John Kremenezky and the Treasures of Zionist History

John Kremenezky's grandfather Yona (Johann) Kremenezky played a central role as Dr. Theodore Herzl's personal secretary and advisor.

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April 14, 2009 09:30
John Kremenezky and the Treasures of Zionist History

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The thousands of visiters who will visit Beit Herzl at the main site of KKL-JNF activities at Hulda during the Passover holiday will also walk "Yona's Path" at the site. They will do so without knowing that just a few days before the holiday John Kremenezky - the grandson of Yona Kremenezky - also trod on the same path with his wife Margaret. John Kremenezky arrived in Israel to close a circle in Zionist history in which his grandfather Yona (Johann) Kremenezky played a central role as Dr. Theodore Herzl's personal secretary and advisor, and also the initiator and promoter of establishing Keren Kayemet LeIsrael. John Kremenezky brought several historical treasures with him from his family archives. The stack of documents included several certificates of listings in the KKL-JNF Golden Book by his grandfather Yona, some of which bears the signature of Herzl himself. Other documents bear the signature of other central figures in Zionist history. John Kremenezky also presented members of the KKL-JNF board, headed by Efi Stenzler, with several photographs of beautiful women dressed in the elegant 19th century fashion - including Herzl's sister and wife. Both pictures bear dedications to Yona Kremenezky, the man whose perseverance was responsible for establishing the KKL-JNF as an international Zionist organization. Yona Kremenezky succeeded in overruling several leaders of the Zionist movement at the Fifth Zionist Congress in his struggle to pass a suggestion to establish a Jewish fund for redemption of land in Eretz Israel. He also initiated the idea of "the Blue Box" that became the symbol of KKL-JNF, as well as the "KKL-JNF stamp" which Diaspora Jews who identified with the cause pasted on letters alongside regular postage stamps. Kremenezky joined the Zionist Congress as a wealthy man and was one of the first industrialists of electric light bulbs in Vienna. He was also responsible for funding Herzl's journey to Eretz Israel to assess the establishment of industry in the country. On the eve of the Passover holiday the heads of KKL-JNF gathered in the meeting hall in the National Institutions Building in Jerusalem to honor the grandson of the first KKL-JNF Chairman and listen to some of his personal memories. The participants in the memorable ceremony included John Kremenezky and his wife, Margaret, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF Co-chairman Avraham Duvdevani, Vice Presidents Yigal Yassinov and Menachem Leibovic, and members of the KKL-JNF board and management. Professor Ben-Zion Netanyahu, one of the leaders of the Zionist Movement in the United States (and father of Israel's current Prime Minister), set next to Kremenezky's grandson, whose face revealed his excitement and who often could not contain his tears of emotion. With him was the head of the Herzl Museum, Dr. Moti Freidman, who hosted the Kremenezky family. On the table before the guests was a hand-decorated bronze box, one of the first "blue boxes" made in Europe by the German Jewish artist Leopold Fleishecher. The rare and expensive box was brought to Israel as part of the items of Zionist history that John Kremenezky chose to give the KKL-JNF. "I remember my grandfather vividly from my childhood. He died when I was 13 years old, and he came to our house each Shabbat to be with us. All we heard about from him was Zionism," explained John Kremenezky at the modest ceremony during which he and his wife were also given certificates of listing in the KKL-JNF Golden Book. The Kremenezkys were particularly interested in the first volume of the Golden Book in which three listings bore John's grandfather's name. Other listings of Yona Kremenezky's name appeared in other volumes including the one of the 60th anniversary of his role as a Zionist leader. During the ceremony the grandson told about his own life, how he succeeded in fleeing Vienna - his city of birth - at age 17, escaped down the Danube to Romania, and continued on to board the Ma'apilim ship, "Atlantic", to sail towards Eretz Israel. "We sailed between the Greek islands for three months collecting coal and wood for the ship's boilers at every possible place until we were discovered by the British fleet and brought to Haifa. There we were forced to disembark, and the Ma'apilim ship "Partia" was blown up by Haganah sappers. The sight was terrible. We were taken to Atlit, and many of us were exiled to the island of Mauritius. I remained in Atlit because I was ill with typhus and pneumonia. I survived and remained in Atlit for more than nine months until the British decided that we were not enemies despite our German passports. We were released and I joined the Jewish Brigade in Italy." The life story of the grandson of the man who established KKL-JNF constitutes a significant chapter in Zionist history as well as a direct continuation of his grandfather's deeds. There was a feeling of connection with history in the KKL-JNF meeting hall when the head of the Herzl Museum, Dr. Moti Friedman spoke about Yona Kremenezky's generation. "Herzl's generation was unique. Only a few people were thinking about establishing a Jewish national home at the time. These people joined Herzl to help him develop political Zionism. Yona Kremenezky was one of those special people." In his remarks, Professor Ben-Zion Netanyahu expressed regret that the memory of Herzl and those of others such as Yona Kremenezky do not constitute a sufficient part of the collective memories of Israeli citizens due to a lack of Zionist education. Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF world chairman, rose to the occasion by presenting Professor Netanyahu with a new study curriculum for Jewish children published by the education division of KKL-JNF. Efi Stenzler spoke about the unique figure of Yona Kremenezky who was born in 1848 as Jonas Yosipovich Levinson, but referred to himself by various pseudonyms in Vienna in order to hide the fact that he was Jewish. In the directorate of the First Zionist Congress he went by the name of "Johann Meir. "Your grandfather made Zionism. He did not like vain chit-chatting," said Stenzler to Kremenezky. "The Blue Box and the first stamp of KKL-JNF were the tools with which Yona connected the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. He was the person who formulated the path of KKL-JNF and was chosen as the first chairman of the organization in 1902. Today KKL-JNF is continuing in the same path, and we are happy to add your name - his grandson - and the name of your wife Margaret to the book of honor that commemorates your grandfather's name." Avraham Duvdevani, KKL-JNF Co-Chairman added, "Welcome to your grandfather's dream. Everything that the man did was for this moment, and everything that you see here during your visit exists thanks to your grandfather's actions, whose deeds fulfilled this dream." On Passover eve John and Margaret Kremenezky embarked upon a historical tour prepared by members of KKL-JNF and Dr. Moti Friedman. The tour extended from KKL-JNF forests in the area of Nes-Harim, continued via the main recognition site in the American Independence Park to the Hulda Forest and "Beit Herzl", where the first agricultural settlement project in its first years that was initiated by KKL-JNF is commemorated. Here Kremenezky learned how the Zionist Congress and its deliberations until the decision was made to establish the KKL-JNF, is explained to young visitors. John Kremenezky stroked the memorial stone commemorating the memory of his grandfather, Yona Kremenezky, with a trembling hand before the small entourage parted from the site and continued on to Modi'in and the educational park of Neot Kdumim. There, John Kremenezky and his wife planted an almond tree in the special section, and Kremenezky burst into tears before he was able to complete the "Planter's Prayer." The couple concluded their visit at the home of the first president of the State of Israel, Professor Haim Weizman at the Weizman Institute in Rehovot. In honor of their visit, several documents from Weizman's archives were exhibited, that were written by Yona Kremenezky which the couple examined and read with interest. "I was here 20 years ago with my father, z"l, and we met Dr. Vera Weizman, who hosted us," said Kremenezky. After being presented with copies of the documents, the couple toured the house, in which the spirit of Haim and Vera Weizman still prevails from the days in which they were the heart of Zionist leadership. Sponsored content

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