July 12, 2019
The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann
November 1902 – August 1903
Volume II, Series A
Introduction: Gedalia Yogev
General Editor Meyer W. Weisgal, Editorial Direction Gedalia Yogev,
Editor: English Edition Barnet Litvinoff, London, Oxford University Press, 1971[Reprinted with express permission from the Weizmann Archives, Rehovot, Israel,
by the Center for Israel Education www.israeled.org]
The second volume of the Weizmann Letters contains 423 letters written over a period of ten months, between November 1902 and August 1903. This compares with 320 letters in the first volume, which covers seventeen years, although the majority of them were written within a span of about two years. Most of the letters that Chaim Weizmann wrote during the 1902-03 period, when he was 28, came about mainly from the expansion of his public activity. These intensified efforts comprised the setting-up of a ‘Jewish University Bureau’ at Geneva, a more extensive exchange of correspondence with many people in all parts of the world, and the inception of an orderly office routine that embraced the copying of all outgoing letters and a meticulous filing system. After moving to Manchester in 1904, Weizmann transferred the archives of the Jewish University Bureau to that city, together with correspondence dealing with the affairs of the ‘Democratic Fraction’. Consequently, these documents were preserved and, together with the rest of his archives, were ultimately deposited in the Weizmann Archives in Rehovoth.
The character of the letters varies considerably during this period. Most were office communications, although these often struck a distinctly personal note. Towards the end of November 1902 the Bureau acquired a typewriter and thereafter most of the letters, including those sent to Russia, were written in German. Only a few original letters have been found and a large part of the correspondence consists of unsigned copies that were kept in the files of the Bureau. Though these copies remained unsigned there is no doubt that the greater part of the original letters bore Weizmann’s signature. Those outgoing communications of the Bureau that Weizmann was known not to have signed are not reproduced here. This refers principally to letters dated March and April 1903, when Weizmann was absent from Geneva during his visit to Russia. In addition to the carbon copies there is also extant a letter-book with about 60 ‘pressed’ copies, mostly written in Russian, a few in German. With the exception of three, all of these letters were written during the period covered by the present volume.
The number of persons to whom letters were addressed is much larger in Volume II than in Volume I. The overwhelming majority of those in Volume I were addressed to three people—Vera Khatzman, Leo Motzkin, and Catherine Dorfman. In Volume II, on the other hand, there are dozens of addressees. To a large extent this reflects the wider scope of Weizmann’s communications as a result of his activity in the Jewish University Bureau. But there is also a certain element of chance involved, as no copies were kept of the letters Weizmann wrote in his capacity as head of the Zionist Youth Conference Bureau in 1901 and as head of the Information Bureau of the Democratic Fraction in 1902. Only a small part of this correspondence has survived, in a number of private archives.
Personal letters, which occupy an important place in the first volume, are much fewer in the present one. Compared with the 145 letters Weizmann wrote Vera Khatzman, contained in Volume I, we now have only twenty-three to her, most of them written while he was in Russia in March–April 1903 or in transit to and from that country. For much of the period covered by the present volume Weizmann and Vera Khatzman were together in Geneva.
The plan for the establishment of a Jewish University or institution of Higher Learning is the central theme of Volume II. There were immediate, pressing reasons for its creation in the exclusion of large numbers of Jews from existing Universities. But a greater aim was never far from Weizmann’s thoughts: to challenge the apathetic and even defeatist attitude widespread among the Jewish intelligentsia by establishing an institution in which general studies could be infused with a positive Jewish content. ‘The University’, he said, ‘would head the Exilarchate’.
We had already perceived the early crystallization of this plan in Volume I. In the summer of 1902 Weizmann and Berthold Feiwel, his close personal friend, published a brochure (which also bore Martin Buber’s signature), Eine Jiklische Hochschule, in which they explained the impelling factor in proposing such an institution as principally the plight of Jewish student youth in Eastern Europe. When Weizmann returned to Geneva at the beginning of November 1902 he immediately began the organization of the ‘Bureau der Jiidischen Hochschule’ there, thus launching practical and systematic action to implement the proposal. The prior condition for the orderly conduct of the Bureau—the availability of funds to finance current activity—had been assured during Weizmann’s visit to Baku and Rostov in the autumn of 1902, when he succeeded in obtaining pledges for about 4,500 roubles, of which actually about 3,000 roubles had been paid in by the summer of 1903.
In addition to Weizmann, his friend Samuel Levinson, a chemist, was employed in the Jewish University Bureau as Secretary. Upon his emigration to the United States in the spring of 1903, Levinson was succeeded by Saul Stupnitzky. Vera Khatzman and Catherine Dorfman also helped in the work from time to time. The Bureau operated in close collaboration with other members of the Democratic Fraction: Feiwel in Zurich, Buber in Vienna, and Davis Trietsch and Moses Glikin in Berlin. The last-named moved in January 1903 to Zurich in order to help Feiwel, in a clerical capacity, in all matters pertaining to the Hochschule and the Democratic Fraction, and remained there until his return to Russia in the spring of the same year. Feiwel went to live in Geneva in May 1903 and took a direct share in administering the Bureau until the Sixth Zionist Congress (Basle, August 1903), after which he settled in Berlin. Beginning with March 1903 Alfred Nossig became one of the Bureau’s permanent aides in Berlin. In July 1903 Ben-Zion Mossinson, then studying in Berne, also became a member of the Bureau.
With his return to Geneva at the beginning of November 1902, Weizmann brought back a plan of action for the preliminary stage of setting up the Jewish University. It may be assumed that the principal guide-lines of this plan had been formulated by Weizmann and Feiwel during their stay at the Swiss vacation resort of Leysin in the summer of 1902; in all probability Weizmann also discussed it with Buber when they met in Vienna in October, at the time of the Annual Zionist Conference.
The most important objective that Weizmann set for himself at this phase was the creation of an organization, to be headed by eminent academics, which would undertake the responsibility for implementing further stages of the scheme, viz., conducting large-scale propaganda and setting up the institution itself. Within this framework it was intended to establish Committees for a Jewish University in a number of large cities, but chiefly in Berlin and Vienna, as well as a Central Committee under the auspices of which it was proposed to undertake the preparatory work of the Bureau in Geneva.
A second aim, towards whose attainment the Bureau directed its main efforts in the initial months, was the holding of a series of surveys among Jewish students in Western Europe and Russia as well as among Jewish professors and scholars. The terms of reference of these surveys were defined by Feiwel in the provisional summing up of the results of the only one that actually took place and that was published in the summer of 1903. The terms read: “To undertake a thorough examination of the material and scientific basis required for the creation of a Jewish University such as the constitution of a Faculty of Jewish Studies, the attitude of Jewish professors and scholars towards Jewish and general studies, the situation and composition of the Jewish student public, and the scope and nature of learning by Jews in Europe.” The statistics which it had been hoped to gather in these surveys were meant to serve as propaganda material in explaining the need for a Jewish University as well as providing basic information.
A great deal of attention is devoted in these letters to a plan for publishing a periodical intended to serve as the organ of the Jewish University Bureau and the Democratic Fraction. At the outset Weizmann adumbrated the importance of the proposed periodical as essentially to establish independence from the official Zionist press, which displayed a lack of sympathy. But after a while, as the prospects grew of the plan being fulfilled, he described its purpose in bolder terms. In a letter to Joseph Pokrassa of Kharkov, written at the beginning of February 1903, he dwelt on the need and possibility of injecting new forces into the Zionist movement and the prospect of ‘penetrating areas hitherto barred to Zionism’. He went on : ‘To realise these aims the small group of active people whose energies are now divided will have to unite’ through the medium of an organ that must be ‘directed towards the Jewish elite, towards the authentic Jewish intelligentsia of Western and Eastern Europe. Not to the masses, nor to the family, but to the isolated circles which are lost to us because of their dispersal. The essential pre-condition for such a journal is absolute sincerity, avoidance of and rebellion against the commonplace, faultless make-up throughout.’ We find him two weeks later writing to Abraham Idelson and Michael Kroll, the heads of the Moscow Centre of the Democratic Fraction set up after the Conference of Russian Zionists in Minsk in September 1902, in the following vein: ‘Our aims lie more in the achievement of a synthesis between East and West – bringing the ghetto to Europe and Europe to the ghetto…Hence the character of the paper we contemplate, a golden bridge as it were on which the intellectuals of Europe will meet with our Jews.’
During the first two months in which the University Bureau operated practical steps were taken to set up a committee only in Vienna. Buber endeavoured to enlist members among Jewish academics there. At various times he seemed on the verge of success, but his efforts were always thwarted by the withdrawal, at the last moment, of potential members. Weizmann had undertaken the initial overtures in Berlin as early as the summer of 1902, and at the beginning of 1903 he asked Trietsch to launch the necessary measures to set up a Berlin Committee. But when Weizmann set out for Russia in the middle of March 1903 no committee at all had been established, save for the one he had set up in Kharkov in October 1902.
By March 1903 the survey of Jewish students from Eastern Europe was all but completed. The Bureau had approached a number of adherents in various university cities, inviting them to supervise the survey in their respective areas. After their consent was obtained, the distribution of the questionnaires began at the end of December 1902. Of about 2,500 circulated, some 1,200 were returned duly filled in. The data were then collated by Feiwel who, as noted above, published the provisional results in the periodical Judische Statistik, which appeared in the summer of 1903. The survey involved a great deal of administrative work for the Geneva Bureau under Weizmann’s aegis: the formulation and preparation of the questionnaires, compilation of lists of volunteer supervisors (‘Vertrauensmänner’), correspondence with them and the dispatch of circulars and reminders. This intensive activity is reflected in the proliferation of office communications, especially in January 1903, when the survey was at its height. In the nature of things there was a good deal of repetitive routine in these missives, but in their sum total they represent the first group of documents that were the outcome of Weizmann’s assiduous administrative activity and demonstrated the executive capacity and practical initiative which were among his outstanding traits.
It was not all smooth going, however; many obstacles had to be surmounted. More often than not Weizmann became furious at the dilatory pace of the work, the absence of replies from those with whom he corresponded and the indifference of friends whose assistance he expected. ‘Each morning brings me new frustrations’, he wrote Feiwel on 10 December 1902, complaining that Buber and Glikin had not answered his letters. ‘I am conscious all the time of how the work drags, how time flies, and we have not taken even one step forward. If it is like this at the beginning, what will happen later?’ On 26 December 1902 he bitterly addressed Ze’ev Gluskin in Warsaw : ‘Everyone is regrettably more involved with his own affairs than with any Jewish ideal, however lofty. Everyone madly pursues his own interests.’ But, he promised Gluskin, ‘you may rest assured that I am not one of these people who gets easily disheartened by the indolence of our “co-workers.” I know them too well for that.’ After he described what the Bureau had already achieved ‘with our limited resources and even smaller working team’, he asserted that `we would be prepared to work even harder if our friends would only support us properly.’ In a similar strain Weizmann wrote Pokrassa towards the end of January 1903 regarding the inaction of the Kharkov Committee and the silence of his friends: ‘You do not really know me if you believe that I would allow myself to become disappointed by such things . . . I realise that we are alone, just a small band of workers bearing a gigantic task on our shoulders, waging a desperate struggle lest we get crushed by the weight of the burden. A long time will still have to elapse before better, stronger creative forces rise in Judaism. Until then we are the ones who are called upon to keep watch.’ And in the same letter: ‘Therefore I don’t allow myself to be disappointed by trifles such as these, but keep right on the road.’
In March 1903 Weizmann left for Russia. As on previous occasions, he combined his Zionist propaganda mission with a visit to his parents. But he devoted much more time and effort to recruiting active support for his Jewish University plan than to other Zionist matters, and sought to establish committees and mobilize funds, especially for financing the publication of the proposed journal Der Jude. Fortune favoured him. Whilst en route to Russia he met Buber and Feiwel in Berlin, and together with them and Nossig, was able to set up a committee comprising noted Jewish scholars. From Berlin he traveled to Warsaw and Lodz and succeeded, with the help of Nahum Sokolow, in forming committees in these cities as well. Moreover, large amounts were pledged there—a total of about 7,000 roubles—which he earmarked from the outset for Der Jude. He closed his trip to Poland on a note of triumph: ‘Our University project is progressing beautifully,’ he stated in a letter to Catherine Dorfman after returning to Geneva. ‘True, I had to fight everywhere, at every level of society; with Poles of the Mosaic persuasion, with the Bund, with Jews generally, with the Mizrahi, with Fraction members; but the idea itself charged ahead triumphantly. I found money…I found a few people who were prepared to work devotedly… If future developments progress at this rate, then in about a year’s time we can start thinking of the beginning of the end.’
But before Weizmann got back to Geneva his hopes were dashed. On 19 and 20 April 1903, Easter Week, a pogrom was instigated against the Jewish community of Kishinev. It had been fired by an allegation of ritual murder against the local Jews in an anti-semitic Bessarabian newspaper, and with the connivance of the police a mob rushed the Jewish quarter of the city, bent on murder and rampage. During two whole days terror spread undisturbed, resulting in the deaths of some fifty Jews and several hundred injuries, many of them serious. Rape and arson took place on a horrible scale. For months thereafter world Jewry reeled under the impact of that ghastly event and its consequences. Weizmann himself was plunged into profound despondency. ‘I have been very depressed lately,’ he wrote to Catherine Dorfman and Anne Koenigsberg on 10 May that year. ‘The news from Golus affects me like poison, and is slowly but surely undermining my health. I want to scream and slash out, but haven’t the strength.’ A few days later he reverted to the same theme in a letter to Nossig : ‘I too have been depressed by all these happenings to a point where all desire to work is paralysed.’
This feeling of helplessness, however, did not discourage Weizmann from becoming active on behalf of the world-wide movement launched at the time to raise funds for the victims of the pogrom. He worked from the University Bureau and spurred its leading adherents among the student groups in various university cities to lend a hand in the effort. Together with Feiwel, he went to Munich at the end of May to take part in public protest meetings there. He was among the speakers at one of these assemblies and left the hall in a mood of high exaltation after having been witness, as he wrote Vera Khatzman, to a demonstration of Jewish solidarity: ‘There was such an exalted mood, and the various Parties, including the Bund, responded so nobly—the like of which I never expected.’ It was a rare experience for one accustomed to taking part in endless debates with the opponents of Zionism.
Weizmann found cause for grave anxiety not only in the general repercussions of the Kishinev events; that every spontaneous reaction of Jewish solidarity which he noted at the meeting in Munich was a source of worry in that it dislocated his plans. The funds promised him in Warsaw and Lodz were not forthcoming. They were diverted to the aid of the Kishinev Jewish community. Those who had made pledges to the University Bureau deferred the anticipated payment. The periodical Der Jude did not appear, although its first issue was practically ready for the press. Much against his will, Weizmann was compelled to draw on the funds he had received in Baku and Rostov in order to finance the current activities of the Bureau. He approached a large number of friends urging them to find the much-needed funds, even in the form of loans. Writing to Selig Weicman in Warsaw, he commented: ‘We… must not lose our heads just now, but mobilize all our energies and keep striving to build upon the ruins… Give the people no rest and don’t let them hide behind facile talk. We can in no circumstances permit a standstill to develop now, lest an enterprise begun with so much effort be made to suffer… the pogrom must not be allowed to extend to the University!’
He was unable, of course, to alter the course of events. In spite of several heartening developments during the interim until the Sixth Zionist Congress, such as the inception of consistent activity by the Berlin Committee and Ben-Zion Mossinson’s joining the staff of the University Bureau, financial difficulties brought the entire undertaking to a dead end. Though the Bureau continued to operate until the spring of 1904, Weizmann was forced, after the Congress ended, to diverge considerably from the plan of action drawn up when it was established in November 1902.
Mossinson’s enlistment on the staff involved a change in the original plan, at least from the tactical standpoint. One of the problems that exercised Weizmann and his associates was the determination of the location of the University. Many people in the Zionist fold, including such outstanding figures as Menahem Ussishkinand Yehiel Tschlenow, were prepared to support the creation of a Jewish institution of Higher Learning, but on condition that it be located in Palestine. A resolution to this effect was adopted at the Annual Zionist Conference (October 1902) at which Weizmann had delivered an exposition of the plan. It was clear that he, too, would have wished the institution to be situated in Palestine. But it is evident from his correspondence that he did not believe in the immediate feasibility of such a move, and to his way of thinking the project was far too important and urgent for a concrete start to be put off until the University could be built in Palestine. Simultaneously, he was hesitant to dismiss this possibility arbitrarily, despite a statement he made in one of his letters to Catherine Dorfman which probably refers to this issue: ‘I don’t take the opinion of the Zionist Party in general very seriously.’ Some months earlier he had already written to Gregory Lurie that, notwithstanding his opinion on the impossibility of erecting a University in Palestine forthwith, `it is nevertheless necessary, for a whole range of reasons, some of them tactical, some of principle, to refrain at this stage from categorical declarations. If we start by throwing Palestine overboard every time a serious problem arises, there will soon be an end to all our yearnings’.
Six months later Weizmann took a number of additional steps towards a compromise with those who advocated putting up the institution in Palestine. It may be assumed that, in view of the difficulties he encountered, he realized the need to have their support. He was especially concerned with Ussishkin and his group. It was decided to send Isidore Eliashev to Palestine ‘in connection with the ultimate choice of a location for the University.’And in a letter to Mossinson dated 4 July 1903, which formed part of the exchange of correspondence within the framework of the agreement reached upon Mossinson’s engagement with the Bureau, it was stated: ‘Our desire is to establish—if at all possible—a Jewish University in Palestine.’ The Bureau undertook to exert a special effort to open initially a department of Philology and Pedagogy. ‘We shall do all in our power to establish the other departments in Palestine, but if this proves impossible we shall begin by opening them elsewhere. However, we shall erect no buildings, and make no attempt to remain abroad permanently, in order to be able to transfer the institutions to Palestine at an appropriate moment.’ Mossinson, for his part, promised to try and obtain the support of Ussishkin, with whom he was intimate; and the present volume ends with a telegram that Weizmann sent to Ussishkin, who was then visiting Palestine, reading as follows: ‘In principle favour establishing University [in] Palestine. Coming if necessary.’ Nevertheless, it would appear that Weizmann’s skepticism regarding the practical prospects remains intact, to which testimony is given by the letter he sent Nossig during the very time his negotiations with Mossinson culminated in the exchange of correspondence noted above.
Weizmann and his friends recognized Theodor Herzl as the unquestioned leader of the movement, and indeed regarded him with something approaching veneration. But, as described in Volume I, they could not accept his policy of intercession in high places and direct negotiations with the Porte and other governments as being the only or indeed the best course for the movement to adopt under the conditions then current. Weizmann considered that their leader was being badly advised by his immediate lieutenants: while Herzl was engaged in activities that of necessity had to remain confidential, debate was being stifled and those with a different point of view, some of them even members of the Greater Actions Committee, were being denied their rightful say in the formulation of Zionist policy.
Herzl remained largely unmoved by these clamors. As this volume opens he had just received the encouragement of the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, to go forward with a plan for the possible settlement of the El-Arish region; in January 1903 a group of experts were on their way to the Sinai Peninsula to investigate the area. The project remained under consideration for several months, and necessitated a visit to Cairo by the leader himself. As the year progressed the El-Arish scheme faded, until we arrive at 23 August and the Sixth Congress in Basle. There, a project for a Jewish autonomous region in Africa, the so-called Uganda plan, was to open a new epoch for Zionism and for Weizmann’s career.
Meanwhile, Weizmann’s preoccupation with the University project meant that the affairs of the Democratic Fraction had to be set aside for a time. The Fraction had been formed on a note of high hope at the end of 1901 to serve as a framework for activity among the ‘Youth’ groups, which were disillusioned with the policy of the Zionist leadership, and among the supporters of cultural and economic activity (Gegenwartsarbeit) in Zionism. But it did not live up to expectations. At about the time of its formation the Fraction was shaken to its foundations by a controversy that undermined the relationship between two of its ranking leaders, Weizmann and Motzkin, whilst from the outset Jacob Bernstein-Kohan, the Russian Zionist leader, who was allied with the ‘Youth’ elements, had held off from it. Weizmann’s enthusiastic efforts as Head of the Information Bureau of the Fraction were adversely affected by these inauspicious beginnings; after several months the Information Bureau virtually ceased to function, and Weizmann began to devote more and more of his attention to the great project of a Jewish University.
But the Fraction was not forgotten. Feiwel urged that a new office of the Fraction be opened in Geneva under Weizmann’s direction. The latter agreed in principle on condition that he should have the active assistance of others. Nevertheless, practically nothing was done for several months, and at the beginning of 1903 Weizmann explained this inaction as due to the need to concentrate on the main purpose—the University project—and his unwillingness to spread his efforts over too wide an area. But the imminent Sixth Zionist Congress constituted an impelling factor in the renewal of his activity. He took the initiative in reorganizing the Democratic Fraction and ensuring that it be given proper representation at the Congress. He was, however, somewhat dubious about the demand made in January 1903 by the group of Fraction supporters in Berne that the Information Bureau should resume functioning. He pointed out to the people in Berne that ‘all duties… were in the main neglected or left totally undone even by those who had assumed the role of leadership.’ None the less he promised to ‘begin active work’ together with Feiwel and the leaders of the Moscow Centre of the Fraction, adding, ‘I can assure you it will not be our fault if things are dragged out again.’ In mid February he was already planning a circular letter ‘calling upon the disunited members of the Fraction to unite and prepare themselves for the Congress.’ He wrote optimistically of the pro-Fraction mood rife in Germany and Austria and of the anticipated number of Fraction delegates at the Sixth Congress, and noted that a caucus of the group might possibly be held prior to the Congress. The opening phases of all this revived activity were marked by a consultation with Fraction members in Warsaw, a decision to establish a Fraction Bureau in Berne, and, above. all, Weizmann’s attempt to explain the character and aims of the Fraction to Herzl. The long letter to Herzl which, after Weizmann’s return from a visit to Russia in the spring of 1903, he composed together with Feiwel, occupies an important place not only in the present volume but also in the whole array of Weizmann Letters. It voiced a cri de coeur transcending all considerations of political maneuvering and factional interest, coupling this with a warning as to the dire plight and perilous situation of Russian Jewry, and the weakness of the Zionist movement. He asserted that the movement had failed to rally to its banner, the flower of Jewish youth in Russia, now immolating itself on the altar of the revolutionary movement in alienation from its own people, and had similarly failed to strike deep roots among Western Jewry.
In this letter he made an unprecedented attempt to persuade Herzl that the constant dependence of the Zionist leadership on the Mizrahi faction was harmful to the movement because it estranged Jewish youth in Eastern Europe, while the Executive adopted a disdainful attitude towards the ‘young Zionists’ and drove them into the arms of the Opposition. This occurred at a time when the Fraction `forms the connecting link between the older and the younger generation’ and was the only group capable of combating the revolutionists, which in fact it was actively engaged in doing. In dwelling on conditions in Russia, he claimed that the Fraction, ‘alone is freedom-loving and socially-enlightened. It extracts the Jewish essence from among the masses and pours it into a European mould’.
Weizmann endeavoured to explain to Herzl the character and significance of the cultural work that the ‘young Zionists’ and the Democratic Fraction were sponsoring: `…The totality of Jewish national achievement is intended—particularly that literature, art, scientific research, should all be synthesized with Europeanism, translated into modern creativity, and expressed in institutions bearing their own individual character …This Jewish culture, being the most vital form of the people’s self-expression, is more than a mere part of the national renaissance; next to the larger Palestine ideal of Zionism it represents its only remaining attribute, and can at least offer the modern Jew… an approach to a loftier view of life, with scope for enthusiastic action.’ But, Weizmann contended, ‘it is precisely in this that we are once again under vigorous attack and repression by both sides of the Zionist camp’. Despite all this resistance, he went on, ‘the Fraction members have dedicated themselves, to the best of their abilities, to these cultural ends—through periodicals and by means of such institutions as the [Judischer] Verlag, the University Bureau, etc.’ In concluding his report Weizmann promised Herzl ‘that it is precisely this youth, rejected by you, who belong among your most faithful and most eager supporters. They are everywhere on the alert…’ and that ‘just a small amount of good-will could convert [them] into the finest working element.’ And: ‘We are keenly looking forward to the possibility of a united effort, and believe we have offered a way towards it.’
The attempt to inaugurate a new chapter in the relations between the ‘young’ element that were federated within the Democratic Fraction and the leader of the movement was not very successful. In his reply Herzl ignored the issues which Weizmann had dwelt upon in relation to the position and prospects of the Zionist movement in Russia. He only remarked that the news from Russia was indeed very gloomy and that ‘our greatest preoccupation here can only be to dispatch aid as speedily as possible’. But he immediately went on to say that he did not believe that ‘the divisiveness which the conduct of the Fraction reveals can serve this common purpose.’ Herzl wrote that he had always been sympathetic towards the Fraction and was by no means sensitive about a wise opposition, but he expressed astonishment at the form of its polemics and that of its friends. He promised to note Weizmann’s proposals ‘with considerable attention,’ but added that most could be dealt with only after the Congress. Finally, he described Weizmann as ‘a person who has been misled, but nevertheless a useful force who will once more find his way back and proceed along the right road together with all of us.’
For Weizmann this came as a bitter disappointment. Some time after receiving Herzl’s reply he wrote Pokrassa: ‘We have put our position clearly to Herzl too; he is not, however, receptive to our arguments in certain of its aspects. He has greater trust in his ignorant surroundings than in the words we have written with our lifeblood.’ He threw himself into the election campaign obsessed by the feeling that there was a widespread move afoot to destroy the Fraction, standing as it were alone against a confederation of enemies within the Zionist fold. He believed that it would never be forgiven the iniquity of its leaders in having supported Ahad Ha’am, champion of ‘spiritual’ as opposed to ‘political’ Zionism, in his quarrel with Max Nordau over Herzl’s latest book Altneuland. Published in October 1902, this fictional treatment of a utopian in all fields of Zionism. Weizmann returned to that painful subject two months later, in another letter to Lurie : ‘Now straining every [effort], after all the ringing speeches, after five Congresses and hundreds of different kinds of meetings and conferences, we have arrived at the point that for the time being there can be no more talk of a Charter … Faith that has endured five years cannot do so any longer … Palestine is [undoubtedly] a romantic concept; as a concrete proposition it does not so much as come within our comprehension. This sickness has paralyzed the entire cause, and must be given a radical cure; at the forthcoming Congress we must demand, with all our vigor, that some clarification be established in the question of a Charter, and if it becomes impossible to achieve this—then we shall have to seek out new paths.’
Weizmann did not specifically define, either here or in any other place, what he meant by ‘new paths.’ But from the statements he made in various letters written during this period, there emerged three objectives to which he ascribed decisive importance: cultural work, the channeling of Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe, and, above all, an investigation of settlement possibilities in Palestine.
There is no need to elaborate here on the subject of cultural activity. Its significance had always been emphasized by the ‘young Zionists’, and, as we have seen, Weizmann gave it an honored place in his long letter to Herzl of May 1903. The University plan was projected as a centrifugal element in the cultural program; and in his letter to Rothstein cited above he contended that the importance of the University ‘is becoming even more so with the background of the Zionist situation being what it is today.’
At the turn of the century Jews were leaving the Russian Empire and Rumania at the rate of over 100,000 each year, and after Kishinev the flow westward became a flood. The demand to channel and regulate this emigration, so as to give it a national character, was a strong preoccupation of the Zionist camp. Many of those making their physical escape to the West were simultaneously discarding the traditional patterns of Jewish life. A special Jewish congress was in fact summoned by the Zionist Organization in 1904 to ‘nationalize the emigration stream’—Weizmann’s phrase—and halt the further dispersal of the Jewish people. But in the absence of any possibility of diverting a substantial number of the emigrants to Palestine, these ideas were to a large extent divorced from reality. Weizmann, too, did not go into detail as to the practical purpose of this objective or the methods of attaining it, and it may be assumed that he himself had no very clear notion of what was required.
The program of the Democratic Fraction prescribed that a thoroughgoing inquiry into Palestine had to be ‘the first step in negotiations with Sublime Porte quarters,’ for the realization was growing that it would be impolitic for the Zionist Organization to defer all settlement activity until the hoped-for Charter was obtained. The talks concerning Jewish colonization in the El-Arish region did indeed arouse a faint hope that it might be possible to do something in this vital sphere, if not in Palestine then at least in its immediate neighborhood. But it already became evident prior to the Sixth Congress that these contacts would fail to yield any tangible results; and this fresh setback even reinforced the view held by Weizmann and others, not all of them his close adherents, that a practical and purposeful debate of the whole subject would have to be held at the Congress. Weizmann renewed communication once more with Daniel Pasmanik, his past and future adversary, and David Farbstein, with whom he did not always see eye to eye either, concerning the creation of a group ‘whose primary intention would be to “seek clarity on the territorial question” and to ensure that a clear colonization policy would be laid down at this Congress.’ Writing to his brother-in-law Abraham Lichtenstein in Pinsk, he stated that the battle-cry of the Fraction during the election campaign must above all be ‘a demand for clarity on the question of territory and a scientific investigation of Palestine and the neighbouring countries.’ And in a letter to Nahum Sokolow he expressed his opinion that this [territorial] question must serve ‘as the vital sinew of our movement.’ At the same time it appeared that even in this sphere, too, Weizmann had not yet evolved a clear and methodical view of the path to be taken in order to break out of the vicious circle in which the Palestine policy of the Zionist Organization found itself confined. But he did join with others in a demand for the establishment of a Colonization Commission that would, in contrast to previous commissions of this kind, undertake to launch some positive action.
In fine, the line of thought revealed in his statements was destined to be crystallized in the years to come. Following upon the Sixth Zionist Congress the insistence upon systematic work in Palestine became a primary article in the program of the Zwnei-Zion—the opponents of those supporting the East Africa settlement proposal. Four years after that, at the Eighth Congress, Weizmann emerged as the outstanding spokesman of the ‘Practical Zionists’ whose demand for planned Zionist action in Palestine was adopted as the official policy of the movement and ultimately evolved as the concept of ‘Synthetic Zionism’ that was to be Weizmann’s major contribution to the philosophy of the movement.