On Herzl's birthday, grandson honored for 1st time

Mental illnesses plagued father of Zionism’s descendants, most of whom were forgotten by history.

Stephen Theodore Norman Garden, located on Mt. Herzl 370 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Stephen Theodore Norman Garden, located on Mt. Herzl 370
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
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 28.
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.
Herzl’s obsession with the creation of a Zionist Jewish state in Israel ruined him financially, and his family considered him a complete failure.
Growing 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.
Due to 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 office.
“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 journal.
“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 was 28.
“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 forgotten.
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.
Wednesday’s 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 garden.
Klinger was friendly with Lucia, who died in 2009 at age 100.
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.
“They always 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.
“I became 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 memorial.”
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.
“You 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.”