Article - David Wolffsohn
David Wolffsohn, friend and successor to Dr. Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement and conceiver of a Jewish state, was the second president of the Zionist Organization and one of the pioneers who paved the way for the Jewish state.
Born in 1856 in Lithuania, he grew up in a family imbued with Jewish tradition and scholarship. Later in his youth he lived in the home of David Gordon, editor of Hamagid and supporter of "Hibbat Zion" (forerunner of the Zionist movement) and of the upbuilding of the Land of Israel.
In 1888 he moved to Cologne, Germany, where he soon became known in the Jewish community as the young "eastern-European Jew" and in 1892 he made his public debut. On the occasion of Hanukkah the community organized an exchange of views on the Hasmoneans, in the course of which Wolffsohn courageously and fervently defended the comparison between the Hasmonean uprising and the revelation of Jewish national awakening in modern times. He excited his listeners and after that never stopped being involved in public activities.
When, in 1895, he heard that a young doctor of law in Vienna had published a book called The Jewish State, he was keen to get hold of a copy. After reading it he said "while reading it I felt transformed." In 1896 Wolffsohn decided to travel to Vienna to meet the author, Dr. Theodor Herzl. He was deeply impressed by his personality and convinced that his intentions were serious. He soon became a devoted supporter of Dr. Herzl and willingly took upon himself the task of organizing the First Zionist Congress in Basel, in 1897. It was Wolffsohn who presented the Zionist movement with its flag and who gave the name "Shekel" to the levy which was to be paid regularly by every Zionist. Due to his efforts, the financial institution of the Zionist movement, the "Jewish Settlement Bank" - which he was also called upon to manage - was established.
Herzl's sudden death left the Zionist political leadership destitute and without a successor to him, plunging the movement into a serious crisis.
When it became clear that Max Nordau had definitely declined the offer to take over Herzl's position, the presidency of the Zionist Organization was proposed to David Wolffsohn, who was known as a practical man and believed to be capable of organizing the movement. But Wolffsohn showed no eagerness to take over the leadership, believing that he was lacking in the qualities necessary to become Herzl's successor. Moreover, he never aimed at exercising authority but by and by he gave in to the entreaties emphasizing, however, that while it seemed necessary to fill in the vacancy "we shall never again have a second Herzl." At the seventh Zionist congress in Basel, he was elected first as chairman of the Executive Council and later as president of the organization.
Wolffsohn performed his task ideally. He untiringly fostered the Zionist organization, enlarged its membership and sought the collaboration of other Jewish organizations. During his six-year term of office he succeeded in shaping the Zionist movement into a firm, ramified and consolidated organization. He initiated a significant turning point in Zionist history, politically, when, in the course of the general debate at the seventh Zionist congress, he announced that, as result of a majority vote by the executive committee of the "Jewish Settlement Bank" (which he happened to manage), the bank's activities would be exclusively limited to the land of Israel. This meaningful change of statutes left no doubt that the Zionist idea could be realized nowhere but in Eretz Israel.
He was entrusted with administering the financial institutions of the movement, and he felt obliged to ensure the profitability of the nation's resources so they could be put at the disposal of the movement, when the hour "for an important political step" came.
Like Herzl, Wolffsohn's health betrayed him, his condition deteriorating so that he was compelled to relinquish all his undertakings. Wolffsohn, an energetic and effervescent personality passed away in 1914. He was buried in Cologne but, in accordance with his will, his mortal remains were brought to Israel in 1954 and interred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.