This Day in Jewish History

1889: A Zionist Makes a Very Unfortunate Marriage

On this day in 1889, Theodor Herzl wed Julie Naschauer. They had little in common, often not even living in the same country.

Central Zionist Archive/Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center

On June 25, 1889, Theodor Herzl married Julie Naschauer, initiating one of history’s most notoriously unhappy unions.

At that stage, Herzl had not yet discovered his life’s mission as the founder of political Zionism – that would happen only six years later. He was living in Vienna, and struggling to find his voice as a playwright and journalist.

Julie was the daughter of a successful, Jewish Viennese businessman, Jacob Naschauer.

In his 1975 biography “Herzl,” Amos Elon described the development and deterioration of the couple’s relationship in excruciating detail.

When Herzl (who was born in May 1860) first met the 18-year-old Julie in 1886, it was a month after he wrote in his diary about his infatuation with Magda, a 13-year-old he had met at a children’s party and immediately fallen in love with. His desire, he wrote, was to marry Magda, and he was willing to wait three years for her to grow up, if that was required.

In the meantime, though, he had laid eyes on – and received a kiss from – Julie, and again confessed to his diary, “I am in love Unbelievable!”

Thus began an on-again, off-again infatuation that continued for the next three years, during which time Herzl vacillated in his feelings and seemed to relate to Julie more like a child than a potential mate.

Pioneer of nail polish

According to Elon, Naschauer, whose father and uncle owned a holding company that controlled oil fields, factories and riverboats, all in Hungary, was a tempestuous, blue-eyed, blond-haired woman, who was much sought-after by men in her native Vienna. She was indulged, impatient and uncurious about the world. She was also said to be the first female in the capital to paint her fingernails.

Herzl was serious, determined on achieving professional success, and a lover of travel. He was also extremely close to his mother, much more so than he ever would be with his wife. 

Although their long courtship followed a pattern by which Herzl would keep coming back to Julie after having treated her badly, sometimes for months, he finally became resolved to marry, but only when he had a good, steady income. (In fact, when they did marry, it was largely Julie’s dowry that enabled them to live in high style.)

By June 1889, Herzl was writing regularly for the prestigious Neue Freie Presse, and had just seen a play he had written produced at the Vienna Burgtheater. Now they could be married.

The event took place at the Austrian resort of Reichenau, about 100 kms southwest of Vienna, and was presided over by Dr. Adolf Jellinek, the Reform chief rabbi of Vienna. The couple then headed off on a two-month honeymoon, in Switzerland and France.

Four acts of cruelty

While still on his honeymoon, Herzl wrote to his one and only close friend, Heinrich Kana, “Once more, I have become older, much, much, much older. Farewell and be happy!”

Less than two months later, he began writing a new play, on the topic of engagement and marriage. Called, “What Will People Say?” -- was he already considering divorce? -- Herzl described it as “four acts of cruelty.” It was not a success.

In 1891, Herzl was appointed the Neue Freie Presse’s correspondent in Paris, and he moved  to that city, leaving Julie behind in Vienna. Periodically, he brought up the possibility of divorce, but she was unwilling to consider it.

Though Theodor was rarely in the same place as his wife and their children -- Pauline, Hans and Margaritha, known as Trude -- especially after he decided to devote his life to the salvation of the Jewish people, he and Julie did remain together. The family was present with him in Reichenau when he died of heart disease, at age 44, on July 3, 1904.

Julie died three years later, aged 39. (Unlike the rest of the family, her remains were never reinterred in Israel. She had been cremated after her death, and one of her children supposedly left the urn with her ashes on a train.) Pauline died of a heroin overdose when she was 40, in 1930, and when Hans learned of her death, he killed himself. The youngest, Trude, died of starvation while an inmate at Theresienstadt concentration camp, in 1943.