Theodor Herzl is one of Israel’s most celebrated figures, and on Wednesday the
country celebrates everything that Herzl stood for on the anniversary of his
birthday: the inspiration for the Zionist dream, the faith in a strong Jewish
nation and the sheer force of will toward realizing his dream, even at the cost
of his life.
But as much as Herzl is renowned for the impact he had on
the country, the rest of his family slipped into utter oblivion. One history
buff from Washington is aiming to ensure that Herzl’s grandson, the only Zionist
in Herzl’s family, will not be swept into the forgotten corners of history. On
Herzl Day, he will join the Jerusalem Foundation in dedicating a memorial garden
at Mount Herzl to Stephen Theodore Norman, who committed suicide at age
To understand how the family of one of the country’s foremost heroes
has been forgotten by history, the story reaches back to the tragedies
surrounding all of Herzl’s children. The oldest, Pauline, succumbed to heroin
addiction at age 40.
The middle child, Hans, converted to Catholicism,
then Protestantism and a number of other religious ideologies as he searched for
the path to spiritual salvation, before committing suicide the day of Pauline’s
funeral. Only Herzl’s youngest daughter, Margaret, or “Trude,” married and had a
child, Stephen Theodore Norman (born Nuemann, later Anglicized), who was born in
Vienna in 1918.
But like her siblings, Trude suffered from mental illness
and was committed to a sanatorium soon after Stephen’s birth. All of Herzl’s
descendents are believed to have suffered from severe clinical depression, a
genetic disease that Herzl inherited from his grandparents.
obsession with the creation of a Zionist Jewish state in Israel ruined him
financially, and his family considered him a complete failure.
up, Stephen never heard about his famous grandfather. He only learned about
Herzl while studying at an English boarding school in 1939, where his parents sent him
to escape from the rise of the Nazis in Austria.
After graduating, Norman
joined the British Royal Artillery and served in India and Ceylon.
the war, he lost contact with his parents. In 1945, while being discharged from
the army, Norman passed through the Middle East and had an opportunity to take a
multi-day tour of Israel. He was the only Herzl descendant to visit Israel,
where he was feted by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF)
and the Jewish Service Corps. KKLJNF showed Norman his grandfather’s Vienna
study, which had been moved in its entirety to their Jerusalem
“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,” Norman wrote in his diary of visiting his grandfather’s study, according
to documents from the Central Zionist Archives.
“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.” Norman was deeply moved by his visit to Israel, and
longed to return.
“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,” he wrote in his
“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.”
But the British, aware of
Norman’s ties to a celebrated Jewish leader, refused to grant him a permit to
visit or immigrate to Palestine. Discouraged, Norman took a minor position in
the British Embassy in Washington.
There, he finally reestablished
contact with his childhood nanny, who gave him the terrible news: his entire
family had perished in the Holocaust.
In November 1946, forbidden from
entering Israel and helping create the state as his grandfather would have
wanted, and bereft of any family, Norman walked to the Massachusetts Avenue
Bridge in Washington, which spans Rock Creek Park, and leapt to his death. He
“Here he was, a Herzl, and he couldn’t do anything to help [the
Jews], because he was a Herzl,” said Jerry Klinger, a Washington native who has
made it one of his life missions to ensure that Norman is not
Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic
Preservation, an organization that identifies and recognizes sites of American
Jewish Historical interest, spent five years lobbying to have Norman’s remains
reburied next to his family on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.
During the long
struggle, Klinger convinced Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar that the suicide
stemmed from Norman’s clinical depression, and that because his death was caused
by an illness he should be allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, which
normally prohibits suicide victims. Norman was reburied next to his aunt and
uncle on December 5, 2007, in the plot for Zionist leaders.
dedication of the Stephen Theodore Norman garden will mark the first time that
one of Herzl’s descendents is honored with a memorial. The estate of Viennese
Jews Saul and Lucia Spechter funded the creation of the memorial
Klinger was friendly with Lucia, who died in 2009 at age
Klinger said he was inspired to work for the past decade in Norman’s
memory due to his service in the Israeli army in the 1970s.
taught you, you don’t leave anyone behind,” he said. “I was injured in the West
Bank [during an operation] and someone picked me up and wouldn’t leave me
behind... We do not abandon our own.”
For Klinger, Herzl’s only
descendant was left behind in a barely marked grave, forgotten in a Washington
cemetery that turned into a dangerous haven for drug dealers.
involved with this odyssey, I thought everyone would have wanted to do the right
thing to bring Stephan home to his family,” said Klinger, a former Merrill Lynch
senior vice president, who even named his dog Norman in honor of his
quest. “I didn’t believe I would have a five-year battle [to rebury
him]... and another four and a half years to create this
A sentence from Norman’s diary adorns one wall of the garden:
“You would be amazed at the Jewish youth in Palestine – they have the mark of
freedom,” he wrote in 1945, as skeletal images of Jewish survivors of the
Holocaust circulated the globe.
The new garden memorial, tucked between
the Herzl Museum and the Stella and Alexander Margulies Education Center, will
provide a resting point and quiet spot for tour guides to give explanations,
especially to thousands of students who visit Mount Herzl each year.
can give a lecture for an hour and a half, and the kids will maybe pick up 30
seconds or a minute,” said Klinger. “All of these young people sitting in a
garden area between two museums, most of them are daydreaming. But if they’re
looking around and they see that quote, and they see that Israel is for the
freedom of the Jewish people, and if they walk away with that understanding,
then I did my job, and Stephen did his job, and Herzl did his job.”
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