A new land was growing out of this old, old country, and it would continue to grow, as surely and irresistibly as the passing of time.
    Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen-if you will it, it will be no fairy tale.
    You willed it, Jews, with your hearts and with your souls, with your minds and with your bodies, with your work, with your sweat and with your blood, with all the sorrow in your hearts-yes, and with your gladness too. And see, it is no fairy tale"2

Aboard ship, continuing his return to England for discharge, Captain Norman wrote the following of his visit to Israel:

    "Oh, there might be resting places elsewhere in the world for a few of them [Jewish Holocaust refugees]. Here and there a country might take a score or two, an odd hundred. But that, they knew, was no solution, not their salvation...
    "As I write those words, my thoughts too are of home... But there is no peace. For I can see the homeless faces of Jewry. They have not come home. Sick and despairing they lie in the camps of Europe...
    "It is not of politics I write. For I am a soldier, and I have no politics. But I write of humanity...
    My visit to Palestine is over... It is said that to go away is to die a little. And I know that when I went away from Erez Israel, I died a little.

Stephen returned to England for a few months of advanced training with the British Commonwealth's Scientific Office. He was posted to the British Embassy in Washington in the summer of 1946. He lived alone in Washington and did not form any deep associations, except with Dr. Eliahu Elath, head of the Jewish Agency in Washington. Dr. Elath knew who he was, the last descendent of Theodor Herzl. The two spoke often of Israel and its future.

It was during this period that Stephen contacted his family servant and nanny, Wuth, in Vienna to try and learn the fate of his parents. He dreaded the contact, but it was something he had to do. In early November he learned that they were dead. His parents had been exterminated.

A deep, unendurable pain rose from within him. It was a typical gray November day in Washington as Stephen walked to the Massachusetts Ave. Bridge spanning Rock Creek Park, 30 meters below. He laid his tweed jacket neatly on the bridge railing and suddenly vaulted to his death.

On November 27 Elath was horrified to read about Stephen's suicide in the Washington papers. As there was no family, he contacted Adas Israel Congregation and undertook the funeral arrangements. Internment was in the Adas Israel cemetery on Alabama Ave, in southeast Washington.

It took a few days to organize, as Stephen was a British citizen and numerous Jewish groups wanted to be present. An honor guard from the Jewish War Veterans, Post #58 attended Stephen. Rabbi Israel Metz of Adas performed the tearful ceremony.

Moshe Frelichov observed in his graveside tribute, "With the death of Captain Norman, no descendant is left of the great founder of the Zionist movement. The great Herzl now lives only in his great work." 4

The Jewish Agency paid $100 for the burial.

It was 18 months from the end of the Holocaust. It was 18 months until the birth of the State of Israel. Stephen, mistakenly believing that the darkness would never lift, could not see the sun rising that morning in November.

There is little doubt that the traumatic news of the extermination of Stephen's parents triggered his depressive illness. But it most likely the news was not the only factor that unleashed his terrible response.

Stephen was know to the Jewish community in Palestine, England and America as the last descendent of Theodor Herzl. He was feted with the honored respect of near royalty wherever he traveled – no matter how modestly he tried. It is quite possible that Stephen recognized, or it possibly was suggested to him by the Palestinian Zionists, that he was the new Herzl returning ready to lead his people home. He was the Prince returned.

He was the only Herzl to have ever been to Palestine. He was the only Herzl to have ever loved the land, the people and to deeply believe in the Zionist dream. He was also, potentially and logically, a major threat to the British.

There never had been any action on his part to suggest to the British any disloyalty except for the fact of who he was. On July 2, 1946 Stephen wrote to Mrs. Stybovitz-Kahn in Haifa. Her father, Jacob Kahn had been a good friend of Herzl and a well know Dutch Banker before the war. Stephen wrote "I intend to go to Palestine on a long visit in the future, in fact as soon as passport & permit regulations permit. But the dreadful news of the last two days have done nothing to make this easier." 5

The cryptic line is better understood in the context of events. June 29, 1946 was the Black Sabbath in Israeli history. On June 29, 1946, British military operation Agatha unfolded on Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath. Between 10,000 and 25,000 British military and police personnel fanned out across Palestine arresting Jews in an attempt to break the back of the Jewish self defense forces, the Palmach, and disrupting the shadow government of a future Israel. Over 2,700 individuals were arrested. Anyone who might be a leader or a symbol of the future state of Israel including future Prime Minister's David Ben Gurion and Moshe Sharet, were locked up. The British scoured the country for weapons and munitions to hamstring the Jew's ability to defend themselves. British goals were to break the spirit of the Palestinian Jews and defeat the goal of an incipient Jewish State being declared unilaterally. It raised British moral as Jews, fresh from the concentration camps, were rounded up into new camps in what seemed to them a new police state action.

The British promise in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, had become a broken promise, a false promise.

The British could not and would not let a Herzl return. The British never understood Herzl's vision of a peaceful solution to the Jewish problem. They never understood Herzl's vision of Arab and Jewish cooperation to build up Palestine. Stephen Norman was never granted permission to return. Instead he was assigned to a job in Washington, D.C., 7,000 miles from Palestine.

A direct consequence of the British police state action, to break the back of the Jewish government, occurred on July 22, 1946. The Palmach and the Hagannah held off from additional anti-British action. The Irgun did not. In a carefully planned operation, Irgun volunteers dressed as Arab deliverymen smuggled huge amounts of explosives into the basement of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The King David was the military command center for the British Mandate government. Warning phone calls were sent to the British and the French before the entire southern wing of the hotel was destroyed in a horrific blast that killed scores of British, Arabs and Jews. It was the worst bombing in Palestinian history surpassed, easily now, by Arab terrorist activity since 1980.

Stephen Norman, the last Herzl, understood clearly, the doorway to Palestine, for Jewish refugees, was cynically blocked by British warships.

It seemed to him there was no hope for the Jewish people. The world did not care. His parents were exterminated; his grandfather's vision a distant, unobtainable dream. He had failed in his wish to become part of the Jewish solution and return to Palestine. The door to Israel was closed to him because he was a Herzl. There was no hope for the Jews or for him.

Loving too deeply, unable to endure the pain, Stephen leaped to his death.

After Stephen's burial, the Zionists, every one of them, the government of Israel, the Jewish agency walked away. He was abandoned and forgotten.

The Jewish Agency never had the time or the funds to place a memorial marking Stephen's grave. Members of the Adas Israel community came together and erected a tombstone for Stephen at their own expense. Another member of the Adas community donated his own gravesite so that the last Herzl would have a resting place.

Stephen was buried in section 13, grave #35, near a fence that acts as a wall separating the Conservative section of the cemetery from the Reform's Washington Hebrew Congregation cemetery.


His headstone is respectful: Stephen Theodore Norman, Captain of Royal Artillery, April 21, 1918, Nov. 25, 1946 Grandson of Theodore Herzl.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After five year's of bitter struggle against indifference marked by apathy, disinterest, post-Zionism and Zionist sclerosis, Stephen finally came home.

In a belated affirmation of faith by the Jewish people and the State of Israel, the Zionist returned home to the land that he loved, to the people that he loved, to his family.

Stephen Theodore Norman, the last descendent of Theodor Herzl, was reburied on Mt. Herzl, in a ceremony open to the public, at 12:30 pm. Dec. 5, 2007.

Stephen is buried in the plot for Zionist leaders with his family.

The writer is president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation. He was the driving force behind the return of Stephen Norman.

Additional information is available at:

http://www.jewish-american-society-for-historic-preservation.org/thelastherzl.html

www.JASHP.org


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

* * * * *

For more articles on Zionism, see our Zionism Archives

~~~~~~~

from the Passover 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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