Theodor Herzl was born on this day in 1860 (Source: @edrormba)

On May 2, 1860, Theodor Herzl was born in Pest, Hungary, which would later be incorporated into the city of Budapest. He was given the name “Tivadar” in Hungarian, and was usually called “Dori” by his relatives, a shortened version of his German name, “Wolf Theodor.”  

After the death of his sister Pauline in 1878, the family moved to Vienna where Herzl would eventually study law. He earned his law degree and was admitted to the Bar in 1884. For the next decade, Herzl would spend his time writing articles, plays, and novels; all while traveling through the major cities of Europe. In October 1891, he became the Paris correspondent for the Viennese newspaper “Neue Freie Presse”, the most distinguished newspaper in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time.

In October 1894, a secular French Jewish military captain named Alfred Dreyfus was arrested in Paris for allegedly passing military secrets to the Germans across the border.  Herzl covered the trial for his newspaper extensively. This event was pivotal in the development of Herzl’s Zionist ideology, especially due to the antisemitic nature of the trial. Dreyfus was exonerated from his accused crimes years later.

Sixteen months after the trial, in February 1896, Herzl published “The Jewish State,” calling upon Jews to obtain their own territory, to create institutions and forums to oversee Jewish immigration to and settlement in this territory, and to ultimately create their own state. In his early work, Herzl was not particularly in favor of a specific territory and was willing to compromise with whatever the colonial powers of the world, such as the British Empire, had in stock. 

The following year, in 1897, Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland. The 200 delegates to the Congress all adopted a resolution stating that “the aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine secured by public law.” Herzl will spend the remaining years of his very short life traveling and meeting with various political leaders and heads of state in order to secure a charter for a Jewish national home. 

In addition to creating the World Zionist Organization, Herzl helped found the Jewish Colonial Trust in 1899 and the Jewish National Fund in 1901. Herzl’s work and the newly revived movement of Zionism would change the course of history and impact the entire Middle East. His remains were brought to Israel shortly after the Independence War and he is buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.


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