Max Bodenheimer (1865 – 1940)

Max Bodenheimer (1865 – 1940)

Max Bodenheimer was born in Stuttgart, Germany. From 1884 to 1889 he studied law at the universities of Tübingen, Strassburg, Berlin and Freiburg.
In 1890, he settled in Köln (Cologne) where he practised law until 1933.

Bodenheimer was interested in the Jewish question and came to the conclusion that the Jews were a nation and that only Palestine could be their center.

In March 1891, he published his first Zionist article: “Sind die russischen Juden eine Nation?” – “Are the Russian Jews a Nation ?” in the weekly “Die Menorah”, published in Hamburg. In the same year he wrote the brochure “Wohin mit den russischen Juden? / Syrien ein Zufluchtsort der russischen Juden” – “Wither with the Russian Jews? / Syria as a refuge for the Russian Jews.” In September, Bodenheimer called on the Hovevei Zion societies to form a world-wide organization: “Zionisten aller Länder vereinigt euch!” – “Zionists of all countries, unite!” The first contacts were esstablished with Hovevei Zion groups in Berlin Vienna, London and Paris.

In February 1892, Bodenheimer and David Wolffsohn met for the first time. They founded the “Nationaljüdischer Klub Zion Köln” (national-Jewish club Zion) which was renamed as Nationaljüdische Vereinigung (National-Jewish Association) in 1894. Bodenheimer also participated in various other Zionist activities in Cologne.

In May 1896, he started the correspondence with Theodor Herzl.

In July 1897, the “Nationaljüdische Vereinigung für Deutschland” (from October 1897: Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland”) was established at the conference in Bingen. Bodenheimer served as chairman until 1910.

On 30 August 1897, Bodenheimer addressed the first Zionist Congress in Basel. He was elected member of the Action Committee, on which he served until 1921.

In 1898, he accompanied Herzl on the journey to Palestine as a member of the delegation which met the German Kaiser Wilhelm II in Constantinople and Mikveh Israel.

With the establishment of the Jewish Colonial Trust, Bodenheimer was appointed member of its Council in March 1899 and retained this office until his death.

The fifth Zionist Congress in December 1901 adopted the “Organisationsstatut” – constitution – of the Zionist Organization, mainly drafted by Bodenheimer. He was elected member of the constitution drafting committee of the Jewish National Fund. He was appointed Kongressanwalt – Congress Attorney.

With the move of the German Zionist Federation from Cologne to Berlin in 1904, Bodenheimer’s position in German Zionism began to decline.

From 1907 until 1921, he served as member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund. Until 1914 he directed its activities from its head office in Cologne.

In 1910, Bodenheimer was appointed chairman of the committee charged with the re-drafting of the Zionist Organization’s constitution. The revised constitution was adopted by the 10th Zionist Congress in 1911. This constitution regulated the positions of “Parties” – “Sonderverbände” inside the Zionist Organization.

In 1912, Bodenheimer visited Palestine for the second time.

Max Bodenheimer was opposed to Kurt Blumenfeld and his radical trend in German Zionism. In 1912 he did not attend the annual conference of the German Zionist Federation in Posen.

After the outbreak of World War I, Bodenheimer moved the head office of the Jewish National Fund to The Hague. He initiated the Komitee zur Befreiung der russischen Juden – Committee for the liberation of the Jews of Russia, (later Komitee für den Osten – Committee for the East) which aimed at the improvement of the situation of the Jewish population in areas occupied by the German and Austrian armies. In November 1914, Bodenheimer resigned as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund.

In 1920, Bodenheimer served as chairman of the steering committee for the first post-war Zionist conference in London. In 1921, he voted with the majority to approve land purchases in the Jezreel Valley in a Jewish National Fund meeting in The Hague.

At the 12th Zionist Congress, 1921 in Karlsbad, Bodenheimer was elected Chairman of the Kongressgericht – Congress Court – of the Zionist Organization, but resigned from his office in July 1922. In December 1921, his official connection with the Jewish National Fund came to an end.

In 1926, Bodenheimer visited Palestine for the third time.

In 1928, the Council of the Jewish Community of Cologne charged him with the organization of a special Jewish exhibit of the International Press Exhibition “PRESSA”.

In 1929, disillusioned with the policies of Chaim Weizmann, Bodenheimer joined Zeev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Party. In 1931, he attended his last Zionist Congress as a delegate of the Revisionists. In 1934, he will also leave the Revisionist Party.

In April 1933, after the Nazis’ rise to power, Max Bodenheimer left Cologne and moved to Amsterdam.

Finally, in March 1936, Bodenheimer moved to Jerusalem where he started to write his memoirs.

Max Bodenheimer died in Jerusalem, in 1940.