Herzl's priest recognised after 80 years

By Simon Rocker, February 3, 2011

For 80 years the body of the Reverend William Henry Hechler lay in an unmarked grave at the edge of New Southgate Cemetery in north London.

But on Monday the Anglican priest, a supporter of Theodor Herzl's quest to found a Jewish state, finally received due recognition.

Israeli and Christian representatives witnessed the unveiling of a tombstone to mark a "lover of God… and His Ancient People" and "a tireless adversary against antisemitism".

Hechler, who died aged 85 in 1931, was chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna at the time Herzl published The Jewish State but, even before then, he had called for the restoration of the Jews to Palestine as a necessary prelude to the second coming of Christ.

He was the "unofficial foreign minister of Zionism in its first two or three years" who helped broker a meeting between Herzl and the German Kaiser, according to David Pileggi, rector of Christ Church, Jerusalem.

Among the gathering of 70 was Werner Oder, from Bournemouth, who is the son of convicted Austrian Nazi war criminal Wilhelm Oder but turned his back on his father's antisemitism.

The ceremony was conducted by Bishop John Taylor, patron of the missionary organisation, the Church's Ministry Among the Jewish People. Hechler's grave was rediscovered through the efforts of Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation. "Herzl asked us not to forget him," he said. "It was our responsibility not to."

In a message read at the graveside, Israel envoy Ron Prosor said that Hechler's support of Herzl was "symbolic of the understanding found today among our Christian friends".

Last updated: 2:26pm, February 3 2011