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Hans Herzl, Son of Theodor Herzl, Commits Suicide After Funeral of Sister Paulina

September 18, 1930
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Hans Herzl, 40, son of Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, is dead here from self-inflicted bullet wounds shortly after he had attended the funeral of his sister, Paulina, who died in Bordeaux last week. Returning to his hotel after the funeral he shot himself. He left a letter saying that he desires only provisionally to be buried in Bordeaux but that his corpse should later be transferred, together with his sister’s body to Vienna, where his father is buried.

The Austrian consul at Bordeaux, who had attended Paulina Herzl’s funeral, informed the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that no passport or other documents were found on the body. Seven pounds was found in a pocket. The consul is uncertain whether Herzl is a British or Austrian citizen. In a table in the room were found letters to Herzl’s married sister in Vienna and also to Dr. Zinsler, an old friend in Vienna.


Some doubt is being expressed as to whether Herzl’s wish to be buried in the Jewish cemetery in Vienna can be carried out because of the possible objections of the Vienna Jewish community to permit his burial in the Jewish cemetery and also because of the possible objections of the Catholics to allowing his body to be interred in a Jewish cemetery.

It is not known whether he died as a Catholic or as a member of some other church. He recently was a frequent visitor to the Liberal Synagogue in London and had approached Claude Monte-fiore to accept him as a member of the Union of Liberal Jews, but Mr. Monte-fiore had refused because Herzl did not belong to any synagogue.

In 1925, shortly after the celebration of the anniversary of his father’s death, Hans Herzl joined the Baptist church, but a few months later changed his religious affiliation to the Catholic church. Later in the same year, in a laconic statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in London he declared that he no longer regarded himself as subject to Catholic obedience.


On April 20, 1926, in a hitherto unpublished statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, he said "I belong to no church and discount all creeds. I cannot be a member of a synagogue. It denies the messiahship of Jesus which to me is an indisputable historical fact. I cannot adhere to any Christian church since I do not hold that Jesus was God. My faith I would therefore call nationalism." In a personal letter to Joseph Leftwich, editor of the London Jewish Daily Bulletin, Hans Herzl stated "I consider myself a member of the House of Israel."

After his father’s death he was brought to England where he lived in the house of Joseph Cowen, Zionist leader. He studied at Cambridge and during the war sought to join the British army but was interned as an enemy alien. Lately he was engaged in writing and translating and made a very meagre living, suffering frequent hardships. He was painfully aware of his unfitness for coping with life and frequently was subject to moods of morose depression.

He told the curious fact that he had not been circumcised at birth but had undergone circumcision when he was 13 while he was living in London. He declared he resented this, which, he said antagonized him against the synagogue.

Writing to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from London on November 12, 1926 he called himself a "Liberal Jew" and said he believed Liberal Judaism to be the "true religion."

In connection with the death of Hans Herzl, the second of Theodor Herzl’s three children, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has obtained the following exclusive survey of the tragic life of this only son of the founder of political Zionism, from Jacob deHaas, the biographer of Theodor Herzl, and now chairman of the Organization Committee of the Zionist Organization of America.

Mr. deHaas writes, "The last time I saw Hans Herzl was on September 10, 1929 in London, but the correspondence I have received, is of later date. His tragic end, therefore, has a personal aspect.

"Hans was the second of Herzl’s three children and was confirmed (Bar Mitzvah) at the time of his father’s death. The trustees who were appointed by the Zionist Organization to care for the family decided that Hans should be educated in England and Joseph Cowen constituted himself as personal guardian and took great care of him. The boy apparently thwarted all efforts to provide him with a systematic education. He did go to college, but did not graduate. During the World War, he was in England and the British Government, in recognition of his Austrian origin, kept him out of combatant service and in memory of his father, permitted him a great deal of freedom. During that period, he was in touch with the Zionist Organization in London, attended meetings, took interest in the movement but was on terms of intimacy with very few people.


"When in January 1919, I arrived in London in connection with the peace negotiations, I immediately sent for Hans. He came readily enough and discussed his own attitude, and again later that year, with Mrs. de Haas and myself. It was perfectly clear that he was suffering from a mental strain. This expressed itself in the feeling that no one recognized his personality and that they only wanted to know him as the son of Theodor Herzl. This was one cause of his subsequent conversion to Christianity. He believed, as he told me and as he wrote me, that in this way he lost his identity as the son of his father and would emerge as an individual, recognized and respected on his own merits.

"The second factor, and according to his own statement to me, he passed through several churches, was that he was disappointed in the lack of religiosity amongst Zionist leaders. He was in his own way a pietist and attempted, so he told me, to identify himself with orthodox Judaism before he changed his faith. But he found all changes equally unsatisfactory. According to his own view, he did not change his religious ideas which were wholly Jewish, but that he was looking for a mode of life that would combine a hundred per cent Jewish nationalism and a hundred percent satisfactory religious existence.


"From what I have written, it will be clear that his was a very sensitive soul and that he was extremely shocked at the fact that his conduct aroused public attention. He wanted just the opposite. He wanted to lose himself in order to eventually refind himself. He discussed it with me at considerable length last year, particularly after I had conferred with one of the trustees of the estate, on various personal problems that affected him. He was in turn a Baptist, a Catholic, abjured Catholicism, and sought membership in the Liberal Jewish Congregation of London. In all this, in his own judgment, he was maintaining his loyalty to Jewish nationalism, but seeking expression for the one phase of it which he believed his father had neglected.

"A year or more ago, he wrote me consenting, though he had no authority in the matter, to the removal of his father’s remains to Palestine. In fact he took a keen interest in all matters relating to the Zionist movement, and did quite a lot of translation work from time to time for the organization. He had an excellent English style, was a good linguist and if I read his last letters right, he was occupied during the last year with the translation of several novels.

"He was five feet four, squat and rather heavy set and neither in manner nor appearance would have been identified as Herzl’s son except on very close observation. On the other hand, the most startling thing I know about him, is that his handwriting was a perfect replica of his father’s, so much so that in my files there has been an occasional mix-up in the correspondence I have from father and son, owing to the identity of their caligraphy and signatures.

"I would say that in the last two years he was emerging from the intellectual depressions, from which he was suffering up to 1926 and I had great hopes that eventually he would be entirely normal. He was deeply attached to both his sisters and I can well understand that the death of Pauline unnerved him and brought about his tragic end."

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