Handwritten manuscript of Herzl’s utopian ‘Altneuland’ exhibited for the first time

The original handwritten German manuscript of Theodor Herzl’s novel ‘Altneuland’ (Old New Land) went on public display this week for the first time at the Herzl Center in Jerusalem, as part of a new exhibit celebrating 120 years of its publication.

The utopian novel, published in 1902, described the vision of the founder of modern Zionism for a Jewish state.

According to the center’s website, the new exhibit features a tour of Herzl’s study, which now features the manuscript, and an additional exhibit that connects Herzl’s vision of a Jewish state to the modern state of Israel.

“It’s like touching the handwriting of one of the writers of the Old Testament, maybe even Moses,” Herzl Center President Uri Zaki told Channel 13, explaining the value of the manuscript.

“If I have to, I can give you an estimate – each page is insured at the moment for $1 million, and ‘Altneuland’ has 396 pages,” he said.

Susan Burns, curator at the Central Zionist Archives, who loaned the manuscript to the museum, said Herzl envisioned a future society with light rail as a mode of transportation and electronic newspapers read by an enlightened public.

“Some of what he wrote is prophecy,” she said.

Theodor Herzl on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland, 1897. (CC-PD-Mark, via Wikigamad, Wikimedia Commons)

The Zionist utopian novel was published six years after Herzl’s political pamphlet “Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State) laid out its author’s vision for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland.

“Altneuland” beginning with the famous phrase “if you want it, it’s not a dream”, recounts the Viennese Jewish intellectual Friedrich Löwenberg and the Prussian aristocrat named Kingscourt, who are about to settle on a island in the Pacific when they stop over in Palestine ruled by the Ottomans.

They find a poor and sparsely populated land and leave disappointed. However, deciding to return from isolation in the Pacific 20 years later, they find a developed and cosmopolitan Jewish state.

Herzl, who began his career as a journalist, is considered the father of political Zionism. On August 29, 1897, he called the first Zionist congress in the city of Basel. Some 200 participants from 17 countries, including 69 delegates from various Zionist societies, attended what is considered a watershed moment in the effort to establish a Jewish state.

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