Shlomo Avineri- Theodor Herzl's Diaries As A Bildungsroman Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Judaism, Movement, People, Material, Germany, Translation, Picture, Researcher

Pages: 9

Words: 2475

Published: 2020/09/09


Over the course of history, the Jews in the diaspora have come under many political, economic, and cultural persecutions. This mainly occurred in Europe. The discrimination led up to the infamous holocaust and the gas chambers in Auschwitz where millions of Jews died under the rule of Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler. The developments made the Jewish community to think hard and analytically about returning to their motherland. Various past and present Nobel Prize winners have been Jews. The aim of this paper is to review and analyze the history of the Jewish community as represented by the history professor Shlomo Avineri in the historical article ‘Theodor Herzl’s Diaries as a Bildungsroman’.
The diaries of Theodor Herzl have been used over the years by various biographers and authors for different reasons. According to Shlomo, the use of the diaries as a primary source of information into a very critical point in the history of the Jewish community is a very good example of the use of available resources in history. The diaries were written by a major participant in the events that are being studied in history. The use of the diaries thus is a good way through which historical events can be analyzed. However, few historians seem to be successful in doing so according to the following quote from Shlomo
But because of their voluminous extent--almost 2,000 pages in printed form--few people have read them in their entirety. A careful check of Herzl's biographies will show that in some cases only dramatic highlights were seriously mentioned, and most of the detailed material went unnoticed. Hence much of the richness and the variety of the material--by itself a profile of Europe's fin de siècle--has been underutilized and sometimes did not figure in the reconstruction of Herzl's own account of his tortured intellectual odyssey.
As such, Shlomo does not want to summarize Herzl’s biography, but wishes to analyze the life of the author, make a sense and understand Herzl’s experiences, and examine Herzl’s views as a critical figure in the history of the Zionist Movement.
Theodor Herzl, born May 2nd 1860 as Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl in Budapest, was an Austria-Hungarian of Jewish decent. He was born second child in the family of Jeanette and Jakob Herzl, Jews assimilated into the German traditions living in a small Jewish community that resided in Zemun in modern day Serbia. Widely known as the father of the modern political Zionism, he died at the age of 44 on 3rd of July in 1904 in Edlach, Austria-Hungary. Buried initially in Dӧblinger Friedhof in Vienna, Austria, from 1904 to 1949, his remains were later transferred to Mt. Herzl, Jerusalem, Israel. He resided in Vienna for the most part of his life and studied law at the University of Vienna. Working as a writer, a playwright, journalist, and a political activist, he was a Jewish atheist who married on 1889 to the time of his death to Julie Naschauer.
Theodor Herzl founded the World Zionist Organization 1897 after an infamous anti-Semitic incident in France. A French Jewish Army captain was falsely accused and convicted as being a spy for Germany. There were mass protests in Paris where many chanted anti-Semitic slogans such as “Death to the Jews”. This seemed to change Theodor Herzl’s earlier conviction that Jews should be emancipated and assimilated into other world communities. He resolved that the Jewish community should evacuate from Europe and form a sovereign state of its own.
Thus began the promotion of the idea that Jews emigrate from Europe to form a new nation in Palestine. Palestine was the place where the Jews initially lived before moving to Europe and other parts of the world. However, this is only one school of thought as to why he dedicated himself to this venture as he never actually told the world why he undertook the venture. The following quote from Shlomo aptly illustrates this
Even though the moneyed Jews were treated like royalty, being courted and curtseyed by the political leaders and economic rulers, this did not change the fact that they were ultimately being treated like outsiders and not members of the various communities that they lived in. They were therefore never really free to carryout whatever they really wanted to do such getting involved in politics.
Theodor Herzl’s diaries are written accounts of the life of the author from1895 when he started becoming involved with the “Cause of the Jews”. The diaries were written by the author to serve as a reference point to whatever activities he would have been under taking in his daily life. They were written up to the time of his untimely death in1904. The diaries have over the years been used by various authors as a source point for various articles that the authors were writing, including his biographies.
According to Shlomo, the diaries have been greatly used as a single reference text by many world authors. Unfortunately, most of these merely give a summary of the events that Theodor Herzl underwent throughout the time that he kept his diaries to the time of his untimely death. These authors have picked selective parts of the diaries to serve as their source material. The authors have used this to create a picture of a perfect person who lived and led the Jewish community into forming the Zionism Movement that helps create the Jewish State. The authors have gone a step further to speculate as to the reasons why Theodor Herzl quit his stable quiet life and instead decided to engage in global politics.

The criticism of Shlomo is apparent from the following quote

The most quoted entry in Herzl's diaries is undoubtedly the sentence . sum up his assessment of the first Zionist Congressin Basel in August 1897:
Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in one word--which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly--it would be this: at Basel I have founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years and certainly in fifty, everyone would recognize this.

Almost unknown, yet in many respects perhaps much more profound and telling, are the sentences following it:

The foundation of a state lies in the will of the people for a state. . . . Territory is only the material basis: the state, even when it possesses territory, is always something abstract. . . . At Basel, then, I created this abstraction which, as such, is invisible to the vast majority of people--and with minimal means. I gradually worked the people into the mood for a state and made them feel that they were its National Assembly.
The self-assurance implied in this statement, as well as its almost prophetic pronouncement ("certainly in fifty years"), have obviously justified its inclusion in the Zionist pantheon.
Shlomo, on the other hand, uses the diaries as a guide and map in to the study of the man Theodor Herzl was. He uses all the parts and pages of the diaries to critically analyze the life and stance of the author while also reviewing his own self in the boots of the author. Shlomo first critically looks at the history behind the various publications of the diaries and the influence each version of the recordings has on the world view of the Zionism Movement. He further carries out research on whom the author really was and does not just rely on what has been put out for the masses to believe over the years. After establishing the real facts about the life and history of the author, Shlomo combines all these information to critically analyze and come up with his article that seems to be both insightful and scholarly with factual events of the history and accounts of the diaries of Theodor Herzl. Given the haphazard nature of the diaries, the task is enormous and very difficult. The quote below from the article shows it well.
The diaries themselves are a mixed bag, especially in the earlier parts, which are composed mainly of collections of paper scraps on which Herzl jotted down, in a disjointed and disorganized way, ideas that came across his mind and that he thought he might use later; these are accompanied by drafts of plans of action or speeches of committees and various Jewish activities, and drafts of letters to numerous personalities as well as biting comments about some of his interlocutors and collaborators, some of whom were important historical figures, some less so. Some of the entries run to dozens of pages, others are half-formed, staccato sentences; some were written in great haste, others in relative leisure; some contain almost verbatim accounts of meetings and talks, others just note headings for a later, fuller report that, in many cases, Herzl was never able to compose. Such a variety does not always make for easy reading or systematic assessment.
The diaries are however very voluminous with up to 2000 pages and they cover the daily activities of close to ten years. Very few people have therefore really read all the pages of the diary. The detailed biography of the author readily indicates that various items and articles in his life have ever been thoroughly reviewed or looked at. The parts that are readily known are the ones that are dramatic thus call attention. The author’s biography and diaries serve as a reference point to the rich historic nature of the then Europe. They also describe the personal psychological embattlement that Theodor was constantly under.
Shlomo is a very good researcher of the Zionism Movement. According to the literature, he is involved in the writing and translation of the diaries from English to Hebrew in the 1990s. According to him, the diaries provide the best reference materials that are available for any historian who so wishes to study or write about the history of Theodor Herzl or the origin and progress of the Zionism Movement.
In the beginning, the diaries are a collection of pieces of scrap papers that Theodor wrote from time to time. These varied from the daily experiences he had to the ideas that found their way to his mind that he thought he could use. These are joined by drafts of various action plans to speeches he would give. As the diaries progress, we see a daily detailed account of what Theodor would do on a daily basis. These vary from meetings with various public figures to different Jewish activities to various draft letters. The entries would vary from a page up to a dozen. They also varied from well thought and chronologically arranged entries to those that were written in haste so that he would remember in future. Some were verbatim reports that he could easily remember while others were just headings to notes that he would have had to write in future.
The diaries were originally written in German and were first printed in a three-volume manner, which was later incorporated in Herzl’s work in 1922-23 by his close friend Leon Keller. These are however believed to be very unreliable as they have omitted a lot of works from the original writings. They were used to paint the picture of a heroic person that Herzl was supposed to look like and not what he actually was; a human being with flaws just like the rest of humanity. A lot of what really happened were penciled out or wholly omitted. Helpful references to some members of the Zionist Movement were deleted and financial details and embarrassing personal experiences were also selectively left out. This was expertly done such that the readers would not easily notice the difference. This served to water down the impact that Theodor really had on the history of the Jewish nation as we are given what we are supposed to believe instead of actually formulating what is the reality. The first Hebrew version of the diaries was written in 1930 and was as the previous German version.
The first uncensored version of the texts was first published in 1960 by Herzl Press. It was published in New York and was based on manuscripts housed at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. It appeared in English as a five volume translation of the previous German material. Shlomo is quoted as giving this as the reason why most people have never read the original manuscript as he found out while trying to prepare the Hebrew edition in 1997. The main aim of writing his own version of the diaries was to give the reader the real unbiased accounts of what Theodor Herzl actually wrote in his manuscript and not what the author thought the reader ought to read.
Shlomo’s article is based on the 1960 English translation of the diaries as this is seen as the closest one will ever get to actually hearing Theodor’s real thoughts as he wrote. He has however occasionally changed a few words in order to suite his style of writing and has noted in the end notes wherever the translation he has written have deviated a lot from the original text. The events are meant to give a clear and concise picture of what was originally written.
The diaries give a real life account of the actual events as they transpired. They also provide the emotions and circumstances which pushed Theodor Herzl into becoming the national hero that he turned out to be. This is a very good source of raw reference for any person who so wishes to study the history of the Zionism Movement and whoever wishes to know the personalities behind it. It serves as a direct link to the events as they occurred. Thus, the reader feels as if he is personally involved in the process and becomes more involved.
According to Shlomo, the first publications of the diaries were highly adulterated by its editors. Thus, the real picture of the author was very different from the real person who existed. If it were not for the existence of the original diaries, the world would never have known the real truth behind Theodor Herzl. The use of the diaries as primary or sole source of the historical events is therefore not such a good idea. This is because the editors of the historical sources may not give the accurate information to the reader, thus any other subsequent research that uses the material as the only source of information only perpetuate the lies written before.
Any research work that is carried out should search far and wide for reference and source materials that are to be used. After acquisition of these materials, the researcher should ensure the validity of the information that he has decided to use. This can be done by comparing the information in the different sources and establishing any differences that may be present. The researcher should ensure that these resources have different sources in order to ensure that the original source material was not the same. This can be done by using various resources and not just books. Shlomo has written a very good and informative article, but he uses only one reference point. This makes any researcher jittery about using his article, as it does not have a wider resource base.
Shlomo agrees that only the truth should be used to come up with any informative material. He fully stands behind the use of the uncensored version of the diaries and manuscripts housed at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. Shlomo advocates the use of this version as it serves to provide the closest version of the real life events that occurred. He argues that all the previous versions are flawed as they paint a false picture. This argument is very valid as it serves to restore the integrity of the historical events. I agree with this assessment as only factual events should be used to serve as a basis of any reference used in scholarly reports.
According to Shlomo, the diaries give an accurate insight in to who Theodor Herzl was as a person and not as a political or public figure. They provide a window into his world of how his consciousness helped formulate the Zionist movement and propelled the Jewish people from when he was a mere journalist to the feared and revered political leader. They give the personal account of the long and winding road that he had to undertake for the sake of Jewish people. They provide the accounts and journey that the movement had to undergo; the highs and the lows, the limitations, that shaped the movement.
The diaries sum up the various steps that Theodor had to undergo to convince both himself and the people in order to quit their relatively “comfortable” lives in Europe in order to pursue a life unknown to them in the Middle East. This was not such an easy venture as he wrote “Thus closes this book of my political novel” when his attempts at getting into the Ottoman helm of political organization. It shows his frustration with himself as he sees himself as an incompetent leader who cannot deliver to his people. Theodor Herzl truly was the father of modern Zionism and just like Moses in the Bible, did not see the Promised Land.
Shlomo believes that he has the best quality of the version of the diaries as these come directly from the author. Thus, this raises the credibility of the article, as it has not been adulterated in any way. The only difference between the original version and Shlomo’s is the use of different words that comes about due to the translation of the material to English. A second difference arises due to the difference in the writing styles between Shlomo Avineri and Theodor Herzl.
Shlomo wrote his article by translating the author’s work into English so that it can be easily read and understood by most of the world’s populace. He changes the words and writes them in a form that is easy to read and understand by most readers of the article. He occasionally quotes Herzl in his text while writing the rest the way that they were initially written. This writing style lends credibility to the work as it makes the work appear to the reader just as the original did over a century ago. The reader feels as if he is talking directly to Herzl while he or she is also giving his own input in the matter. This makes it both engaging and informative. This writing style suits Shlomo’s argument that the diaries are a good source of history material.
` The work poised by Shlomo Avineri on the diaries of Theodor Herzl seems to be the best account of the original diaries of the famous father of the Zionism Movement, Theodor Herzl. The work is not biased in any way. Rather, it shows exactly how the events took place while critically analyzing the author. The work shows the great turmoil that Theodor Herzl was constantly under even though he publicly paused as a person full of composure and self-reassurance. The article does not give a biased view of the events or the man. The reader is thus left with the choice of making up his or her mind on who exactly Theodor Herzl was.


Adams, Jad. "Herzl by Shlomo Avineri, review." The Telegragh. January 8, 2014. › Culture › Books › Book Reviews (accessed December 20, 2014).
Indianna University Press. "ShlomoAvineri: Theodor Herzl's Diaries as a Bildungsroman." Jewish Social Studies, 1999: 1-46.
Jewish Virtual Library. "Theodor (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl." Jewish Virtual Library. 2014. (accessed December 20, 2014).

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