Norman initially sought a life free of Zionism and anti-Semitism, but apparently had his Jewish roots reawakened at the onset of World War Two during Hitler’s annexation of Austria, where his parents lived.
“I can’t say I received an especially Jewish or Orthodox education,” he later wrote. “The Zionist idea, despite my family connection to it, was never forced into me – not at home nor later in school or university.
“But, I found my grandfather’s letters and read them and I feel they comprise fascinating reading for anyone who has even the scantiness tie to Judaism.”
Norman visited pre-state Palestine after World War II, during which he fought in the British Army, and wrote later how impressed he was by the country’s young Jews, who were beginning to live out his grandfather’s Zionist vision, and how he was deeply affected by his short visit:
“These children bore the mark of freedom. I thought of the dark, sallow, unhappy Jewish children of Europe. I had seen pictures of their faces; their youthful frames had borne the features of old men and women, and now I saw these little ones who look like children again.”
“My visit to Palestine is over… It is said that to go away is to die a little. And I know that when I went away from Erez Israel, I died a little. But sure, then, to return is somehow to be reborn. And I will return.”
However, Norman died in Washington, D.C., a suicide at 28, devastated by his parents’ deaths in the Holocaust. His mother, Trude, Herzl’s youngest daughter, and father, Richard, died in the Theresienstadt ghetto. Several other members of Herzl’s extended family died apparent suicides, as well.
Norman’s remains arrived in Israel Tuesday after a memorial service at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C, where he was buried in 1946.
Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, and the driving force behind the return of Stephen Norman, wrote in the Jerusalem Post:
Against the ironic backdrop of Annapolis, a Zionist is coming home. Stephen Theodore Norman, the last descendent of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern State of Israel, is coming home.
Stephen felt deeply the pain of the Jewish survivors of the Shoah trapped in displaced persons camps. He felt, in his soul, their horrific desperation – where can they go?
It seemed to him there was no hope for the Jewish people. The world did not care. His parents were exterminated. His grandfather’s vision a distant, unobtainable dream. Loving too deeply, unable to endure the pain, Stephen leaped to his death.
The Jewish Agency paid $100 for the burial. They never had the money to place a headstone on his gravesite. The local community raised the funds and marked the grave. Stephen Norman, the last of Herzl’s blood, was forgotten.
After five years of bitter struggle against indifference marked by apathy, disinterest, post-Zionism and Zionist sclerosis, Stephen is finally coming home.
In a belated affirmation of faith by the Jewish people and the State of Israel, the Zionist is coming home to the land that he loved, to the people that he loved, to his family.