The return of a Zionist

Stephen Theodore Norman, the last descendent of Theodor Herzl, will be reburied on Mt. Herzl today in a ceremony open to the public.

herzl 88 (photo credit: )
herzl 88
(photo credit: )
Against the ironic backdrop of Annapolis, a Zionist is coming home. Stephen Theodore Norman, the last descendent of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern State of Israel, is coming home. Stephen, Herzl's sole grandchild, was the only member of Herzl's family to have been a Zionist. He was the only member of Herzl's family to come to Israel (1946). He loved the land. He loved the Jewish people. In his diary, upon returning to Britain where he would be discharged having served as a captain of Royal Artillery during World War II, he wrote. "My visit to Palestine is over... It is said that to go away is to die a little. And I know that when I went away from Erez Israel, I died a little. But sure, then, to return is somehow to be reborn. And I will return." He never did. A young man of 28, Stephen took a minor diplomatic position with the British Embassy in Washington, DC arriving in the late spring. Within a few months he learned that his parents had been exterminated. His mother's body was burned at Teresienstadt. A deep, unendurable pain rose from within him. It was a typical gray November day in Washington as Stephen walked to the Massachusetts Ave. Bridge spanning Rock Creek Park, 30 meters below. He laid his tweed jacket neatly on the bridge railing and suddenly vaulted to his death. Stephen suffered from the same disease, as did his mother, and his grandfather Theodor, familial depressive illness. As with every suicide there had been discussion about how he should be buried Jewishly. Today, depression is recognized as a disease. But, the terrible suffering of Stephen, his mother and his grandfather, should be understood differently. Stephen did not choose to end his suffering only because of evil demons within his soul but rather because he loved. He loved too much. Stephen felt deeply the pain of the Jewish survivors of the Shoah trapped in displaced persons camps. He felt, in his soul, their horrific desperation - where can they go? In Palestine he saw what could be and knew what was: "I thought of the dark, sallow, unhappy Jewish children of Europe. I had seen pictures of their faces; their youthful frames had borne the features of old men and women, and now I saw [in Palestine] these little ones who look like children again… You will be amazed at Jewish youth in Palestine. They are fair and sturdy and handsome. Therefore, I might have known what to expect, yet when I saw them, it was somehow new. These children bore the mark of freedom." THE DOORWAY to Palestine for Jewish refugees was cynically blocked by British warships. It seemed to him there was no hope for the Jewish people. The world did not care. His parents were exterminated. His grandfather's vision a distant, unobtainable dream. Loving too deeply, unable to endure the pain, Stephen leaped to his death. Stephen was buried by the Jewish Agency in Washington, DC's Adas Israel synagogue cemetery. Moshe Frelichov observed in his graveside tribute, "with the death of Captain Norman, no descendant is left of the great founder of the Zionist movement. The great Herzl now lives only in his great work." It was 18 months from the end of the Holocaust. It was 18 months until the birth of the State of Israel. Stephen, believing mistakenly that the darkness would never lift, could not see the sun rising that morning in November. The Jewish Agency paid $100 for the burial. They never had the money to place a headstone on his gravesite. The local community raised the funds and marked the grave. Stephen Norman, the last of Herzl's blood, was forgotten. Theodor Herzl also loved the Jewish people too much. In the few years that Herzl had to live he poured his soul, his fortune, his heart into an idea to solve the "Jewish problem." Ultimately it was Herzl's heart that broke under the strain. After five year's of bitter struggle against indifference marked by apathy, disinterest, post-Zionism and Zionist sclerosis, Stephen is finally coming home. In a belated affirmation of faith by the Jewish people and the State of Israel, the Zionist is coming home to the land that he loved, to the people that he loved, to his family. Stephen Theodore Norman, the last descendent of Theodor Herzl, will be reburied on Mt. Herzl today in a ceremony open to the public, at 12:30pm. The writer is president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation. He was the driving force behind the return of Stephen Norman.