YIDDISH THEATRE 101 > THE YIDDISH PLAYS > THE PLAY IN HISTORY  >  DR. HERZL                                                 

DR. HERZL1, by H.R. Lenz and G. Nilioff


Here is the cast from the Yiddish Art Theatre production of this play when it opened at the Windsor Theatre in the Bronx, New York, on February 25, 1946 (listed in alphabetical order):

Isaac Arco, Boris Auerbach, Morris Belavsky, Gustave Berger, Izidore and Jenny Casher, Charles Cohan, Judel Dubinsky, Isidore Elgard, Misha Fiszon, Berta Gerstin, Betty Gisnet, Leon Gold, Charlotte Goldstein, Michael Goldstein, Muriel Gruber, Leib and Luba Kadison, Lillian Katz, Leib Kenigsberg, Solomon Krause, Abraham Lax, Jacob Levine, Goldie Lubritsky, Celia Pearson, Max Rosen, Menachem Rubin, Meyer Scheer, Maurice Schwartz, Herman Serotsky, Liza Silbert, Morris Strassberg, Abraham Teitelbaum, Max Tennenbaum and Isabel Wasserman.

Theodor Herzl (Maurice Schwartz), founder of modern Zionism, whose life and work are the subjects of this play, was by all standards one of the few great men of modern times. Georges Clemenceau, "Tiger of France," spoke of him "as a meteor who threw light on a road to be traced by others who came after him." In describing the personality of Theodor Herzl, Clemenceau said: "There was the breath of eternity in that man Herzl. The Burning Bush and the Revolutionary Sinai took shape in his appearance."

A statesman quite of another school, Finance Minister Witte of Czarist Russia, who had little sympathy for the ideas of the great Jewish leader, was nevertheless moved to admit that it was difficult to withstand the profound sincerity of Theodor Herzl's speaking voice or the hypnotic powers of his eyes.

At the age of thirty-one, Theodor Herzl was appointed Paris Correspondent of the "Neue Freie Presse" of Vienna, one of the most influential dailies in Europe. It was in Paris, where he witnessed the Dreyfus Affair at close range, covering it for his paper, that he seemed to have undergone a most profound transformation of soul and outlook.

Theodor Herzl, who until then had lived and worked with Christians in Vienna and in Paris, saw a fellow Jew, Capt. Alfred Dreyfus arrested, tried, convicted and publicly degraded for a crime he never committed. This single manifestation of anti-Semitism in the otherwise highly civilized France was the turning point in Herzl's life. There and then he wrote his famed book, "Der Judenstatt," in which he visualized the creation of a Jewish people. From then on he is not only a brilliant man of letters, he becomes a man of brilliant and astonishing action.

Singlehandedly he embarks on a campaign to convince the then influential and affluent Jews of the necessity and the feasibility of a Jewish State. He presents his plan for political action before the great Jewish philanthropist De Hirsch (Boris Auerbach). He pleads for his ideas before Sir Samuel Montefiore, Jacob H. Schiff and other Jews of eminence in wealth and in social service, only to be rebuffed or to be looked upon as a dangerous adventurer.

Though grieved by the lack of response among the rich and powerful of his own people, he carries on with courage and zeal. His goal is to obtain from the Ottoman Empire an internationally secured Charter for the colonization of Jewish people in their ancient homeland Palestine, and the creation of a Jewish State. For that purpose he also enlists the aid and cooperation of Christians. He was helped by his friends Baron and Baroness von Suttner (Charlotte Goldstein). The Baroness Bertha von Suttner obtains for him his first interview with Baron De Hirsch, who had devoted his heart and a large fortune to the colonization of Jews in Argentina and was indifferent to Palestine An English clergyman, William Hechler (Misha Fiszon), one-time Chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna, becomes one of Herzl's most devoted and devout followers. The Reverend Hechler has access to high places in several countries of Europe besides his own. He arranges an interview between Theodor Herzl and the Grand Duke of Baden, which subsequently leads to a meeting between Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II (Gustave Berger).

Meanwhile Herzl's ideas reach the plain and poor Jewish people in the countries of Eastern Europe, in the growing Jewish communities of London's Whitechapel and New York's East Side. Old groups of "Lovers of Zion" (Choveve Zion), with nebulous ideas for Jewish colonization and cultural aspirations for Palestine, flock to his banner despite the opposition of some of their leaders. In 1897 Herzl calls the first World Zionist Congress which takes place in Basel, Switzerland. The Congress is a great success despite the opposition of the Jewish millionaires and other dissenting groups.

Herzl is encouraged. His employers, the publishers of the newspaper, are totally opposed to his Zionist activities, ignore his movement as if it did not exist, but cannot bring themselves to discharge the man whose fame is sweeping continents. Theodor Herzl, meanwhile, establishes a Zionist weekly, "Die Welt," financed by his father and by his own modest savings from his work as a playwright and journalist. He devotes all his time and strength to the cause of which he is now the unchallenged leader. He travels to many capitals for meetings with rulers and statesmen, and to spread the gospel of his movement. Of necessity, he neglects his family. His wife, Julia (Muriel Gruber), the mother of his three children, is beginning to despair of his prolonged and frequent absences from their home. They are both still young, and she is beset by pangs of jealousy because of the many women whom he meets in many lands. She is particularly mindful of the charms of Baroness von Suttner, who had shown such devotion to the Jewish cause.

The movement led by Dr. Herzl attracts many followers among Jewish intellectuals in Western Europe. Max Nordau (Abraham Teitelbaum), Israel Zangwill (Leib Kadison) and the banker David Wolfsohn (Menachem Rubin) assume positions of leadership alongside Herzl. Kaiser Wilhelm grants Herzl an audience to take place during the Kaiser's visit to the Ottoman Domain. Their first informal meeting takes place in the Yildiz Kiosk (Turkish Court), and the Kaiser promises to intercede with the Sultan (Morris Strassberg) and accord German protection for a chartered Jewish company for the settlement of Palestine. the formal audience takes place two weeks later in Jerusalem, and the German Kaiser refuses to keep the promise made at Yildiz Kiosk. The anti-Semitic Chancellor von Buelow (Michael Goldstein) had meanwhile succeeded in changing the Kaiser's mind.

While in Palestine Theodor Herzl visits the Jewish colonies that had been financed by Rothschild and miraculously escapes the knife of an Arab assassin. In one of the new colonies, whose pioneers are toiling to rid the region of swamps, he contracts malaria that weakens his overtaxed heart.

Herzl returns to Vienna and finds greater opposition than ever. But his ardor and his energies are undiminished. He organizes the Jewish Colonial Trust, a banking institution to finance the colonization and development of Palestine. He is absorbed in the work of building a National Home for the Jewish people, and at the same time his personal home is lost to him. His wife and children leave him.

The second, third, fourth and the fifth Zionist Congress see more and more Jewish communities from many lands represented by their delegates, but Theodor Herzl is still to realize his dream of a Jewish State in Palestine. His prodigious activities and his deep concern for his people are beginning to undermine his health.

The pogrom of Kishinev in 1903 has a shattering effect upon him. Theodor Herzl goes to Russia, where he confers with the Czarist Prime Minister von Plehve and the Finance Minister Witte. He visits the Jewish city of Wilno, where he is received as a modern Messiah. His concern for the Jewish people is now greater than ever. He also had conferred with the Sultan of Turkey and was even decorated by him, but concluded that the Turkish Government was only playing a vicious game with him. While in Wilno, he receives a communication from Joseph Chamberlain in the name of the British Government, offering Uganda in Africa for Jewish colonization.

At the Sixth Zionist Congress he offers the Uganda plan as a temporary expedient until the situation in relation to Palestine is more favorable. The delegates representing the "Lovers of Zion" groups call him a traitor.

The Uganda plan is carried, but by a small majority. Herzl feels that it was an empty victory for him, because it was contrary to his own dream of a Jewish State. He is deserted by many of his followers, but Nordau, Zangwill and Wolfsohn remain with him. His weakened heart succumbs to the strain. Despite his illness, he goes to the Vatican and pleads with Pope Pius X for public support of the Jews in their efforts to regain their homeland. The Pope finds it impossible to make the statement desired by Herzl unless the Jews consider forsaking their religion. Herzl's heart ailment is aggravated. From Rome he is taken to a hospital in Edlach, Austria. But he does not recover from his illness. He turns over his work to David Wolfsohn, with the plea that the Jewish people unite in an effort for the creation of a National Home. During the last minutes of his life he hears the Pioneers of a new Palestine singing while they toil. At the age of forty-four Theodor Herzl dies--literally--of a broken heart. Like Moses he dies before seeing his people returned to the Promised Land. David Wolfsohn exclaims: "He is not dead. He will live on in the hearts of the Jewish people to the end of time."


1 -- From the playbill for "Dr. Herzl," Yiddish Art Theatre at the Bronx's Windsor Theatre. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.




Photographs courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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