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Death of Joseph Cowen

May 26, 1932
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The death took place here this afternoon at the age of 64 of Mr. Joseph Cowen, the veteran Zionist, one of the earliest and closest friends and collaborators of Dr. Theodore Herzl, who appointed him the guardian of his only son, the late Hans Herzl. He was a former President of the English Zionist Federation, a position in which he was succeeded by Dr. Weizmann. He was also a former member of the Zionist World Executive.

Mr. Cowen was one of the founders and a Director of the Jewish Colonial Trust.

He took part in Anglo-Jewish communal affairs, being a member of the Anglo-Jewish Association, at whose meetings he frequently spoke. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the London “Jewish Chronicle”.

During the war Mr. Cowen took an active part in the movement launched by Mr. Jabotinsky, which resulted in the formation of the Jewish Battalions.


The first time I saw Herzl was in Basle in 1897, when, dressed in evening clothes at 10 o’clock in the morning, he appeared on the tribune and opened the first Zionist Congress, Mr. Cowen wrote in the Theodore Herzl Femorial Volume, which was published by the Zionist Organisation of America in 1929 on the occasion of the 25th. anniversary of Dr. Herzl’s death. For the first time in my life I heard Jews who did not apologise for being Jews, who did not seek to excuse themselves in any way, but who were seemingly proud of the fact. I remember being spellbound by all the brilliant talk that went on around me. But in spite of the fact that the whole atmosphere was of so electrifying a nature,. I felt that the idea of building a Jewish State, which was being so seriously discussed, was so fantastic and visionary, that all these people around me were living in a world of illusion, and I was the only really sane person present. When Herzl, during luncheon, wished to pin the badge of a delegate in my buttonhole, it was almost with a feeling of distrust that I refused. I must, however, admit that I remained at the Congress up to its close.

Between the First and Second Congresses, however, “something happened to me”, and I commenced to think and read and talk about Jews and the Jewish question. I found myself so interested in the whole subject that I determined to seek out the Jew in his “native lair”, so to speak, and for that purpose went the following summer to Galicia. My studies were interrupted by the Second Congress, which I attended as a person already interested in the Zionist idea. I remember Herzl’s again desiring to pin the Zionist badge upon me, and my telling him that although I thought his dream was a beautiful one, it was visionary, and I as a practical man could not support it.

To the Third Congress, having met Herzl again in the interval, I came for the first time as a delegate, having been convinced that “Wenn Ihr wollt ist es kein Maerchen”. It was at this Congress, owing to a trivial incident, that I became a devoted admirer and follower of Herzl; and to it I owe the greatest thing in my life – Herzl’s friendship. At the Fourth Congress held in London I was Chairman of the English Zionist Federation, and as such presided over the first formal Zionist feast – a banquet at the Queen’s Hall at the end of the Congress, with five to six hundred delegates and guests. My connection with him and the inner work of the movement became ever more intimate. Hardly a day passed without its letter or telegram. He never spared himself or others in the cause.

We had our differences. I was publicly admonished by him on one occasion, having made some suggestion about the Jewish Colonial Trust, with which I had only, at that time, the ordinary Zionist’s connection, when he said, pointing to me: “Federation is Federation, and Bank is Bank”. There were other divergencies again and again, but my love for him and his trust in me were never disturbed.

In the spring of 1904 I went to America and Herzl asked me to get American support. Judge Mayer Sulzberger was very helpful and suggested that Herzl should visit America. (It was in that year, however, that Herzl died).


Joseph Cowen’s name is constantly encountered in Herzl’s diaries. Mr. Jacob de Haas in his Biography of Theodore Herzl refers to him as one of the men who became Herzl’s corps d’elite, the others including Nordau, Wolffsohn, Bodenheimer, Kellner, Kremenitzky, de Haas, the brothers Marmorek, Jacobus Kann, J. L. Greenberg, and later Israel Zangwill.

De Haas mentions Joseph Cowen also in connection with one of Herzl’s “great expectations”, when Cowen and Leopold J. Greenberg attempted to bring him together with the late Lord Rothschild. When in 1902 Herzl tried to effect another “combination” by turning to Cecil Rhodes, it was Zangwill who translated the letter which Herzl had written, and Joseph Cowen who was to deliver it. But this letter, with its full explanation of Zionism was never sent, Mr. de Haas adds, because Zangwill and Cowen were endeavouring to unite another financial group. For this purpose Herzl drew up an exposition of his plan for the consolidation of the Ottoman Debt.

In this connection he went to Constantinople, and “Cowen’s British passport was an indirect guarantee of safety for Herzl”, Mr. de Haas remarks. On this occasion, too, he adds, Herzl abandoned all secrecy as to his departure from Vienna from Constantinople and he directed “Die Welt” to announce: Following an invitation, Dr. Herzl went last week to Constantinople. He was accompanied by Mr. Joseph Cowen, one of the Governors of the Jewish Colonial Trust. During his stay in Constantinople Dr. Herzl was the guest of the Sultan.

Mr. de Haas quotes Herzl writing, when he reported on an interview which he had with Mr. Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Lansdowne, in which he had been invited to draft a memorandum on the bill which the Ica had introduced in Parliament to extend its powers, that “Cowen, Greenberg and Zangwill danced an Indian war dance when I brought that news to them”.

When the Uganda plan was put to Herzl by Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. de Haas writes ### ” Herzl bombarded men with cables, letters and messages – to Greenberg, Cowen, Zangwill, Kann, urging negotiations and new combinations.

On his deathbed one of the last men of whom Herzl spoke was Joseph Cowen. Dr. Siegmund Werner, who aided in nursing Herzl and as editor of “Die Welt” was close to him, in describing Herzl’s last hours, wrote: From time to time he mumbled in his sleep. Then he straightened up again and stared at me. “Did you inform Cowen?”. I answered “Yes”. “Write him to wait, and not to bring the matter to an end yet”. I promised to do it. He again fell into a restless sleep, constantly disturbed by coughing.


In May 1928, returning from a visit to Palestine, Mr. Joseph Cowen lectured to the Anglo-Palestine Club on the situation as he saw it then, and without the constant ding-ding-dong and ceaseless demand on the British officials in Palestine, he said then, we would not attain what we want. We lack a proper public opinion in Palestine to force the officials to carry out what the public thinks to be essential. The British official, he went on, had a hard task before him. Our demands upon him were naturally greater than those of the Arabs, and the official would always prefer the man with fewer demands. The Jewish officials were not better and were sometimes even worse.

As to our relationship with the Arabs, Mr. Cowen said, he believed that the Zionists were without any policy at all. They had made several declarations of exteem and friendship, but had done nothing practical. The time was not far off when the Legislative Assembly would come through and before it would be in force a proper understanding should be reached with the Arabs. It was the business of the Zionist Organisation to dispel from the Arab mind anything detrimental to them. That could be done through assistance and friendship, by admitting the Arab children to the Hebrew schools and by social and business relations. It was not their aim to erect in Palestine a replica of a European society built up on bayonets. They wished to upbuild the Jewish Home with love for their neighbour – the Arab. That was the only way in which they could achieve their object.

Speaking of his impressions in Palestine, Mr. Cowen said that he had paid several visits to Palestine, but he had derived the utmost satisfaction from his last visit. On the whole the Jewish position in Palestine was so secure that nothing could alter it. It was as solid as the rock of Gibralter.

After the Palestine disturbances of 1929, Mr. Joseph Cowen spoke at the meeting of the Anglo-Jewish Association, at which the President, Mr. Leonard G. Montefiore, dealt with this matter, and a resolution was adopted, protesting against the carbarous outrages.

These abominable outrages, Mr. Cowen said, have at least one good side. They have shown that there is unanimity among the Jews of this country and of the world in the feeling of indignation and horror at what happened in Palestine. These outrages are the result of malice and fanaticism working on ignorance, or vice versa: ignorance working on malice and fanaticism. That this country will find itself too poor or too weak to continue the Mandate? I do not know, but the Balfour Declaration was embodied in the Mandate at San Remo, and the Mandate cannot be maintained without the Balfour Declaration which is an essential part. If the Balfour Declaration is dropped then the Mandate must be dropped too.

The funeral will take place at illesden Cemeteray on Friday at 11 o’clock, the J.T.A. is informed.

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