Memories from Herzl

This week, we are marking the Hebrew date of the birth of Theodor Herzl. Much has been written about Herzl and the founding of the Zionist movement, but how was the “Father of Zionism” in everyday life? Erwin Rosenberger, the editor of the newspaper Die Welt from 1897 to 1900, wrote a fascinating book titled “Herzl As I Remember Him". In the book he writes about his personal acquaintance with Herzl. As the editor of the magazine, he worked intensively with Herzl, and Herzl served as his mentor.

 Dr. Erwin Rosenberger, 1903

Tips for the beginner writer
After the publishing of his well-known books, Herzl decided to publish a new magazine that would serve as a platform for his Zionist views. At that time he became acquainted with Erwin Rosenberger, a young medical student. Rosenberger had heard a few lectures given by Herzl and was highly impressed. After a brief introduction to Herzl, Rosenberger decided to send him two stories that he had written, in order to receive Herzl’s professional opinion about them. Herzl wrote him an answer on March 26, 1897, a letter that surprised Rosenberger with the amount of thought invested in it:
“Dear Herr Rosenberger,
“I carefully read both of your stories because I have taken an interest in you since I heard you speak so well and skillfully. As a rule, I give no definite answer to inquiries like yours, for it is assuming a great responsibility to advise a young man either for or against a literary career. I believe you have talent, although neither of the stories is a finished product. As I read them, I reflected on what it is you lack. I believe it is the right models. We rarely or never begin with our own ideas alone. It is my impression that you have followed poor models, especially in “The Theft.”…
“My advice is thus as follows: Read, but read only proven masters. You will know who they are from the fame they enjoy after the exaggerated praise and blame of contemporaries has died away…
“Above all, however, you must not neglect your serious professional studies. Whatever one studies seriously gives one the inner support that every sensible man needs in life – the writer too. A writer, in my opinion, is nothing special – merely a more intense or, if you wish, more profound sensible man who expresses his thoughts and feelings so that they may be understood by all. Vir bonus scribendi peritus.
“Does this advice seem to involve too much delay? It is, to the best of my knowledge and in all good conscience, correct. If it does not quite satisfy you today, then keep this letter and in a few years you will find that I have not advised you badly. Above all, learn!
                                                                                       With Zion’s greetings, yours truly,
                                                                                                                 Th. Herzl”
 The letter Herzl sent to Rosenberger (H1\2852)
Surprising meeting
Rosenberger and Herzl had had no contact since the letter was sent. A few weeks later, a friend arrived at Rosenberger’s room and hurried to deliver him a message from Herzl: "He wants to meet you!" Rosenberger was very surprised to hear of this invitation because he had never had a chance to talk with Herzl. In the book he describes that he went immediately to Herzl’s house, exited and curious about the purpose of the meeting: 
“Herzl came to meet me in his study and greeted me as though I were a good friend. He was wearing a simple gray lustring jacket. His wife sat writing at a small table by the window. I was introduced without ceremony, whereupon Herzl asked me to take a seat next to his desk.
“…Seating himself at the desk, Herzl offered me a cigar. When I replied that I didn’t smoke, he expressed astonishment. He then set about preparing his cigar in a rather elaborate manner. I felt that he was considering how he should begin the conversation.
At last, he broke the silence: “How do you stand with your medical examinations?”
He knew, then, that I was a medical student.
“…Herzl was in no hurry to get to the matter at hand. It was a leisurely conversation which offered me no hint of what he was aiming at. I was growing increasingly curious as to why he had invited me. Surely not to chat in this fashion.
He allowed occasional pauses to arise, during which he pensively sharpened a pencil or blew clouds of cigar smoke.
The meeting in which it was decided to publish "Die Welt", Vienna 1897 (PHPS\1338335)“…At last, after returning to his desk, Herzl told me the following: He was about to start publishing a magazine, a weekly which would propagate the idea of a Jewish state and work for its realization. Dr. S. R. Landau was the executive editor, and Schalit, the medical student from the “Kadimah” society, was also a member of the editorial staff. There had been a sudden development, however. In the next day, Schalit was to leave for the Balkans as head of Jewish medical students who, at the break of the Greek-Turkish War, had offered their medical services to the Turkish Army.
Herzl asked if I would like to fill in for Schalit on the magazine. Gratified by the flattering proposal, I accepted at once.
“But you must not neglect your medical studies,” said Herzl emphatically. “Schalit also had to promise me that he would be sure to prepare for his medical examinations… Now, as the question of salary…”
I interrupted to say that the question of money was immaterial and that the opportunity to aid our noble cause would be ample reward for me. But Herzl replied firmly that accepting my services without pay was out of the question.
“…The conversation now turned to my editorial duties. “I know that you can write”, said Herzl, “but you have more to learn. I want to be your adviser – but you must take my advice.”
This admonition was uttered in a kindly, paternal tone. I had already become warmly attached to Herzl at this first real meeting; without intending to, he had increasingly captivated me.”
(From Herzl as I Remember Him, Erwin Rosenberger, Herzl Press, New-York, 1959, p. 30-35)
The book that Rosenberger wrote is based on his diary and letters from Herzl. His papers are kept at the CZA; the notation of the record group is A276.