Rev. William Hechler, who was for many years Dr. Theodore Herzl’s friend and collaborator in his Zionist activities, has died here at the age of 86.
The Rev. Hechler, who was born in India, the son of an Anglican clergyman, was from 1885 to 1910 Chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna, in which city Herzl was living. He was a devout Christian and believed firmly that the Jews must be enabled to resettle in Palestine in order to hasten the second coming of Christ. He was constantly looking forward to a fullilment of Biblical prophecy along these lines, and worked up long sheets of numerological calculations fixing what he believed to be the date of the second coming. He is said to have presented a memorandum to Lord Salisbury, then British Prime Minister, urging him to take up the cause of the Jewish return to Palestine before he had met Herzl or read the “Jewish State”.
He had been a tutor to the then Grand Duke of Baden, and he introduced Dr. Herzl to the Grand Duke, and also to the ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II. He also attempted to interest the then Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII., in Zionism, and he accompanied Dr. Herzl to Palestine when he was received in Jerusalem by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Hechler’s name occurs in Herzl’s diaries more frequently than any other. He was greatly attached to Herzl and believed him literally to be a prophetic figure. The Herzl diaries record how the Rev. Hechler had come to the conclusion that the year 1897, when Herzl founded the Zionist Organisation, had been foretold from ancient days as the year of the beginning of the Jewish liberation. It was in these terms that he spoke to the Grand Duke of Raden concerning Herzl. In these terms, too, he spoke of him to other high personalities. Herzl records how the night before the First Congress, the Rev. Hechler was already in Zurich lecturing on the Zionist movement and on its new leader.
In Palestine, his insistence on the need of the Jewish return to Palestine to hasten the Second Coming of Christ, caused Herzl considerable difficulty, and he records in his diaries, for instance, that Dr. Mazie (who died in Palestine a few months ago) was going about saying that he (Herzl) was trying to convert the Jews to Christianity and that he was a tool in the hands of the missionaries, Herzl adding that Hechler’s indiscretions were responsible for this suspicion.
For you, my dear friend, Herzl once wrote to Hechler, the Jewish question is a theological one, but it is also a political question which is very urgent. You know that religious sentiments and the rising tide of antisemitism everywhere have brought about a powerful longing for Palestine among the Jews of all countries. You know that hundreds of thousands are ready to go there immediately, and it is assumed that many hundreds of thousands more will follow them.
That, Dr. Herzl went on, is an element, something novel with which English-policy in the Orient could and should reckon. Lord Salisbury ought to make use of it for a master-stroke.
Britain, he continued, would have the advantage of a railroad going straight through Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, on to India.
If Lord Salisbury would care to go further into this matter, he added to Hechler, I am at his service at any time he calls me. If he finds the idea too fantastic, I can only deplore it. But the movement exists, and a wise and great statesman will know how to utilise it.
It was God’s will that I should help my dear friend, Dr. Theodore Herzl, Hechler wrote in the Herzl Memorial Volume published in 1928 by the American Zionist Organisation. That will was made manifest in my being in Vienna from the year 1885 to 1910 in a position which enabled me to bring the attention of certain people of importance to the Messianic figure of the Jewish leader. The memory of our work together for God’s ancient people is precious and sacred to me, too sacred to me to dwell long upon it. I was with him at the beginning of his dreams, and I was with him almost at the last moment of his earthly life. On Saturday, July and., 1903, I sat at his bedside in his home at Edlach. I comforted him in his sickness, and I recalled the days when we had travelled together to Palestine six years before, filled with hope and certain of early success. I told him what his own medical adviser had said to him – that he might go again with me to the Noly Land and look again with me on Jerusalem. The sea journey would restore him to his strength and enable him to continue his labours. But he seems to have known that there was no hope for him. He placed his right hand on his heart and holding my right hand in his left hand, he said: “Remember me to them all and tell them that I have given my heart’s blood for my people”.
He turned from me then, coughing and bringing up blood. The next day – Sunday, July 3rd. – when I was preaching at the Christ Church – our British Embassy Chapel in Vienna – God took Herzl from us, for the Jews were not worthy of him, and a month Later I was delivering Herzl’s dying message to his friends in the Loly Land. I deliver it again to you now, the Rev. Hechler concluded, 25 years after he gave it to me. He signed his message – the (then) 83 year old pilgrim from the earthly to the heavenly.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.