Freud, Herzl, Caf? Griensteidl and the Jewish problem

The Jewish problem continues to be a matter of debate.

Theodor Herzl 88 (photo credit: )
Theodor Herzl 88
(photo credit: )
Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl lived on the same street in Vienna for two years but purportedly never met. Had they, the former would undoubtedly have attempted to help the latter free himself from the onus of his dreams and accept reality, while the latter would have endeavored to convince the former to forsake his notion of reality and embrace his dream. Had one or the other been successful, we might be living in a world today with neither a Jewish state nor psychoanalysis. There are those who would argue that we would be better off on both counts, but chance would have it that the fateful encounter never took place. On a recent trip to Vienna, however, I was personally responsible for things almost turning out otherwise. "Please, Dr. Freud, I need your help with an obsession that has taken control of my life." "An obsession with what, my dear man?" the good doctor asked me. "Café Griensteidl. I'm visiting the city for the first time, and all I can think of is getting to Café Griensteidl," I confessed. "A fine café. I frequent it myself quite often. Their Sacher torte is incomparable and the coffee..." "Neither food nor drink are of any interest to me, Dr. Freud." "Then why..." "Him." "Who? Heinrich Griensteidl?" "No. Not Heinrich," I barked. "Herzl. I've got to get there to meet Herzl, though I know..." "Herzl who?" I was crushed. Could it really be he had never heard of him? "Theodor Herzl," I whimpered beseechingly. "Ahh, I understand," Dr. Freud nodded knowingly. "Perhaps we should begin with your relationship with your father." "No," I said, shaking my head. "It's not that at all. It's his dream..." "Now we are back in familiar territory." "His dream of a Jewish state," I explained. "Oh that," he sneered dismissively. "Yes, I have heard the rumors that this fine journalist and worthy promoter of Jewish rights may have had what one day will be referred to as a nervous breakdown. Dangerous man, I might add. Here we are, finally on the verge of full equality and liberated from the chattels of religion, and along comes this self-proclaimed messiah, ranting about a Jewish problem, and suggesting we solve it by following him to the Holy Land..." "My dear doctor," I interrupted him, "with all due respect, I must tell you that history shall prove you wrong - and in your own lifetime, I might add." "Really?" Dr. Freud responded, obviously amused. I sought a way to explain things without sounding completely unhinged. "This past Shabbat I was in the Dohany synagogue," I began, "right next to the home in which Herzl was born..." "The largest synagogue in Europe," he continued for me, obviously familiar with the building. "A lavish and ornate structure with room for 3,000 worshipers. Tell me, would the Jews of Budapest have built such an edifice if there were any basis for your Dr. Herzl's delusions that we had no future in Europe? It's not your obsession that interests me, but his. When you find him, do have him contact me," he commanded, scribbling his number on a piece of paper. The name Freud was printed at the top of the slip. I smiled to myself, thrilled to have an original. The exchange continued, but let us leave it at this point, for the epilogue is of far more interest than the conversation itself. SIGMUND FREUD (1856-1939) was awarded the prestigious Goethe Prize in 1930 in recognition of his contribution to German literary culture. In 1933, the same writings for which he had been recognized were publicly burned by the Nazis. In 1938, after being harassed by the Gestapo, Freud and his family fled Austria to escape persecution at the hands of the National Socialists. He died the following year later, an exile in England. Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) died prematurely at 44, doubting if he had indeed laid the foundations for a Jewish state as he had declared in his diary seven years earlier. Certainly he was unsuccessful in implementing his Zionist solution to the Jewish problem in time to avoid the tragedy of the "final solution" that would be advanced a generation later, far surpassing even his own dire predictions. Café Griensteidl (founded in 1847) closed its doors in 1897, the same year in which Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress. It reopened almost 100 years later, reclaiming its prominence as one of Vienna's most popular venues. Herzl and this author meet there frequently, discussing the condition of the Jewish people and concocting elaborate plans to relieve their suffering. Sacher torte still features prominently on the Café Griensteidl menu, the first page of which describes the original establishment as "a beloved meeting place for thinkers, writers and artists. Among the countless number of customers and visitors, famous and respected personalities like Herman Bahr, Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Karl Kraus. Musicians such Hugo Wolf and Arnold Schonberg were regular guests." Our good doctors Herzl and Freud are not so much as mentioned. The Sacher torte, by the way, is highly overrated. The Jewish community of Vienna today officially numbers 7,000. More than 200,000 Jews lived in the city on the eve of the Holocaust. By 1939, 130,000 had taken flight; another 65,000 would be murdered. Their fate is a resounding echo of that which befell their antecedents, the first known reference to whom is from 1194. That community would be murdered by the Crusaders, but eventually the Jews would reestablish themselves in the city. We know this, because under the foundations of the only of Vienna's hundreds of synagogues to have survived Kristallnacht, the remains of an earlier synagogue, buried since 1421, were recently excavated. It had been destroyed by a rabidly anti-Semitic regime that obliterated the Jewish community with, in the words of the guide to the excavation, "the enthusiastic cooperation of the general population." The ban on Jewish settlement in Vienna decreed at the time wasn't lifted until 1624, but the Jews who returned would again be banished less than 50 years later by the Emperor Leopold I. In 1683 Jews were again invited to settle in Vienna and developed into a thriving community, well integrated into the aristocracy and social and economic elite of Austrian society. Eventually - see above. The Dohany Synagogue (1860-) opened its doors just several months before Herzl was born. It remains the largest in Europe with 2,964 seats. When this author recently attended services there, he counted 12 other congregants. When the ark was opened, he counted 14 Torah scrolls inside. When he opened the Bible he was given, he discovered that it had been printed in Budapest in 1944. In March of that year, the Nazis began systematically liquidating the Jewish community of Budapest numbering some 246,000. It is possible that more Bibles than Jews survived the massacre. The Jewish problem continues to be a matter of debate. At a recent gathering of the Jewish communities of Europe held in Budapest, barely a mile from where Herzl was born, the keynote speaker began with the words, "We are at home in Europe." Others aren't so sure. A young Jewish woman guiding this author around the city, who reads on her commute to work every day, confided that she doesn't carry any overtly Jewish book with her, afraid of the anti-Semitic response she fears it would provoke. The author (1953-) remains uncured of his obsession and continues to stalk Theodor Herzl compulsively. The writer is a member of the executives of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization where he represents MERCAZ Olami, the Zionist arm of the worldwide Conservative movement.