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Max Bodenheimer

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Biography of Max Bodenheimer

Max Isidor Bodenheimer was born in Stuttgart, Germany on March 12, 1865.  From 1884 to 1889 he studied law at the universities of Tübingen, Strassburg, Berlin and Freiburg. In 1890, he settled in Köln (Cologne) where he established a lawpractice.  Despite an assimilationist upbringing, Max Bodenheimer became interested in the Jewish question. He concluded that the Jews are a nation and that the only solution for the Jewish problem was emigration to Palestine. His concern in particular was for Russian Jews, who were then suffering sever persecution, rather than for German Jews. Max Bodenheimer joined the local Hibbat Tzion group.

In March of 1891, Max Bodenheimer published his first Zionist article, "Sind die russischen Juden eine Nation?" - "Are the Russian Jews a Nation ?" in the weekly "Die Menorah", published in Hamburg. In the same year he wrote the brochure "Wohin mit den russischen Juden? / Syrien ein Zufluchtsort der russischen Juden" - "Wither  the Russian Jews? / Syria as a refuge for the Russian Jews."

 

In September of 1891, Bodenheimer called on the Hovevei Zion societies to form a world-wide organization: "Zionisten aller Länder vereinigt euch!" - "Zionists of all countries, unite!" He  established contacts with Hovevei Zion groups in Berlin Vienna, London and Paris.

In February 1892, Bodenheimer met  David Wolffsohn for the first time. Together, they founded the "Nationaljüdischer Klub Zion Köln" (National-Jewish club Zion of Cologne) in 1893. It was a branch of Hovevei Tziyon, which was renamed the Nationaljüdische Vereinigung (National-Jewish Association) in 1894 and became the basis of the German Zionist movement. Bodenheimer also participated in various other Zionist activities in Cologne.

In May 1896, Bodenheimer started the correspondence with Theodor Herzl and soon joined up with him in forming the Zionist movement. In July 1897, the "Nationaljüdische Vereinigung für Deutschland," In October 1897, it was renamed the Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland." Bodenheimer served as chairman until 1910.

On 30 August 1897, Bodenheimer addressed the first Zionist Congress in Basle. He was elected member of the Action Committee, which prepared the text of the Basle program, and on which which he served until 1921.

In 1898, Bodenheimer was a member of the delegation that accompanied Herzl on his  journey to Palestine. They met the German Kaiser Wilhelm II in Constantinople and Mikveh Israel. In 1899, when the Zionist organization established the Jewish Colonial Trust. Bodenheimer was appointed member of its council and remained a member throughout his life.

The fifth Zionist Congress in December 1901 adopted the "Organisationsstatut" - foundation law - of the Zionist Organization, which was largely the work of Bodenheimer. He was elected member of the constitution drafting committee of the Jewish National Fund and was responsible for its organization and was initially its director. He was also appointed the Kongressanwalt - Attorney for the Zionist congress.

Max Bodenheimer was also evidently a German patriot and had faith in the liberal regime of the Kaiser. In 1902, Bodenheimer petitioned the Kaiser to form a league of Eastern European states in Poland, Lithuania and other areas. This would, he believed, fit in with German East European Policy, which was to detach these lands from Russia and thereby reduce the Russian threat. He persuaded himself, and tried to persuade the German government, that the Jews would have a natural affinity for Germany, as they spoke Yiddish. To an extent, this was undeniably true, since young Jews in Russia compared their miserable condition to the splendor of German Jewry, and since they very often came to Germany to complete their studies.

Max Bodenheimer was an intimate friend of Herzl. Following Herzl's death, and with the move of the German Zionist Federation from Cologne to Berlin in 1904, Bodenheimer's position as leader of German Zionism began to decline.

Bodenheimer  served as member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund until 1921, and directed its activities from Cologne until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

In 1910, Bodenheimer was appointed chairman of a committee charged with the re-drafting of the Zionist Organization's constitution. The revised constitution was adopted by the 10th Zionist Congress in 1911. In 1912, Bodenheimer visited Palestine for the second time.

After the outbreak of World War I, Bodenheimer moved the head office of the Jewish National Fund to The Hague, foreseeing the problems that would ensue if the fund's headquarters were not in a neutral country.  In November 1914, Bodenheimer resigned as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund. During the war, he initiated the Komitee zur Befreiung der russischen Juden - Committee for the liberation of the Jews of Russia, (later Komitee für den Osten - Committee for the East) in order to improve the situation of the Jewish population in areas occupied by the German and Austrian armies. Actually, the program of this committee was apparently a renewal of the 1902 idea of a Jewish and German supported league of Eastern European states. Anti-Semites converted this utopian and naive proposal into a mythical proposal for a "Judeopolonia" - Poland to be ruled by Jews, and it reappeared very often in postwar anti-Semitic propaganda, as well as in more recent Polish anti-Semitic ideology, such as the 2001 book, "Judeopolonia," by Andrzej Leszek Szcześniak.  

In 1920, Bodenheimer was chairman of the steering committee for the first post-war Zionist conference in London. At the 12th Zionist Congress, 1921 in Karlsbad, Bodenheimer was elected Chairman of the Kongressgericht - Congress Judiciary - of the Zionist Organization, but he resigned from his office in July 1922. In December 1921, Bodeneimer's official connection with the Jewish National Fund ended.

Max Bodenheimer's son, Frederick Simon Bodenheimer, studied entomology. He came on Aliya to Palestine after completing his studies in Bonn in 1921, and worked in the entomological station of the Jewish Agency from 1921 to 1928.  In 1926, Bodenheimer visited Palestine for the third time.

In 1928, the Council of the Jewish Community of Cologne asked him to organize a special Jewish exhibit at the International Press Exhibition "PRESSA".

Max Bodenheimer became disillusioned with the compromising policies of Chaim Weizmann and joined Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Revisionists. However, when the Revisionists left the Zionist movement in 1933, Bodenheimer left the Revisionists. 

In April 1933, following the election of the Nazi government in Germany, Max Bodenheimer  moved to Amsterdam. In March, 1936, Max Bodenheimer moved to Jerusalem at the age of 71, and began to write his memoirs. Bodenheimer died in Jerusalem on July 19, 1940.

His publications include many pamphlets and articles on Zionism, as well as a 1933 drama about the life of Jesus and his memories, published posthumously first in Hebrew (1952) then in German (1958) and finally in English, as Prelude to Israel, in 1963. His daughter Hannah published some of his correspondence. 

Ami Isseroff

March 21, 2009

Ami Isseroff

March 15, 2009

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Copyright

Copyright © 2009. The text of this biography is the copyright intellectual property of the

Copyright

Copyright © 2009. The text of this biography is the copyright intellectual property of the author and Zionism-Israel.com. Do not copy these materials to your Web site. May not be republished without the express permission of the author.

More Israeli and Zionist Biographies The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

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Max Bodenheimer