Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, released 'Der Judenstaat' in 1896

On February 14th, 1896, “Der Judenstaat”, or “The Jewish State”  by Theodor Herzl was first published in German in the Austr-Hungarian city of Vienna. Defined as “an attempt at a modern solution to the Jewish question,” the original 500 copies printed were designed to appeal to Jewish leaders, along with antisemitic Europeans concerned with the future of Jewry in Europe.  

A few days after the publication Herzl wrote in his diary, “No paper has uttered an opinion as yet.  But the pamphlet is becoming a subject of conversation.  Acquaintances ask me: ‘Is the pamphlet they are speaking about by you?  Is it a jest, or is it in earnest?` I answer: `Deadly earnest!’”

In the essay-like publication, Herzl called for Jews to organize themselves for rule over a sovereign territory once more, while creating institutions to progress Jewish immigration and settlement, leading to the creation of a state.

Herzl was born in 1860 to a Jewish-Hungarian family and was raised in Vienna in a secular Jewish environment, becoming a correspondent for the “Neue Freie Presse” at the age of 31.  Herzl, who by default did not care much for his Jewish roots, was exposed to the persecution of European Jewry as well as the ongoing debates over Jewish rights taking place in many parts of Western Europe.

In 1894, while covering the Dreyfus trial in Paris, Herzl would forever drastically change his opinion on Zionism, becoming its biggest and most prominent supporter.  The trial, in which a French Jewish military captain was wrongly convicted of providing French military details to Germany, exposed antisemitic rhetorics that existed in countries where Jews were emancipated.  

In the Jewish State, Herzl lays down his plan, “the whole plan is in its essence perfectly simple, as it must necessarily be if it is to come within the comprehension of all.  Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves. The creation of a new State is neither ridiculous nor impossible. We have in our day witnessed the process in connection with nations that were not largely members of the middle class, but poorer, less educated, and consequently weaker than ourselves. The Governments of all countries scourged by Anti-Semitism will be keenly interested in assisting us to obtain the sovereignty we want.”

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