This week a previously unknown contributor to the Zionist cause and Theodor Herzl received his long overdue recognition in London. Rev. William Henry Hechler, a English tutor living in Vienna in the late 1890s, a close friend of Archduke Frederick I of Baden and tutor to his children, read Herzl’s work and viewed it as complimentary to his own religious beliefs.
Hechler published a work called “The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine according to the Prophecy” in 1893 and used his connections with the Archduke to land Herzl a meeting with Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1896 and German Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898. Hechler was born in India 1845 but died in England in 1931 and was buried in a London ceremony in an unmarked grave. His contributions were unknown up until last year.
In 2010, the head of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation – an organization that identifies landmarks of interest to American Judaism, Jerry Klinger, was shown Hechler’s grave by Rev. David Pileggi of Christ Church Jerusalem. He said it was a Zionist obligation and pushed to have Hechler’s contribution recognized. According to him, “Hechler remained a confidant, friend, supporter and aide to Herzl until his death in 1904. He was at Herzl’s bedside at his death. Herzl asked that we not forget Hechler for all that he did for him and for Zionism. We did.”
Klinger noted that Hechler was essential to Herzl’s dream and that without his help, Zionism would have taken a different route and the modern State of Israel may not have even been founded. Klinger was also responsible for burial of Herzl’s last descendant Stephen Normal on Mount Herzl in 2007.
The head of the World Zionist Organization, David Breakstone, said that this week’s recognition on the 80th anniversary of his death “shows the respect we owe him and also publicly recognized the role so many Christians played in the establishment and support of the Jewish state.”
Many dignitaries were present including Israeli Embassy officials and Jewish community leaders, such as Israeli Ambassador Ron Proso. The new tombstone that was laid calls attention to Hechler’s deeds and importance in Jewish History, is vital according to the head of the Zionist Federation of the UK, Alan Aziz, because of the attacks on legitimacy of the Jewish state because it shows that non-Jews also showed unequivocal support to the foundation of Israel.