Moses Gaster, Friedrich Horn and the Background to the Settlement of Samarin

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Abstract

This article offers a substantial contribution to the historiography of Zionism, providing material and arguments for a paradigm shift. It brings to light a previously unknown manuscript: Friedrich Horn’s Nationaltraum der Juden, an unfinished personal account by one of the first Jewish settlers who departed from Romania to Palestine in 1882. He helped found the colony of Samarin, which was later taken over by Baron de Rothschild and renamed Zichron Ya’akov. Horn, a schoolmaster with Austrian nationality who had settled in Romania fifteen years before his departure to Palestine, gave the manuscript of his unfinished work ‘Nationaltraum der Juden’ to Moses Gaster. Horn and his book have been completely forgotten (even ‘the leading scholars’ in Zionist historiography have not heard his name). Some excerpts are presented in the article, in original and in English translations. Horn’s text is analyzed in conversation with other primary sources which have generally been ignored in the study of Zionism: Romanian Jewish papers (e.g. Der Emigrant, Fraternitatea, Apărătorul, Anuar Pentru Israeliți) and correspondence to Moses Gaster (letters by Horn, E. Scheid (Horn’s opponent, Rothschild’s ‘inspector of colonies’), and the leaders of the Central Committee for Encouraging Jewish Emigration from Romania (hereafter CC): Isaac Löbel, Josef Abbeles and Samuel Pineles). The variety and novel nature (as on the whole unknown material) of the sources demonstrate both creativity, and depth and breadth of the research which underlies the article.
The article offers a paradigm shift, because based on these primary sources, it challenges ‘conventional wisdom’ (in the study of the history of Zionism) regarding the beginnings of Zionism as a political movement, namely: Zionism starts with Herzl in 1896. The label ‘Hovovei Zion’ (lovers of Zion) has been frequently used (as part of this ‘conventional wisdom’) to obscure the contributions of the Romanian and Russian Jews responsible for the first Aliyah (Jewish settlement in Palestine), reducing them to a kind of anonymous, a-political, East-European mass.
As the title of Horn’s work indicates (further confirmed by his reflections throughout his text, and some of the other sources), the first settlers were not simply a mass of a-political, ‘poor and persecuted’ emigrants looking for a better life. ‘Nationaltraum’ clearly indicates that at least some individuals had political aspirations, and aligned themselves with Jewish nationalism (which later became known as Zionism). They did not identify themselves as ‘Hovovei Zion’. The term occurs once in Horn’s account, in a description of visitors associated with that Odessa-based movement, which he identifies as ‘a Russian organization, Zionists’. Although they did not know in the early 1880s that they were supposed to be ‘Hovovei Zion’, by the end of the nineteenth century the latest Romanian Jews had adopted that originally external label.
The article first introduces Moses Gaster, Friedrich Horn’s manuscript as an item in Gaster’s collection, Horn himself and some of the other sources. The second section discusses the first six chapters of Horn’s manuscript, up until Horn’s departure for Palestine (chapters 1–6, fos 1–42). His narrative is examined in dialogue with contemporary sources and relevant scholarship. Third, the conclusion draws out some of the implications of Horn’s work for the historiography of Zionism. As the first study to seriously examine the contribution of Romanian settlers to the beginnings of Zionism, the article will thus serve as a primary/essential point of reference. At the very least, it should result in a correction of the confusion created in Zionist historiography by the application of the term Hovovei/Hibbat Zion (Love of Zion) both to the movement of colonisation of Palestine in general (which for the Romanian movement involved many independent local societies), and more specifically, to the organisation which held its first congress in Katowice in 1884, was based in Odessa and had Leon Pinkster as its president (Horn’s ‘Russian organisation (Zionists)’). It is no longer appropriate to use the term for the Romanian emigration/settlement/nationalist movement in the early 1880s.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-51
Number of pages25
JournalBulletin of the John Rylands Library
Volume92
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016

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