IN THE SHADOW OF ANNAPOLIS: HEIR TO A LEGACY RETURNS [ archive – Theodore Herzl ]

4 Jan

Two days after the Annapolis talks focused on carving a new Arab state out of tiny Israel, a page in history returned. November 29 2007, a young man, a footnote in American Jewry and a footstep in Israel’s history, was exhumed from the Adas Israel cemetery NE WashingtonDC.

For decades, his gravesite went largely ignored. Too few knew of its existence in Washington or even his existence, as it was. Over the years, atop his headstone chiseled with the words, “Stephen Theodore Norman, Captain Royal Artillery British Army, Grandson of Theodore Herzl, April 21, 1918 – November 26, 1946,”  pebbles could be found, honoring his life as is tradition in Judaism, letting him know someone came, someone cared. The sole grandson of Israel’s visionary, Theodore Herzl, was born in Vienna, Austria, Stefan Theodor Neumann, fourteen years after his grandfather’s death of heart failure. Promoting his message of political Zionism drained Herzl physically and financially. Benyamin Ze’ev Theodore Herzl died in 1904 at the young age of 44 but lived on in that his grandson Stephen Theodore Neumann Norman was named for him.

Theodore Herzl penned his solution to anti-semitism in Europe, “Der Judenstaadt,” “The Jewish State,” in 1896. His vision came having witnessed throngs of people chanting “Death To The Jews” after the conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus by French court martial. Though Dreyfus was exonerated of the charges against him, hatred against Jews did little to subside. Bearing witness Europe did not accept Jewish people assimilated as citizens into their respective countries, Herzl aspired that Jews rejected by their country should return to their ancient homeland, Palestine, Zion, free to be. Herzl writing, “I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism,” sparked Jewish thought but not the actuality of freedom of a life safe from hatred he dreamt of for Jews. Seven years after Herzl wrote “Der Judenstaadt,” over 100 years ago, the inaugural meeting of the World Zionist Congress was held in Basle, Switzerland, with Herzl writing in his diary it was “At Basle I founded the Jewish State.” One year later, 800 Zionist chapters, with over 100,000 members inspired by the Zionist Movement, set into play a political plan for the rebirth of the Jewish people, their own land, Israel, (Genesis 15:18), ‘To your descendants I have given this land…” Herzl wrote in his second major literary work, “Altneuland- The Old New Land,” “If you will it, it is no legend.” Almost 50 years after the First Zionist Congress, ending 2000 years of Jewish homelessness, the State of Israel, Herzl willed, was real.

Four year later, in 2002, the new page in Herzl’s life turned. A local DC historian, Jerry Klinger, President of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, read a single line in a passage towards the end of Amos Elon’s bio on Herzl. The line said Benyamin Ze’ev Herzl’s last descendent committed suicide in Washington. Klinger researched tirelessly until he found the young man buried in NE DC’s Adas Israel Cemetery. During his research, Klinger read Stephen Norman’s diary. Herzl’s grandson wished to return to Israel. Klinger determined to take the boy home, fought tirelessly negotiating the politics of the United States, Britain, Israel, and of Jewish organizations. Finally, Fall 2007, a single date was given to get the young man out from the ground to Israel. November 29th 2007. Miraculously, the day was not cold. The same sun that had shone over the Annapolis talks and the Rose Garden grip and greet of Bush, Olmert and Abbas, shone brazenly over this historic, largely unnoticed moment in the Capitol. Digging began.

Few people knew who the young suicide was at the time of his death. Mr. Moshe Frelicov, one of Stephen’s eulogists back in 1946, knew both Herzl and his grandson. Frelicov said in his graveside tribute, “with the death of Captain Norman, no descendant is left of the great founder of the Zionist movement.  The great Herzl now lives only in his great work.”

The heir to the legacy of Zionism did not grow up with his parents. Anti-semitism loomed in Europe. His mother Margarethe Trude, Herzl’s daughter, and her husband Richard, feared for the safety of their son. They allowed Herzl’s followers to take the boy to England for safekeeping. His name, Stefan Theodor Neumann, was anglicised from Stepehen Theodore Norman, as not to sound German. He was raised on his grandfather’s teachings, growing him into a fine young man, as a young adult, Stephen joined the Royal Artillery, commissioning as a Captain. His tour of India and Ceylon ended in 1945. Upon retiring from the Royal Artillery, Stephen was sent as an attache to the British Embassy’s Science Commission in Washington DC. Before moving to America for his job, he traveled to Palestine. It was on this visit, Stephen “got” what his grandfather had envisioned. He was 28 years old.

In Washington, Stephen roomed in a boarding house above Massachusetts Avenue, Embassy Row. With his parents still in Europe, he was alone in this world. Though the American Zionist community knew he was the grandson of Theodore Herzl, he kept to himself. When a letter from his family’s servant, Wuth, reached him, a few months after relocating to America, advising his parents perished in the Holocaust, Stephen sunk into a deep bog he could not rise from. He was plagued by the same depressive illness his grandfather, aunt, uncle and mother suffered from, the technicality allowing rabbis to grant his reburial in a Jewish cemetery.

November 26,1946, Stephen put on his tweed coat. He walked from his rooming house down to Charles Glover Bridge. Sixty one years earlier, DC was a sight different from what it is today. Rock Creek was a park. Its bridge spanned a thickness of trees. A creek ran so far beneath the bridge higher up that when this young man jumped, it was with hope his life as he knew it orphaned by the Holocaust would end then and there, in the riverbed 90 feet below. As per the news article reporting the suicide, he took his coat off, laying it neatly on the steel arm of the bridge walkway. Too late to save his family, unable to save his people,  Stephen leapt, joining in the afterlife the mother and father whom anti-semitism tore him from as a young child.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

61 years later, Stephen Theodore Neumann Norman, heir to a legacy not a fortune, reunited in death with family he never met in life- his great grandparents, his grand aunt and his grandfather, Theodore Herzl, where they lie on Mount Herzl alongside the final resting place of Israel’s leaders and war heroes, and, as per Herzl’s will, his children Pauline and Hans. Stephen’s mother and father, Trude and Richard, will never be with him. The whereabouts of their remains is unknown. They were exterminated in Teresienstadt Concentration camp, the Nazi’s propaganda camp described in Nazi literature as a “spa town” where elderly German Jews could “retire” in safety. Theresienstadt was liberated May 8, 1945. Herzl was exhumed for reburial in Jerusalem, 1949, a year after the establishment of the Jewish state. Hans and Pauline were exhumed from their grave in BordeauxFrance for reburial September 20, 2006.

In Judaism, 18 symbolizes life. With irony, Stephen took his own life, November 25, 1946, 18 months before the Declaration of the State of Israel and 18 months after the end of the holocaust, the last year the Zionist Congress was held in Basle, Switzerland. Stephen’s death, sorta, closed a chapter in Jewish history. But phoenix’s do rise from ashes. Jerry Klinger is determined Stephen’s return will be an opportunity to remind Jews of the tiny state’s beginning. And of the work of its visionary, Theodore Herzl, forgot in the politics of Annapolis pushing for the Palestinian state to be carved from Israel for Arabs, without Jews. 

December 5, 2007, Stephen was returned home, without pomp and circumstance, to the land his grandfather dreamed of, accompanied by, as Jerry Klinger said, “a grey haired man and a disabled woman in a wheelchair.” Klinger, the man with the dream for the grandson of the man with the dream for the Jews, will be rewarded according to Rashi. The mediaeval scholar says one who is kind to the poor, the dead being poorer than a living individual, are smiled upon with kindness having achieved partnership with the Almighty. To the Klingers, this reward is due. And to Stephen, his victory, the “rest of the story,” unknowingly gifted by a stranger determined to take this orphan home.

Stephen’s “rest of the story was learned the night after his reburial in Israel. It wasn’t just from anguish over the loss of his parents that Stephen took his own life. British refusal forbidding him to return to Palestine broke him. Stephen wrote in a letter, July 2 1946, he would not be able to secure a visa to return to Palestine. British Mandatory forces were determined to destroy the pre-Independence movement there. Three days earlier, June 29, 1946, was Black Sabbath. On the holiest of Jewish days, British forces arrested thousands of Jews including every Jewish leader they found. Weapons were destroyed. Munitions caches taken away. The British, architects of the Balfour Declaration, saw Stephen, a living Herzl, grandson of the visionary who gave his life to resurrect the homeland God gave the Jewish people, as a potential leader, a symbol for the establishment of the Jewish State. They had already witnessed the Royal welcome Stephen received on his trip to Israel. The British felt they had to stop him from being part of the new Jewish state, Israel, a teeny piece carved out of the Palestine pie, one slice for the Jews and the other given to the much larger Jordan. Black Sabbath was the reason Stephen was assigned to a low level position in the British Embassy, DC. 

In Judaism, there is the expression, may his death be avenged. And that is where Jerry Klinger stepped in. In the shadow of Annapolis, a new page in history turned. Amazing things happen when stars in the universe align. In death, Stephen defeated the British. As if from his grave, Stephen found new life. Jerry Klinger, a man dedicated to marking moments in America’s Jewish history, read one line that consumed Klinger’s life over the next seven years. Though separated by more than a century, from beyond the grave, their shared devotion to the State of Israel’s existence is what took Captain Stephen Theodore Neumann Norman home. And it is through Klinger, the Herzl story will find new audience, giving lost Jews, a historic magnet to be drawn towards.

Remembering “Stephen Theodore Neumann Norman” was here in America is the ultimate in Brass Markers, brass markers used to designate moments of historic interest. The headstone topping his grave remains in AdasIsraelCemetery, available to anyone who cares to place a pebble honoring the heir to a legacy that built a land. A new footstone will be placed at his gravesite.  It will read, “Captain Stephen Norman was reburied. Dec. 5, 2007, on Mt.Herzl with his family in Jerusalem.  With sincere appreciation to kindness of the Adas Israel Community.  Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel, Ze’ev Bielski Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Jerry Klinger, President of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.” Though having lain for decades, forgotten, a stones throw from a White House in a small city with a big reputation making decisions impacting the survival and safety of Jews around the world, Stephen’s gift to us is larger than life. Visitors to his headstone will understand of the tragedy of hate and the insanity of human destruction that opened the world’s conscience to Darfur and elsewhere, reminding Jews, in the shadow of Annapolis, without Israel, though living in chosen countries, if chants of “Death to the Jews” Herzl witnessed rises again, there will be no home to go to.

Two words inscribed on a wall found after the Nazis emptied Warsaw’s ghetto of its Jewish inhabitants, clarion against hate, bear repeating, now and forever, against hatespeech from Iran, shelling from Gaza and newsbytes projecting death to Israel. “Never Again, never again, never again.” Stephen Theodore Neuman Norman wrote, “My visit to Palestine is over. It is said to go away is to die a little. And I know that when I went away from Eretz Yisroel, I died a little.” “Be sure, then, to return is somehow to be reborn. And I will return.” The eve of the 60th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of Independence, in the shadow of Annapolis, the wish of Herzl’s grandson, was fulfilled. Stephen was reborn.

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