Down and Out in Vienna
by Uriya Shavit
Haaretz July 2000
The article about the tragic life of Trude Neumann-Herzl, the youngest daughter of Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, which was published in these pages two weeks ago ("The Doomed Dynasty," Ha'aretz Magazine, July 14,2000), stirred a vague memory in the mind of attorney Michal Ris. Her mother, Yona Ris, she recalled, was in possession of letters from Trude and her family; Mrs. Ris agreed to make them available to the magazine. The connection between 'Yona Ris's family and the Herzl family is something of a Zionist saga in itself. Yona's mother, Lis Itzkovitz, was the daughter of Jacobus Henricus Kann, a wealthy Jewish banker from Holland who was his country's first consul in Palestine and a major donor to the Zionist cause of Theodor Herzl. Yona's father, Yitzhak Itzkovitz, was a doctor in the Tsar's army who defected to the Red Army, immigrated to Palestine in 1922 and then worked in a sanatorium in Egypt. Yitzhak and Lis met when she was on a trip to Egypt in 1922, fell in love and were married in Holland.
In 1924, the couple moved to Vienna, where Yitzhak studied X-ray techniques. In Vienna, perhaps because of the connection between Lis's father and Herzl, they became friendly with Richard and Trude Neumann and with the Neumanns' six-year-old son, Stephan Theodor. They stayed in touch after Yitzhak and Lis returned to Palestine, bought a home in Haifa and lived comfortably. What remains of their acquaintance are four handwritten letters, two from Richard, one from Trude and one from Stephan. Yona Ris found the letters among the papers of her mother, who died in 1977.
The letters make fascinating reading. In part, they confirm known historical facts. They also shed light on the Neumann-Herzl family's connection with the Zionist Movement, particularly as regards the education of Stephan Theodor. Yet the letters also resonate with great distress, a sense of alienation and feelings of helplessness, with an underlying ambience of a Central European culture that is now a faded memory .
Richard Neumann to Dr. Yitzhak Itzkovitz
The letter was sent from Vienna on September 28, 1932. Richard Neumann had lost his fortune in the economic depression. He was burdened by the steep costs of hospitalizing Trude, who was mentally ill, and was finding it difficult to raise the money required to send his son Stephan, 14, to a boarding school in London. His request for assistance from the Zionist Movement was denied, perhaps because the conversion to Christianity in 1924 of Hans Herzl, Trude's brother, who had also attended school in England, still rankled in the Jewish world. The Zionist leadership suggested that Stephan Theodor be sent to the Reali High School in Haifa. Neumann hesitated. He was convinced that Palestine was too remote and too dangerous for his son.
My dear Dr. Itzkovitz!
I hope you will remember me. Many years have passed since you were in Vienna, and I have heard nothing from you, your wife or your dear children. You will surely remember that I was godfather to your first son. How large is your dear family now, and how are you and your dear wife?
I want to begin by explaining to you the reason I am writing after so many years, and [my reason for] asking for precise information.
In the wake of the world [economic] crisis I have become impoverished. Perhaps you know that I had a large textile
factory in Czechoslovakia. As I said, the world crisis and Trude's unceasing illnesses have left me destitute and, therefore, I am unable to care either for Trude or for my 14year-old son, who is attending the Theresianum natural science gymnasium [high school] here. At the mediation of my attorney, Dr. Krassy, I asked the Zionist Organization in London to look after both my wife and my son, the only [living] descendants of Dr. Theodor Herzl. I did so because in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others, the Zionist Organization has a moral obligation in this regard. The Zionist Organization wrote in reply that it is ready to care for the boy only on condition that he be educated in a Jewish milieu, and suggests Dr. Biram in Haifa [referring to Arthur Biram, the founder of the Reali school].
I cannot describe how difficult it is for me to part from the boy, whom I love so much, so much, and who is also very attached to me. But before considering the matter, I would like to hear your opinion. Should I bring the boy to Palestine, and who is Dr. Biram, is he the headmaster of a school? What will my boy learn there and what company will he keep? I would like to receive information that is as precise and comprehensive as possible.
In my opinion, it would be better if the Zionist Organization were first to allow the boy three or four years of study at a college in London. But the organization rejected this, apparently because of its melancholy experience with the members of the Herzl family. In my view, the boy is too young for Palestine and it would be best if he studied for three or four years in London and only afterward went to Palestine. What is your opinion? Once more, I request that you give me an accurate report about everything. Since you live there, you will be able to make the best judgment as to whether I should take this step.
Trude fell ill again recently, for the tenth time, and she is still in the institution at Inzersdorf. At the moment she feels well, but I am unable to decide whether to bring her home.
How are you and your dear wife? Have you acclimatized there completely? Are you satisfied there? Do you sometimes visit your in-laws in The Hague? And do you ever get to Vienna? My cordial greetings to you, I kiss your dear wife on the hand, and warmest regards to your children.
Yours, always humbly,
Richard Neumann to Dr. Yitzhak Itzkovitz and to Mrs. Lis Itzkovitz
The letter was sent from Vienna on November 11, 1932. After receiving Neumann's letter two months earlier, Dr. Itzkovitz sent him the information he had requested about the Haifa high school. In the meantime, Itzkovitz persuaded the Zionist Movement to finance Stephan Theodor's studies in England and the boy was sent there to take preparatory courses before entering the boarding school. Neumann felt somewhat uneasy about bothering Itzkovitz, but his troubles overrode his compunctions. His business affairs were so poor that he had begun to contemplate the possibility of moving to Palestine himself and he asked Dr. Itzkovitz whether there was any chance that he could make a decent living in Haifa. He also had another aim: to clarify whether his wife, Trude, who had only been ostensibly cured and was continuing to embitter his life, was corresponding with Dr. and Mrs. Itzkovitz.
My dear Doctor and my dear and compassionate lady!
It is only today that I have the opportunity to thank you for your cordial letter, which delighted me so much. I also received your very interesting prospectus, and for that too, you have my immense gratitude.
As regards the boy's move to Haifa, it is clear that it will take place and only the date is as yet unknown. My son is now in London, where the Zionist Organization arranged for a teacher to give him lessons in Judaism and Jewish guidance. The teacher was very impressed by my son and said he is very intelligent and alert and he hopes to teach him very quickly everything he will need in order to acclimatize more easily than he would if he were to go [to the boarding school] now, immediately, without any preparation. Therefore, some time will pass before he is ready for the move [to Haifa].
You can imagine that the entire matter was not an easy decision for me, to part from the boy whom I raised for 14 years by myself. I cannot come to terms with the thought, I will have to become accustomed to it slowly, over time. If I were also going there, I mean for good, it would make things much easier, and the boy, too, would make the move without any problems.
When I told him he was moving to Haifa to live, he said: 'If you come with, I will move right away.' That was, of course, an initial reaction. I will persuade him when the time comes. Do you think, and I have to know this precisely, that you could find me the possibility of making a living there? Because here, I mean in Czechoslovakia, my business has collapsed completely. I will be very grateful to you, my dear Doctor, if you could reply to me about this, since you are certainly thoroughly familiar with the situation there. Can you find me a source of livelihood there?
I have lost absolutely everything here and you can imagine the scale of the despair. I heard with delight that there are three children in your beloved family [referring to David, Itamar and Yona Itzkovitz], and I am sure you have much pleasure from them.
Trude has recovered and comes here often for an hour or two. But she continues to reside at Inzersdorf I am incapable of deciding whether to return to live with her, because these illnesses constantly recur and always cause both sides great emotional upheaval. I showed her your letter. She did not say whether she is in correspondence with you.
Well, that is enough for today. Once again I thank you, my dear Doctor and my dear and compassionate lady. I will be very happy to hear from you again soon and to receive an answer to my questions. My son also sends cordial regards to you and your children.
With cordial greetings and a kiss on the hand to you, my dear and compassionate lady, in friendship,
Trude Herzl-Neumann to Dr. Yitzhak Itzkovitz
The letter was sent on October 12, 1933, from the Inzersdorf sanatorium. It attests to a ramified correspondence between Trude and the Itzkovitz family. Three months before the letter was sent, Stephan Theodor had begun his studies in England. Dr. Itzkovitz, who heard about this, wanted to know when Herzl's grandson intended to come to Haifa. Trude's disappointing reply made it clear to him that Palestine was no longer on the agenda for Stephan. At the same time, Trude took care to emphasize that she was Theodor Herzl's daughter.
Esteemed, dear Doctor,
Many thanks for your letter of the 16th, which arrived this afternoon. If you and your wife wish to take care of my husband's niece, I am not worried about that. Lis also wrote me from The Hague, after I made an overture to her. I hope that she and the children will soon return to Haifa.
As for my son, today I am only able to tell you that he is continuing his studies at a Jewish school in England. He likes it very much there. I do not know if he intends to go to Palestine.
And again, thank you for your fond reply.
With cordial greetings, Margarethe Trude Neumann (nee Herzl)
Capt. Stephan Theodor Neumann to Lis Itzkovitz
The letter was sent on July 2, 1946, from Birmingham, England. Stephan, a captain in the British Army, learned that his parents, Trude and Richard, had perished in the Holocaust, leaving him as the last scion of Theodor Herzl. A year before, in 1945, on his way to India and back, he had visited Palestine, where he was received like a prince and was very impressed by what he saw.
What prompted Stephan to renew his ties with Lis Itzkovitz, the old family friend? Perhaps it was out of loneliness; perhaps it was the hope of learning more about his parents' fate; or perhaps it was to prepare the ground for his immigration to Palestine. His letter, which is couched in the gentlemanly prose of a British officer, shows that he had become a fully-fledged Englishman. Nevertheless, his distress cries out from between the lines. He writes that he planned to make another, longer visit to Palestine. Yet, he adds, referring to the "Black Sabbath" of June 29, 1946, when the British authorities rounded up Jewish leaders and seized weapons of the underground Haganah, that the "terrible news of the past two days" has not made it easier for him to realize his intention to pay another visit. Instead, he asks Mrs. Itzkovitz if she would be good enough to visit him in England on her way from Holland to Palestine.
Lis Itzkovitz in fact did just that. But by then, Stephan was already in Washington, where he had been given a job in the scientific bureau of the British Commonwealth of Nations Institute. On November 26, 1946, Stephan killed himself by leaping from a bridge in Washington. His letter to Lis Itzkovitz is one of the last documents of the Herzl family, if not the very last of them.
Capt. S. T. Norman, R.A.
5, Augustus Road
2 July 46
My dear Mrs. Itzkovitz,
I have just had a letter from [unclear] in which he tells me that you are at present in Holland.
Do you remember me? I am Richard and Trude Neumann's son, Stephan. Many, many years ago, when I was a very little boy we met in Vienna. I do not know what year it was, but I remember the meeting, which was, I think, in Dotting, and, of course, my dear father often mentioned your name.
So many dreadful things have happened in the last few years that they are best not spoken of. But you, my dear, and I, are among the millions who have lost our dearest, and it is in the sharing of our loss that I can best express my feeling toward you, better than I could or would wish to, in words.
You may have heard that I was in Palestine last year - twice for six short days while flying from and to the East.
In my second visit, I went to [unclear] and we planned a trip to Haifa to visit you. But my plane left the next day.
I intend to go to Palestine on a long visit in the near future; in fact as soon as passport and permit regulations permit. But the dreadful news of the last two days has done nothing to make this easier.
I would very much like to see you. What are your plans and when do you return to Haifa? Will you be coming to England on the way?
It would be so very nice to meet you again after all these years.
I would be very glad if you were to write to me and to tell me your news.
I would like us to renew the friendship between our families.
My very best wishes to you and your dear family and my kindest regards.
Very sincerely yours,
Stephan T. Neumann
P.S. Please call me Stephan
To bury Herzl in Haifa
Yona Ris also has two letters that were sent by Johann (Yona) Kremenetzky, a member of the Zionist Executive and the first chairman of the Jewish National Fund, to her father, Dr. Itzkovitz. The letters refer to a stormy debate that rocked the Zionist Movement between 1932 and 1935 over whether Herzl's remains should be re interred in Jerusalem or Haifa.
In his will, Herzl left no request as to the place of his burial, explains historian Dr. Michael Heymann, the former director of the Central Zionist Archives. Alexander Bein, Herzl's first biographer, argued that in the absence of a specific request, Herzl's remains should be brought to Jerusalem. However, the Zionist leader, Nahum Sokolow, said that David Wolffsohn, Herzl's assistant and his successor as head of the Zionist Organization, had told him that he wanted to be buried in Haifa. This was more than acceptable to the Zionist dignitaries who resided in Haifa (Herzl never visited the city, but described it in his visionary work, "Altneuland") and they began to make the necessary preparations.
Kremenetzky died in 1934 and Sokolow two years later. The plan to reinter Herzl's remains in Haifa reached an advanced stage a few years later. However, it was Jerusalem, which Herzl visited in 1898 and where he was appalled at the spectacle that greeted him ("The musty deposits of two thousand years of inhumanity, intolerance, and foulness lie in your reeking alleys," he wrote in his diary, in the Bein translation) - that was finally chosen as his last resting place. Yona Kremenetzky to Dr. ltzkovitz, January 24, 1933 Please keep the contents strictly confidential.
I thank you very much for your letter of the 3rd and for the diagram of the building plans on the Carmel.
I can inform you today that in the wake of the last meeting of the Vienna committee, we reached the conclusion that we should wait further with the transfer [of Herzl's remains].
Irrespective of that, I would like to try to obtain documents regarding available areas for building on the Carmel, and I herewith request that you see to getting an engineer's plan, which will present the existing situation accurately. I will be very grateful if you could also inform me of the costs.
You mention the Haifa committee, which is also dealing with the transfer. I do not know it, but it would definitely be useful if those gentlemen could make contact with us and inform us as to their intentions.
I will be very pleased to receive the above-mentioned plan from you as soon as possible, and in the meantime I conclude here and send you my best regards. Yours humbly,