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ERETZ SURVEY - September 17, 2006

 

Herzl's Children to be Interned on Mount Herzl

Some 76 years after their death, Theodor Herzl's children will be brought to Jerusalem and buried next to him, in accordance with his wishes. Ironically, the country that was established due to Herzl's vision and perseverance did not want to fulfill the will of its founder. It took the dogged tenacity of a dreamer from the Negev to force the government of Israel to bring Herzl's family to rest on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Following the excitement of the Sixth Zionist Congress, which debated the issue of accepting the British offer to create a Jewish state in Uganda, Herzl's health deteriorated. Again and again, forebodings about his death appear in his diary. In March 1903, the forty-four-year-old Herzl wrote his last will. "My wishes are to be buried in a metal coffin near my father and to lie there until the Jewish people will bring my body to the Land of Israel. The coffin of my father and my immediate family that will die until that day should also be buried next to me, in the Land of Israel." Herzl died not long afterwards, on July 3, 1904. His death was a shock for hundreds of thousands of Jews. He was buried in Vienna. In August 1949, the metal coffin in which he had been buried was transferred to Jerusalem and buried on Mount Herzl. The bodies of his mother and father were also buried next to him in Jerusalem. But those of his children were not.

Three years after Herzl's death, his wife, who suffered from mental illness, died. Upon Herzl's death, their three children - Paulina (14), Hans (13), and Trude (11) - were sent to live with relatives. Paulina, Herzl's eldest daughter, had heart disease and was also mentally ill. She was hospitalized again and again. As an adult, she led a promiscuous life and became addicted to morphine. She died, probably of an overdose, in Bordeaux, France, on September 14, 1930.

When Herzl died,  penniless, his wife and children appealed to the Zionist Organization for money on which to live. The leaders of the movement asked their membership for funds and in a very short time, three million dollars were raised. The Zionist leadership selected the 4 percent, 30-year bonds of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at that time the safest and most secure paper in central Europe. In l906, this assured the family members a substantial income for the rest of their lives. Eight years and one world war later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had ceased to exist. The bonds which were supposed to support Herzl's children became worthless.

Herzl's second child, Hans, studied philosophy and languages at Cambridge University in England. He too was mentally ill. In an effort to escape being merely his father's son, he became in turn a Baptist, a Roman Catholic, and again a Jew. A few hours before the funeral of his sister, he committed suicide in a rented room. He wished to be buried in Paulina's coffin "where there is plenty of space for both." Before his suicide, he wrote: "My situation is that of a dead man. When God wants to destroy a person, he first converts him into a mad man." The youngest sister, Trude, who was also mentally ill, died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during the Holocaust.

Because of their troubled lives, the governments of Israel chose to ignore Herzl's will and not bring his children's bodies to Jerusalem. Six years ago,  Dr. Ariel Feldstein, a historian and the director of the Sapir College in the Negev, noticed that next to Herzl's grave only his mother and father are buried. Diving with a passion into the material, he found out about the unfulfilled will and started a campaign to fulfill Herzl's last wishes.

Feldstein prompted the government to establish a committee to deal with the matter in 2001. Headed by minister Danny Naveh, the committee buried the issue.  In 2003, the centenary of Herzl's death, Feldstein raised the issue again. This time, the result was the  Herzl law (2004), which ensured the fulfillment of Herzl's heritage. As a result, in 2005, the Herzl museum was re-inaugurated - but the issue of Herzl's children was still left unresolved.

Feldstein's persistence seemed to have paid off a year ago when he was notified that prime minister Ariel Sharon was about to announce that the bones of Herzl's children would be brought to Israel. The announcement was planned for November 21 - but then, on that same date, Sharon declared the creation of his new party - Kadima.

Feldstein did not give up. He brought the matter to the attention of the next prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who rose to the cause.  One of the biggest obstacles over the years had been the objection of the religious establishment to bringing the children's remains to Israel. Hans, for example, had not only converted to Christianity, but had also committed suicide.

Feldstein now started to work with Chief Sepharadi Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Amar. After proving that the children were mentally ill - and therefore not responsible for their actions - and that Hans had converted back to Judaism before his death, Feldstein managed to get the rabbi's approval.

Finally, 76 years after their death, on Wednesday, September 20, Herzl's children will finally join their father in the family plot on Mount Herzl.

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