Leading Zionist Nahum Goldmann Is Born in Lithuania
Nahum Goldmann speaks at the 23rd Zionist Congress in Jerusalem in 1951. (credit: Widener Library, Harvard University, public domain)

July 10, 1895

Nahum Goldmann is born in Visznevo, Lithuania.  He was a founder of the World Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as well as president of the World Zionist Organization. When Goldmann was six years old, his family moved to Frankfurt.  In Frankfurt, Goldmann was first attracted to the Zionist cause and began writing and delivering Zionist speeches.  According to his obituary in The New York Times, Goldmann claimed, “I can hardly say when I became a Zionist. Even as a child I was a Zionist without knowing it.”

In 1913 Goldmann made his first visit to the Land of Israel, renting an apartment in Jerusalem and staying several months.  Despite his love of the land, Goldmann did not heed the advice of those who tried to persuade him to stay.  Instead, he returned to Germany and completed his law degree in 1922.  There, he worked with Jewish philosopher Jacob Klatzkin to create a publishing house and a German language Zionist periodical.  The two also collaborated on the Encyclopaedia Judaica, and published the first ten volumes between 1928 and 1934.

In 1935, after the Nazi rise to power, Goldmann fled Germany.  That same year, he became the Zionist representative to the League of Nations.  In this role, he lobbied the American and British Governments to partition Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish States.

Goldmann is probably best known for initiating Israeli negotiations with West Germany about reparations for Nazi crimes committed against the Jewish people.  Goldmann also co-founded the Claims Conference, which provides payments directly to individual Holocaust survivors and grants to social welfare organizations serving survivors.  After the Claims Conference was founded, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote to Goldmann, “For the first time in the history of the Jewish people, oppressed and plundered for hundreds of years…the oppressor and plunderer has had to hand back some of the spoil and pay collective compensation for part of the material losses.”

Goldmann passed away in Germany in August 1982 at the age of 87.