WASHINGTON (JTA) – Stephen Theodore Norman was Theodor Herzl’s only grandson and the only other member of the family who shared the founder of Zionism’s passion for building a Jewish state.
But Norman’s dream of moving to Palestine ended abruptly and tragically on a cold November day in 1946.
Upon learning that his parents had died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, the 28-year-old foreign officer at the British Embassy here walked to the Massachusetts Avenue bridge over Rock Creek Park, laid his tweed coat on the railing and jumped to his death.
Norman was buried by the Jewish Agency for Israel in the cemetery of the largest Conservative synagogue in the nation’s capital, Adas Israel Congregation.
The story – the final chapter in the tragic tale of Herzl’s descendants – would have ended there if not for Jerry Klinger.
The president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, Klinger began lobbying five years ago for Norman to be reburied in the country imagined by his grandfather. Those efforts paid off this week: After laying 62 years in a Washington cemetery, Norman’s body was moved to Israel.
“He loved too much. He felt deeply the pain of the survivors of the Shoah,” said Klinger, who lives in the Washington area. “It seemed to him there was no hope for the Jewish people.”
Klinger had unearthed Norman’s journals in which he wrote after his only visit to Palestine, “to go away is to die a little. To return is somehow to be reborn and I will return.”
It was ironic, Klinger said, that Norman had died just 18 months after the Holocaust and 18 months before the birth of the State of Israel, which had been nothing but a pipe dream in his mind. Norman had visited Palestine only briefly in 1946 while serving as a minor British foreign service officer.
“He was stunned at the contrast between the Jews he saw there,” said William Hess, the president of the American Zionist Movement, at a service Monday at Adas Israel marking Norman’s reburial.
Hess read from a passage in Norman’s journal in which he reported that the Jews in Israel seemed “tanned, in control of their destiny and in my own land. Land that wants me.”
In meeting an early death and then being reburied in Israel decades later, Norman follows in the footsteps of relatives whose lives were marred by tragedy and mental illness.
His aunt Pauline, Herzl’s daughter, died in a French sanitorium in September 1930. His uncle Hans, whom Theodor Herzl had envisioned would become the prince of the new Jewish state, shot himself several days after Pauline’s death. The sister and brother were buried in Bordeaux, France.
Their bodies were disinterred and brought to Israel to be buried with their father on the eponymous Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in 2006, according to Theodor Herzl’s wishes that his family be buried there with him.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who had proposed that the bodies of Pauline and Hans be brought to Israel, was expected to be present for ceremonies when Norman is laid to rest on Wednesday.
American Zionist organizations had signed on to Klinger’s push for Norman to be moved on Mount Herzl.
Those who take their own lives generally are not permitted to be buried in the cemetery there, but an exception is made for those who suffered from genetic mental illness. Psychologists believe that the members of Herzl’s family suffered from a disease known as familial depressive illness.
Avi Beker, a political science professor at Georgetown University, was among the many speakers at the memorial this week who paid tribute to the way mental illness can be confused with genius and dreams. He told those assembled at the memorial that Herzl and Sigmund Freud had lived on the same street in Vienna, though they had never met.
“Thank God they never met,” Beker said. “[Freud] would have put [Herzl] on the couch; maybe that’s the end of Zionism.”
Herzl was an Austrian journalist and author who published “The Jewish State” in 1896, a response to his fears for the Jewish people stirred up by the conviction of a French Jewish military officer for espionage in a case known as “the Dreyfus Affair.” The next year Herzl organized the first Zionist Congress.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor, acknowledged during the ceremony that many in Herzl’s time might have thought that Zionism’s founder was mentally ill for daring to dream of a Jewish state.
“So many people at the time thought that Herzl was not a visionary but just a dreamer, a person who was somewhat out of his mind,” Meridor said. “This is the last act of his desire to be buried with his closest relatives.”