Grandson of Herzl's close friend brings rare photos to Israel
John Kreminski is the last of his family, and one of the last descendants of the first Zionist generation.
In June 1904 the disease Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl, the father of Zionism, was suffering from worsened. The 44-year-old was greatly weakened and had trouble walking and breathing. His wife Julie decided to take him to the spa resort of Edlach in lower Austria to recover. Soon the place drew many Zionist followers who crowded around his bed and made it difficult for him to rest. In July, Herzl began to cough blood, and only his wife, mother, a doctor and his friend Johan Jonah Kreminski remained by his side when he died on July 3.
Kreminski, a rich factory owner from Vienna, was Herzl's patron. He was the first manager of the Jewish National Fund, which was created at the First Zionist Congress, and personally funded the JNF's activities for years. No less importantly, he also covered the entire expenses of the Herzl family.
"The Herzl's were never wanting for money," John Kreminski, the grandson of Johan said. "My grandfather was a very close friend of Herzl and for years remained in touch with Mrs. Herzl. He also covered their expenses after Herzl died."
John Kreminski is the last member of his family, and one of the last descendants of the first generation of Zionists. This week he is visiting Israel as a guest of the JNF and Herzl Museum in Jerusalem. With him he brought a number of rare photographs that Herzl gave his grandfather. On one of them, given in 1900 on the occasion of Kreminski's 50th birthday, the father of Zionism wrote in German: "To my dear friend Kreminiski, on the occasion of your birthday."
Despite his central role in the founding of the Zionist movement, few people are familiar with the name Johan Kreminski. The foundation of the JNF is accredited to thinker Hermann Shapira, rather than Kreminski who breathed life into it. "Hermann Shapira came up with the idea but my grandfather founded the JNF," Kreminski's grandson said. "For years he paid all the expenses but he was a very modest man."
Herzl Museum Director Motti Friedman explains: "Herzl died broke and Kreminski was one of those who supported the family. He answered for the wants of Herzl's children.
Herzl's daughter Pauline is said to have been sickly and spoilt. After Herzl died his wife's mental stability deteriorated, and the young Pauline was placed under the care of the Kreminskis. But Pauline rebelled against her adoptive family. She ran away and got involved in a number of affairs. At one point she was treated by Carl Jung, one of the founders of psychological research. Eventually, she died from an overdose of opium in Bordeaux in 1930. "Unfortunately, some of Herzl's children converted, and others committed suicide," John Kreminski said. "But my grandfather was on good terms with the family."
Kreminski the younger is now 87 years old. He was born in Vienna and as a youth met many Zionist leaders including Ze'ev Jabotinsky. In 1940 he tried to immigrate to Palestine but was caught and put in a transit camp in Atlit. Later he joined the British army and participated in the invasion of Italy. Then he moved to Canada and settled down in New York, where he lives today dealing in real estate.
"Jonah Kreminski did not receive enough credit for his contribution to Zionism," Friedman said. "Hermann Shapira died prematurely, and without Kreminski there would have been no JNF. He was a very rich man, who introduced electricity to Vienna after World War I. But what made him truly great was his modesty."