Playwright Arthur Schnitzler Was Everything His Friend ...

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Playwright Arthur Schnitzler Was Everything His Friend ...

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PLAYWRIGHT ARTHUR SCHNITZLER WAS EVERYTHING HIS FRIEND THEODOR HERZL HOPED TO BE
by Robert Wistrich

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May 18, 2012

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Arthur Schnitzler

But if Herzl had been the cultural star in Vienna that Schnitzler was, modern Zionism might never have come to be.

The Austrian novelist, dramatist and physician Arthur Schnitzler was born in Vienna exactly 150 years ago. No other writer of his time so perfectly captured the prevailing atmosphere of the fin de siecle imperial city of Vienna, then capital of the far-flung multiethnic Habsburg Empire in east-central Europe. In his short stories, novels and bittersweet comedies, Schnitzler elegantly recorded a self-indulgent world of superficial gaiety, erotic adventure and lighthearted hedonism. At the same time, his work contains a profound awareness of the transience of everything human, along with the loneliness of the individual's search for freedom and truth.

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Theodor Herzl

As a playwright, Schnitzler was everything that his contemporary Theodor Herzl had once aspired to be. The irony is that had Herzl succeeded as much as Schnitzler in the world of the theater, modern Zionism might have been stillborn.

Arthur Schnitzler was one of the stars in an unprecedented galaxy of remarkable Viennese Jewish creative talents who would forever change the contours of modern European culture around 1900. Yet, their lives were overshadowed by the fact that the city of Vienna during this "golden age" between 1897 and 1910 was ruled by a truly virtuoso anti-Semitic demagogue, Dr. Karl Lueger -- in many ways the young Adolf Hitler's most important political model before World War I.

Lueger (who served as mayor from 1897-1910), was the first European politician to prove that anti-Semitism could be successfully turned into a highly profitable electoral strategy. Schnitzler did not disguise his loathing for Lueger's moral duplicity, and felt increasingly outraged by the "unbelievable incitement" of Vienna's brutally anti-Semitic press. In January 1899, Schnitzler bitterly observed to his friend Georg Brandes, the famous Danish literary historian, "that anti-Semitism -- apart from everything else -- has the strange power to bring to light the most mendacious rottenness and develop it to the highest degree."

Schnitzler knew from personal experience what it meant to be slandered by Viennese anti-Semites as a "trashy pornographer," a "scandalous immoralist" and a cheap Jewish literate. His notorious play "Reigen" (later made into the film "La Ronde" ), which centered entirely on the sexual act, could not even be performed in Vienna until 1921, a quarter of a century after it was first written. Even then it still provoked furious denunciations and violent disturbances.

In 1912, in jottings for his autobiography, Schnitzler noted the traumatic spiritual impact of the "Jewish question" as it affected the artists and intellectuals of his own generation: "You had the choice of being counted as insensitive, obtrusive and fresh, or of being oversensitive, shy and suffering from feelings of persecution." Schnitzler had a particular dislike of Jews who had converted to Christianity and "Jewish renegades," some of whom had even defended the anti-Semitic standpoint at Austrian universities. Tellingly, he quoted a popular slogan of the time: "Anti-Semitism did not succeed until the Jews began to sponsor it."

CHAPTER FIVE: The 'Lethal Chamber' in Eugenic Thought

As we have seen, before the First World War, and in some circles until well into the interwar period, eugenics -- literally, 'well born' or 'good stocks' -- was the height of sophisticated, 'progressive' thought. Across Europe, the novels and plays of the period, such as H. G. Wells's The New Machiavelli (1911) and George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman (1905), are suffused with the language of race-regeneration and fears of physical deterioration. In Arthur Schnitzler's novel, The Road to the Open (1908), Berthold Stauber, a young and enthusiastic Viennese Jewish physician, tells his father, the humane Dr Stauber, that 'You need only consider, father, that the most honest and consistent social hygiene would have the direct result of annihilating diseased people, or at any rate excluding them from all enjoyment of life, and I don't deny that I have all kinds of ideas tending in that way which may seem cruel at the first glance.' He went on to say that 'You needn't be afraid, father, that I shall begin straight away to preach the murder of the unhealthy and superfluous. But theoretically that's certainly what my programme leads to.' Although primarily a conservative ideology, both left and right were attracted to eugenic proposals. These ranged, from 'positive' measures such as the encouragement of 'hygienic marriage', that is, marriage between two people of good stock, to 'negative' measures such as sterilisation or segregation in order to ensure that the unfit, feeble-minded and morally degenerate did not have children. In this chapter I will consider eugenics in general, before concentrating on one aspect of its rhetoric which to a post-Second World War audience is perhaps even more shocking than it was to an Edwardian one....

It is true that the Nazi path to the gas chamber was a twisted one, a path which (once the actual murder process started) began with the face-to-face shootings of the Einsatzgruppen (the mobile killing squads which accompanied the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union), 'progressed' through the gas-vans of Serbia and Chelmno, and then into the carbon monoxide gas chambers of the Operation Reinhard death camps (Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka), based on those used in the 'euthanasia' programme, before ending with the most technologically sophisticated version in Auschwitz, the zyklon B gas chamber.

As if this history, which is well known, were not horrific enough in itself, it seems that we must question the extent to which such a thing was, in fact, unimaginable to the minds of civilised Europeans. For in the English literature on eugenics there existed for some forty years before the Holocaust a notion -- the 'lethal chamber' -- which can be differentiated from the Nazi gas chambers 'only' in the fact that the English versions never went into operation. In the rest of this chapter I will defend this claim, and think about whether the time difference between the first mention of the 'lethal chamber' in England and the operation of the Nazi gas chambers in occupied Poland confounds normal historiographical suppositions of change over time, and whether the English idea and the German actualisation of it are in any way related.

-- Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain, by Dan Stone


The centrality of the Jewish question prompted Schnitzler to write a powerful drama, "Professor Bernhardi" (1912 ), which was first staged in Berlin exactly a century ago. It centered around the refusal of the Jewish director of a Viennese private hospital to admit a Catholic priest to the bedside of a dying girl, for fear that this would destroy her last brief moments of hallucinatory euphoria. In the play, the incident is blown up into a major political issue, with Prof. Bernhardi accused of having displayed gross insensitivity to the religious sensibilities of Vienna's Catholic population. In this incisive text, Schnitzler acutely dissected the latent barbarism lurking beneath a thin veneer of Viennese gemutlichkeit (amiability , which would violently explode only seven years after the playwright's death in 1931.

Though a German writer par excellence with a strong emotional attachment to his native Austrian landscape and the German language, Schnitzler's friendship with Theodor Herzl made him increasingly aware of the Zionist project. However, commenting on Herzl's play "The New Ghetto" in November 1894, he was critical of its caricatural picture of Viennese Jews as frightened, cringing ghetto types, and concerned that the play might be damaging to the Jewish minority's public image.

Schnitzler himself dealt extensively with the Jewish question in his classic novel "The Road to the Open" (1908 ). With characteristic impartiality, he depicted a variety of Jewish types. They included a patriarchal pro-Zionist character named Salomon Ehrenberg, who, at one point, warns a young female socialist agitator, Therese Golowski, that her struggle for social justice will change nothing: "Exactly the same thing would happen to you Jewish Social Democrats as happened to the Jewish Liberals and German Nationalists." Jews, he reminded her, had created Liberalism and pan-Germanism in Austria, "only to be betrayed, deserted, and spat on like dogs." Ehrenberg warned Golowski that the same would happen with Socialism and communism. "As soon as you've drawn the chestnuts out of the fire they'll start driving you away from the table. It has always been so and always will be so."

On the other hand, the anti-Zionist character in the novel, Heinrich Bermann, repeatedly insists that there can be no "collective solutions" to the Jewish question. No mass migration to a "historic fatherland" (Palestine ) could remove the feelings of guilt, shame, vexation, despair or self-loathing produced by a hostile Gentile environment. Bermann is shown to be one of those complicated Jews, always ashamed of the behavior of other Jews. But like Schnitzler himself, he cannot abide those Jews who claim not to suffer from any anti-Semitism, whether out of snobbery, satiety, convenience, insensitivity or sheer obsequiousness. For Schnitzler, what was most interesting about the Jewish question was its psychological rather than religious, social or political dimensions.

No universal panacea

Not surprisingly, there were many parallels in these and other respects between Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler, both of whom had been medical students at the University of Vienna, and equally attracted to psychology and hypnotism. They both emphasized the primacy of instinctual drives even while trying to reaffirm the validity of liberal enlightened values. And both were convinced secularists, disgusted by the clerical fanaticism and political irrationality of Austrian public life.

On May 15, 1912 (Schnitzler's 50th birthday ), Freud observed that both he and Schnitzler, in their different ways, were pioneers of the "underestimated and much-maligned erotic." Ten years later Freud wrote to Schnitzler asking "why in all these years I never attempted to make your acquaintance and talk with you." This avoidance, he mused, had stemmed from a fear of meeting his doppelganger (double). Their shared "skepticism," concern with the unconscious, with Eros and the death instinct, had moved him to acknowledge a sense of "uncanny familiarity." Freud concluded: "I believe that fundamentally your nature is that of an explorer of psychological depths, as honestly impartial and undaunted as anyone has ever been."

Few artists of his generation showed the same insight as Schnitzler into the debased emotions, political hypocrisy and moral duplicity of his time. His observations were always framed by the smooth, elegant diffidence and politeness of his language in a fin de siecle Viennese culture, where nothing was as it seemed. The Jewish question was integral to this general mood of angst, individual insecurity and moral uncertainty.

To the end, Schnitzler remained convinced that there are no universal panaceas or quick solutions to a problem like anti-Semitism, which is so deeply rooted in the human psyche. Neither socialism, Zionism, liberal assimilation, conversion or Jewish self-rejection were likely to eliminate Jewish insecurities or put an end to real persecution, delegitimization or attempts at annihilation. Only a painfully slow process of enlightenment and self-critical reflection could, in Schnitzler's somewhat pessimistic view, eventually bring about an improvement. Political activism -- including Herzl's Promethean Zionism -- remained fundamentally alien to him. Schnitzler's dream of individual freedom led him back into the world of the psyche. For Herzl, on the other hand, the road to redemption clearly ran from Vienna to Jerusalem, through the collective action of the Jewish people.

1. ZIONISM AND ANTI-SEMITISM PRIOR TO THE HOLOCAUST

From the French Revolution to the unification of Germany and Italy it appeared that the future foretold the continuing emancipation of Jewry in the wake of the further development of capitalism and its liberal and modernist values. Even the Russian pogroms of the 1880s could be seen as the last gasp of a dying feudal past, rather than a harbinger of things to come. Yet by 1896, when Theodor Herzl published his Jewish State, such an optimistic scenario could no longer be realistically envisioned. In 1895 he personally had seen the Parisian mob howling for the death of Dreyfus. That same year he heard the wild cheers of middle-class Vienna as they greeted the anti-Semitic Karl Lueger after he had swept the election for burgomeister.

Born amidst a wave of defeats for the Jews, not only in backward Russia, but in the very centres of industrial Europe, modern Zionism's pretensions were the noblest conceivable: the redemption of the downtrodden Jewish people in their own land. But from the very beginning the movement represented the conviction of a portion of the Jewish middle class that the future belonged to the Jew-haters, that anti-Semitism was inevitable, and natural. Firmly convinced that anti-Semitism could not be beaten, the new World Zionist Organisation never fought it. Accommodation to anti-Semitism—and pragmatic utilisation of it for the purpose of obtaining a Jewish state—became the central stratagems of the movement, and it remained loyal to its earliest conceptions down to and through the Holocaust. In June 1895, in his very first entry in his new Zionist Diary, Herzl laid down this fixed axiom of Zionism:

In Paris, as I have said, I achieved a freer attitude toward anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to 'combat' anti-Semitism.


In the severest sense, Herzl was a man of his time and class; a monarchist who believed the best ruler 'un bon tyran'. [Google translate: a good tyrant] His Jewish State baldly proclaimed: 'Nor are the present-day nations really fit for democracy, and I believe they will become ever less fit for it… I have no faith in the political virtue of our people, because we are no better than the rest of modern man.

His universal pessimism caused him to misjudge totally the political environment of late-nineteenth-century Western Europe. In particular, Herzl misunderstood the Dreyfus case. The secrecy of the trial, and Dreyfus’s soldierly insistence on his innocence, convinced many that an injustice was done. The case aroused a huge surge of Gentile support. Kings discussed it and feared for the sanity of France; Jews in remote hamlets in the Pripet Marches prayed for Emile Zola. The intellectuals of France rallied to Dreyfus's side. The socialist movement brought over the working people. The right wing of French society was discredited, the army stained, the Church disestablished. Anti-Semitism in France was driven into isolation lasting until Hitler’s conquest. Yet Herzl, the most famous journalist in Vienna, did nothing to mobilise even one demonstration on behalf of Dreyfus. When he discussed the matter, it was always as a horrible example and never as a rallying cause. In 1899 the outcry compelled a retrial. A court martial affirmed the captain's guilt, 5 to 2, but found extenuating circumstances and reduced his sentence to ten years. But Herzl saw only defeat and depreciated the significance of the vast Gentile sympathy for the Jewish victim.

If a dumb beast were tortured in public, would not the crowd send up a cry of indignation? This is the meaning of the pro-Dreyfus sentiment in non-French countries, if indeed it is as widespread as many Jews estimate… To put it in a nutshell, we might say that the injustice committed against Dreyfus is so great that we forget that we are dealing with a Jew… is anyone presumptuous enough to claim that of any seven people two, or even one, favor the Jews?… Dreyfus represents a bastion that has been and still is a point of struggle. Unless we are deceived, that bastion is lost!


The French government understood realities better than Herzl and acted to head off further agitation by reducing the balance of the sentence. Given the success of the struggle for Dreyfus, French Jewry —right and left—saw Zionism as irrelevant. Herzl savaged them in his Diary: 'They seek protection from the Socialists and the destroyers of the present civil order… Truly they are not Jews any more. To be sure, they are no Frenchmen either. They will probably become the leaders of European anarchism.'

Herzl's first opportunity to develop his own pragmatic strategy of non-resistance to anti-Semitism, coupled with emigration of a portion of the Jews to a Jewish state-in-the-making, came with Karl Lueger's success in Vienna. The demagogue's victory there was the first major triumph of the new wave of specifically anti-Semitic parties in Europe, but the Habsburgs strenuously opposed the new mayor-elect. Some 8 per cent of their generals were Jews. Jews were conspicuous as regime loyalists amidst the sea of irredentist nationalities tearing the Austro-Hungarian Empire apart. Anti-Semitism could only cause problems for the already weak dynasty. Twice the Emperor refused to confirm Lueger in office. Herzl was one of the few Jews in Vienna who favoured confirmation. Rather than attempting to organise opposition to the Christian Social demagogue, he met the Prime Minister, Count Casimir Badeni, on 3 November 1895 and told him 'boldly' to accommodate Lueger:

'I think that Lueger's election as Mayor must be accepted. If you fail to do it the first time, then you will not be able to confirm on any subsequent occasion, and if you fail to accede the third time -- the dragoons will have to ride.' The Count smiled: "So!"—with a goguenard [scoffing] expression.'


It was poverty in the Habsburgs' Galicia, as well as discrimination in Russia, that was driving Jews into Vienna and further into Western Europe and America. They brought anti-Semitism with them in their luggage. The new immigrants became a 'problem' to the rulers of the host societies, and to the already established local Jewries, who feared the rise of native anti-Semitism. Herzl had a ready-made answer to the immigrant wave that he thought would please both the upper class of the indigenous Jews and the ruling class of Western capitalism: he would oblige them by taking the poor Jews off their hands. He wrote to Badeni: 'What I propose is… not in any sense the emigration of all the Jews… Through the door which I am trying to push open for the poor masses of Jews a Christian statesman who rightly seizes the idea, will step forward into world-history.'

His first efforts at diverting the wind of opposition to Jewish immigration into Zionism's sails utterly failed, but that did not prevent him from trying again. In 1902 the British Parliament debated an Aliens Exclusion Bill aimed at the migrants, and Herzl travelled to London to testify on the Bill. Rather than pass it, he argued, the British government should support Zionism. He met Lord Rothschild but, in spite of all his public talk about the rejuvenation of Jewry, he dispensed with such cant in private conversation, telling Rothschild that he 'would incidentally be one of those wicked persons to whom English Jews might well erect a monument because I saved them from an influx of East European Jews, and also perhaps from anti-Semitism'.

In his autobiography, Trial and Error, written in 1949, Chaim Weizmann—then the first President of the new Israeli state—looked back at the controversy over the Aliens Bill. An immigrant to Britain himself, the brilliant young chemist was already, in 1902, one of the leading intellectuals of the new Zionist movement. He had met Sir William Evans Gordon, author of the anti-Jewish legislation; even with hindsight, with the Holocaust fresh in his mind, the then President of Israel still insisted that:

our people were rather hard on him [Evans Gordon]. The Aliens Bill in England, and the movement which grew up around it were natural phenomena… Whenever the quantity of Jews in any country reaches the saturation point, that country reacts against them… The fact that the actual number of Jews in England, and even their proportion to the total population, was smaller than in other countries was irrelevant; the determining factor in this matter is not the solubility of the Jews, but the solvent power of the country… this cannot be looked upon as anti-Semitism in the ordinary or vulgar sense of that word; it is a universal social and economic concomitant of Jewish immigration, and we cannot shake it off… though my views on immigration naturally were in sharp conflict with his, we discussed these problems in a quite objective and even friendly way.


Gobineau's [unlike Chamberlain's] was an honest Antisemitism, it was, like Nietzsche's, an historical Antisemitism: it had nothing whatever to do with modern Antisemitism, that movement born from fear, envy, and impotence ... [i]t is an upright, a genuine, a gentlemanly Antisemitism, it is the Antisemitism of the aristocrat, who sees his very blood threatened by revolutionary religions. Both Nietzsche's and Gobineau's Antisemitism, therefore, included of course Christianity.

-- Oscar Levy, from "Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain"


For all his talk about sharp conflict with Evans Gordon, there is no sign that Weizmann ever tried to mobilise the public against him. What did Weizmann say to him in their 'friendly' discussion? Neither chose to tell us, but we can legitimately surmise: as with the master Herzl, so with his disciple Weizmann. We can reasonably conjecture that the avowed devotee of pragmatic accommodation asked the anti-Semite for his support of Zionism. Never once, then or in the future, did Weizmann ever try to rally the Jewish masses against anti-Semitism.

'Taking the Jews away from the Revolutionary Parties'

Herzl had originally hoped to convince the Sultan of Turkey to grant him Palestine as an autonomous statelet in return for the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) taking up the Turkish Empire's foreign debts. It soon became quite apparent that his hopes were unreal. Abdul Hamid knew well enough that autonomy always led to independence, and he was determined to hold on to the rest of his empire. The WZO had no army, it could never seize the country on its own. Its only chance lay in getting a European power to pressure the Sultan on Zionism's behalf. A Zionist colony would then be under the power's protection and the Zionists would be its agents within the decomposing Ottoman realm. For the rest of his life Herzl worked towards this goal, and he turned, first, to Germany. Of course, the Kaiser was far from a Nazi; he never dreamt of killing Jews, and he permitted them complete economic freedom, but nevertheless he froze them totally out of the officer corps and foreign office and there was severe discrimination throughout the civil service. By the end of the 1890s Kaiser Wilhelm became seriously concerned about the ever growing socialist movement, and Zionism attracted him as he was convinced the Jews were behind his enemies. He naively believed that 'the Social Democratic elements will stream into Palestine’. He gave Herzl an audience in Constantinople on 19 October 1898. At this meeting the Zionist leader asked for his personal intervention with the Sultan and the formation of a chartered company under German protection. A sphere of influence in Palestine had attractions enough, but Herzl had grasped that he had another bait that he could dangle before potential right-wing patrons: 'I explained that we were taking the Jews away from the revolutionary parties.’

In spite of the Kaiser's deep interest in getting rid of the Jews, nothing could be done through Berlin. His diplomats always knew the Sultan would never agree to the scheme. In addition, the German Foreign Minister was not as foolish as his master. He knew Germany's Jews would never voluntarily leave their homeland. Herzl looked elsewhere, even turning to the tsarist regime for support. In Russia Zionism had first been tolerated; emigration was what was wanted. For a time Sergei Zubatov, chief of the Moscow detective bureau, had developed a strategy of secretly dividing the Tsar's opponents. Because of their double oppression, the Jewish workers had produced Russia's first mass socialist organisation, the General Jewish Workers League, the Bund. Zubatov instructed his Jewish agents to mobilise groups of the new Poale Zion (Workers of Zion) to oppose the revolutionaries (Zionism is not a monolithic movement, and almost from the beginning the WZO has been divided into officially recognised factions. For a list of the Zionist and Jewish organisations found herein, see pp. ix-xii). But when elements within the Zionist ranks responded to the pressures of the repressive regime and the rising discontent, and began to concern themselves about Jewish rights in Russia, the Zionist bank—the Jewish Colonial Trust—was banned. This brought Herzl to St. Petersburg for meetings with Count Sergei Witte, the Finance Minister, and Vyacheslav von Plevhe, the Minister of the Interior. It was von Plevhe who had organised the first pogrom in twenty years, at Kishenev in Bessarabia on Easter 1903. Forty-five people died and over a thousand were injured; Kishenev produced dread and rage among Jews.

Herzl's parley with the murderous von Plevhe was opposed even by most Zionists. He went to Petersburg to get the Colonial Trust reopened, to ask that Jewish taxes be used to subsidise emigration and for intercession with the Turks. As a sweetener for his Jewish critics, he pleaded, not for the abolition of the Pale of Settlement, the western provinces where the Jews were confined, but for its enlargement 'to demonstrate clearly the humane character of these steps', he suggested. 'This would,' he urged, 'put an end to certain agitation.’ Von Plevhe met him on 8 August and again on 13 August. The events are known from Herzl’s Diary. Von Plevhe explained his concern about the new direction he saw Zionism taking:

Lately the situation has grown even worse because the Jews have been joining the revolutionary parties. We used to be sympathetic to your Zionist movement, as long as it worked toward emigration. You do not have to justify the movement to me. Vous prêchez a un converti [You are preaching to a convert]. But ever since the Minsk conference we have noticed un changement des gros bonnets [a change of big-wigs]. There is less talk now of Palestinian Zionism than there is about culture, organisation and Jewish nationalism. This does not suit us.


Herzl did get the Colonial Trust reopened and a letter of endorsement for Zionism from von Plevhe, but the support was given solely on the proviso that the movement confine itself to emigration and avoid taking up national rights inside Russia. In return Herzl sent von Plevhe a copy of a letter to Lord Rothschild suggesting that: 'It would substantially contribute to the further improvement of the situation if the pro-Jewish papers stopped using such an odious tone toward Russia. We ought to try to work toward that end in the near future.’

Herzl then spoke publicly, in Russia, against attempts to organise socialist groupings within Russian Zionism:

In Palestine… our land, such a party would vitalise our political life—and then I shall determine my own attitude toward it. You do me an injustice if you say that I am opposed to progressive social ideas. But, now, in our present condition, it is too soon to deal with such matters. They are extraneous. Zionism demands complete, not partial involvement.


Back in the West, Herzl went even further in his collaboration with tsarism. That summer, during the World Zionist Congress in Basle, he had a secret meeting with Chaim Zhitlovsky, then a leading figure in the Social Revolutionary Party. (World Zionist Congresses are held every two years, in odd years; the 1903 Congress was the sixth.) Later Zhitlovsky wrote of this extraordinary conversation. The Zionist told him that:

I have just come from Plevhe. I have his positive, binding promise that in 15 years, at the maximum, he will effectuate for us a charter for Palestine. But this is tied to one condition: the Jewish revolutionaries shall cease their struggle against the Russian government. If in 15 years from the time of the agreement Plevhe does not effectuate the charter, they become free again to do what they consider necessary.


Naturally Zhitlovsky scornfully rejected the proposition. The Jewish revolutionaries were not about to call off the struggle for elementary human rights in return for a vague promise of a Zionist state in the distant future. The Russian naturally had a few choice words to say about the founder of the WZO:

[He] was, in general, too 'loyal, to the ruling authorities—as is proper for a diplomat who has to deal with the powers-that-be—for him ever to be interested in revolutionists and involve them in his calculations… He made the journey, of course, not in order to intercede for the people of Israel and to awaken compassion for us in Plevhe's heart. He traveled as a politician who does not concern himself with sentiments, but interests… Herzl's 'politics' is built on pure diplomacy, which seriously believes that the political history of humanity is made by a few people, a few leaders, and that what they arrange among themselves becomes the content of political history.


Was there any justification for Herzl's meetings with von Plevhe? There can be only one opinion. Even Weizmann was later to write that 'the step was not only humiliating, but utterly pointless… unreality could go no further'. The Tsar had not the slightest influence with the Turks, who saw him as their enemy. At the same time, in 1903, Herzl accepted an even more surreal proposition from Britain for a Zionist colony in the Kenya Highlands as a substitute for Palestine. Russian Zionists began to object to these bizarre discussions, and they threatened to leave the WZO, if 'Uganda' was even considered. Herzl had a vision of himself as a Jewish Cecil Rhodes; it hardly mattered to him where his colony was to be situated, but to most Russian Zionists the movement was an extension of their biblical heritage and Africa meant nothing to them. A deranged Russian Zionist tried to assassinate Herzl's lieutenant, Max Nordau, and only Herzl's premature death prevented an internal collapse of the movement.

However, direct contacts with tsarism did not stop with Herzl. By 1908 the ranks were willing to allow Herzl's successor, David Wolffsohn, to meet the Prime Minister, Piotr Stolypin, and Foreign Minister Alexandr Izvolsky, over renewed harassment of the Colonial Trust bank. Izvolsky quickly came to terms on the minimal request and indeed had a friendly discussion with the WZO's leader: 'I might almost say that I made a Zionist of him,' wrote Wolffsohn triumphantly. But, needless to say, Wolffsohn's visit led to no changes in Russia's anti-Jewish legislation....

Prior to the Nazis, German Zionism was no more than an isolated bourgeois political cult. While the leftists were trying to fight the brownshirts in the streets, the Zionists were busy collecting money for trees in Palestine. Suddenly in 1933 this small group conceived of itself as properly anointed by history to negotiate secretly with the Nazis, to oppose the vast mass of world Jewry who wanted to resist Hitler, all in the hope of obtaining the support of the enemy of their people for the building of their state in Palestine. Smolar and their other Zionist critics saw the ZVfD as merely cowardly, but they were quite wrong. Any surrender theory explains nothing of the pre-Hitler evolution of Zionist racism, nor does it go far in explaining the WZO's endorsement of their stance. The truth is sadder than cowardice. The plain fact is that Germany's Zionists did not see themselves as surrendering but, rather, as would-be partners in a most statesmanlike pact. They were wholly deluded. No Jews triumphed over other Jews in Nazi Germany. No modus vivendi was ever even remotely possible between Hitler and the Jews. Once Hitler had triumphed inside Germany, the position of the Jews was hopeless; all that was left for them was to go into exile and continue the fight from there. Many did, but the Zionists continued to dream of winning the patronage of Adolf Hitler for themselves. They did not fight Hitler before he came to power, when there was still a chance to beat him, not out of any degree of cowardice, but out of their deepest conviction, which they had inherited from Herzl, that anti-Semitism could not be fought. Given their failure to resist during Weimar, and given their race theories, it was inevitable that they would end up as the ideological jackals of Nazism....

-- Zionism in the Age of the Dictators: A Reappraisal, by Lenni Brenner


Robert S. Wistrich is Neuberger Professor of European History at the Hebrew University, director of the Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA ) and author of "The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph" (2006 ). His latest book is "From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel," published by the University of Nebraska Press.
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