On December 5, 2007, the remains of Stephen Theodore Norman were reburied in Jerusalem, 61 years after the only grandson of Theodor Herzl died, in Washington, D.C. The century-long family saga that led to that quintessential Zionist moment is almost too tragic for words.
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Theodor Herzl, the unlikely founder of modern Zionism, whose almost-superhuman efforts to persuade the world’s leaders and the Jewish people themselves that the Jews deserved their own state in Palestine, contributed to his early death at age 44, in 1904. He and his wife, Julie, had three children. The oldest, Pauline, suffered from mental illness and died in a French sanatorium at age 40, apparently of a drug overdose. Her brother, Hans, who had sought a spiritual answer to the Jewish question by converting to Christianity, committed suicide, after learning of Pauline’s death, on the day of her funeral. (In a suicide note, he concluded that “a Jew remains a Jew. My instinct has latterly gone all wrong, and I have made one of those irreparable mistakes, which stamp a whole life with failure. Then it is best to scrap it.”)
The youngest Herzl child was Margaretha, known as Trude, and she too suffered from mental illness. She married a Viennese industrialist, Richard Neumann, who was 27 years her senior, and the two of them were deported by the Germans on the same transport to Theresienstadt, in September 1942. (Trude had been a patient in a Vienna mental hospital at the time of her deportation.) She died there in March 1943, and Richard died two months later.
In 1918, Trude and Richard had had a son, Stephan Theodor Neumann. In 1933, five years before the Anschluss, they sent Stephan, with the help of several Zionist bodies, to England to live and study. There he anglicized his name to “Stephen Theodore Norman.” It was also there that he began reading about his grandfather and became a Zionist. When World War II began, he enlisted in the British army and reached the rank of captain of the Royal Artillery.
In 1945, after the war’s end, Norman paid a brief visit to Palestine while on his way back to England from India. As he wrote after that first stay, “I desired to see with my own eyes a little of what had been created in Palestine, of what the feeling was in the country, and what its potential may be. I knew I could not do that in a few hours, but one must begin sometime. Later I would have the chance to pay a more extensive visit.”And indeed, Norman made a second trip to Palestine later that year.
The following year, Norman, then 28, was posted by the British Foreign Service to the country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. It was there, two months later, that he received word that both his parents had perished during the Holocaust. He left the embassy, and walked to a bridge that carried Massachusetts Ave. over Rock Creek Park, from which he jumped to his death.
The Jewish Agency arranged to have him buried in a Jewish cemetery in Washington, and about a decade ago, a Washington resident name Jerry Klinger, who was president of the Jewish American Association for Historic Preservation, began to lobby for Norman’s reinterment in Israel. That finally happened in 2007, a year after the bodies of his aunt and uncle, Pauline and Hans, were transferred from their graves in Bordeaux, France, to Mt. Herzl, to be buried next to their father. Although the national cemetery doesn’t generally allow for burial of suicides, exceptions can be made if the deceased is determined to have suffered from a hereditary mental illness. The Herzls could be reburied at Mt. Herzl after it was concluded that they suffered from familial depressive illness.