They are at once a testimony to a father’s love for his daughter and an invaluable insight into the founder of modern Zionism.
A collection of postcards sent by Theodor Herzl to his eight-year-old daughter, Paulina, during his journey to the Middle East in 1898 has been digitalised by the National Library of Israel, having never been displayed before.
The trip — Herzl’s only visit to what would become the Jewish state — included his famous meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II, where the two discussed the Zionist project.
Throughout his journey from Vienna, his home city, Herzl sent regular postcards and letters to his family from various stops along the way, including Venice and Cairo.
Most of the messages are brief greetings written on postcards, a large number of which were addressed his daughter, Paulina, in Vienna.
The postcards reveal Herzl’s great love for his daughter and his desire to update her on the progress of his trip and reassure her that everything was fine.
The first postcard in the series, sent from Constantinople and dated October 15 1898, bears the words: “Tender kisses to my delicate daughter Paulina from her faithful Papa”.
From Hebron he also sent, “Kisses from your faithful Papa” and from Jerusalem, “To my good Paulina, tender kisses are sent to you from your faithful Papa in Jerusalem”.
Kaiser Wilhelm was reportedly impressed by Herzl during their meeting in Palestine and briefly considered lobbying his ally, the Ottoman Sultan, Abdulhamid II, on behalf of Zionism. But Ottoman resistance was firm and Wilhelm quickly dropped the idea.
Professor Derek Penslar, an expert in Jewish history, has written that “Herzl’s Zionism was based on two distinct yet overlapping goals: the achievement of security for Jews suffering from persecution or discrimination and the attainment of Gentile respect for Jews wherever they lived.
“When Herzl became a Zionist in the spring of 1895, he immediately saw a Jewish state with international recognition as the means of achieving both of these goals.
“Not only would Jews in their new state be able to determine their own fate; that state would be a model of social experiments, such as a seven-hour work day. This ‘land of miracles’, Herzl wrote, would become ‘a target of the civilized world, which will visit us’ just as it visits Lourdes and Mecca.
“In turn, those Jews who choose not to emigrate to the new state will be respected by their non-Jewish neighbours for its wondrous accomplishments.”
According to Dr Hezi Amiur, curator of the National Library’s Israel Collection, “Herzl is remarkable in that his greatness has almost universally been recognized across the Zionist spectrum. There are few if any other figures in Zionist or Israeli history for which this can be said.”
The postcards are part of the library’s Abraham Schwadron Collection, the world’s largest Jewish autograph collection.
The digitalization project was produced to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 1949 re-internment of Herzl’s bones at Har Hazikaron cemetery in Jerusalem.
Herzl’s remains were brought for re-burial in the Jewish state he envisioned, in accordance with his last will.
In that document, written in German in 1903, he wrote: “I wish to be buried in a metal coffin near my father, and lie there until the Jewish people will transfer my body to the Land of Israel.”
Herzl also indicated that he wanted close family members to be buried there as well.