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Co-Founder of Modern Zionism, Responds to an Autograph Collector

Item: 13903
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NORDAU, MAX. (1849-1923). Hungarian-German physician, social commentator and Zionist leader; co-founder, with Theodor Herzl, of the World Zionist Organization. ALS. (“Dr. M. Nordau”). 1½ pp. Small 8vo. Paris, April 1, 1898. Written in English to a collector, likely residing in British Guiana.

I congratulate you to your very interesting and valuable collection of autographs – of course I suppose you have not formed it in the out-of-the world place where you are now residing, but probably have brought it together in Europe.

Never mind the 25 centimes – (5 cents) stamp this letter is costing me. But if you will absolutely refund this trifle, you may send me Br[itish] Guiana post-stamps, old or recent ones, to the value of 5 cents, as I have children who have a fancy for collecting post-stamps. (I mean of course stamps that have been used, not new ones that may still be used.)…”

Photo of Max Nordau

Max Nordau

Although born to Orthodox Jewish parents, who named him Simon Maximilian Südfeld (meaning “south field’), Nordau felt little affiliation with his religion. After moving to Berlin in his 20s, he changed his name to Max Nordau (“north meadow”), married a protestant woman and identified himself above all else as a German. He moved to Paris becoming well-known as an author of social critiques. His principal work, Degeneration, was published in 1892 and criticized modern art, urbanization and other social phenomenon for their negative effect on humanity that reflected a growing feeling in the late 19th century that society was declining. Ironically, Nordau’s arguments would later be corrupted by the Nazis and used to justify their condemnation of  “degenerate” art and music.

In reaction to the 1894 persecution of French-Jewish artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus, Nordau and Theodore Herzl (whom he had met in 1892) founded modern Zionism. In August 1897, they and others led the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, at which Nordau gave the opening speech and the participants established the Zionist Organization (later called the World Zionist Organization) to pursue the establishment of a Jewish state. Following Herzl’s death, Nordau was selected his successor as president, but he declined to serve, later distancing himself from the Zionist movement as it strayed from Herzl’s principles.

Our letter was written in 1898, the year Nordau coined the term “muscular Judaism” (Muskeljudentum) at the August Zionist Congress to exhort Jews to cultivate mental and physical strength and self-confidence in order to contradict the anti-Semitic stereotype of the weak, scholarly Jew.

Penned in his typical purple ink on paper bearing the pale purple ink address stamp of his address on the Avenue de Villiers. Folded and tipped to a slightly larger sheet. Mounting traces on the verso affect several words. In very good condition.

Co-Founder of Modern Zionism, Responds to an Autograph Collector

$300 • item #13903

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