Theodor Herzl (1860-1904)
Viennese Journalist and Founder of Modern Political Zionism.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, on May 2, 1860, Herzl was educated in the spirit of the German-Jewish "Enlightenment." The family moved to Vienna in 1878 after the death of his sister. He received a doctorate in law in 1884 and worked for a short while in courts in Vienna and Salzburg. Within a year, he left law and devoted himself to writing, for which he had demonstrated ability from an early age.
In 1891 he became Paris correspondent for the New Free Press (Vienna), the influential liberal newspaper of the time. Herzl was in Paris to witness the rise of anti-Semitism which resulted from the court martial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer, who was divested of his rank in a humiliating public ceremony in January 1895, as a mob shouted "Death to the Jews." After considering a number of possibilities, Herzl became convinced that the only solution to the Jewish problem was the mass exodus of Jews from their places of residence. Originally he wrote that it didn't matter where Jews went. He eventually realized that a national home in Palestine was the answer.
He published a pamphlet, The Jewish State in 1896. Although others had suggested solutions to anti-Semitism, Herzl was the first to call for immediate political action. Jewish reaction to his plan was mixed. Many Jews rejected it as too extreme, although there were those who responded with enthusiasm and asked him to head what was to become the Zionist movement. He succeeded in convening the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, August 29-31, 1897. The congress adopted the Basle Program and established the World Zionist Organization to help create the economic foundation for the proposed Jewish state. Herzl was elected president of the organization and chaired the first six Zionist congresses. He spent much of his time in his remaining years meeting with world leaders, both Jewish and non-Jewish, trying to enlist financial and political support for his dream of a Jewish state. He died in 1904 before his dream could become reality.
In 1949 his remains were transferred to a mountain in western Jerusalem which became Mount Herzl, and is today a major military cemetery.
His works translated into English include Old-New Land and his diaries.