Max Nordau was a Hungarian Zionist leader who co-founded the World Zionist Congress and was instrumental in raising the "Uganda Plan" for a Jewish national home.
Nordau (born July 29, 1849; died January 23, 1923) was born Simon Maximilian Südfeld in Pest, Hungary, the
son of Gabriel Sudfeld, an Orthodox rabbi of Sephardi origin.
Although given a good grounding in Jewish tradition, Nordau drifted
away from the Jewish community. Initially he worked as a journalist
but later decided to study medicine. In 1880 his studies took him to
Paris where he opened a practice, even though it was in the literary
field that he was to make a name for himself.
Considered a controversial author due to
his attacks on contemporary European art, social and political
behavior, Nordau's Conventional Lies of Society, written in 1883,
was an attack on irrationality, egotism and nihilism which he
perceived as the evils of his time. By 1898, his literary works were translated
into some 18 languages.
Nordau's Zionist conversion was an experience not dissimilar to Herzl's and he admitted that the rising tide of anti-Semitism had brought him back to realize his duties toward the Jewish people.
When Herzl met with Nordau, it took little persuasion to convince the
latter of the worthiness of the Jewish State idea.
Nordau soon became Herzl's partner in the Zionist
movement playing a central role in defining the Basle program. At the first
Zionist Congress, Nordau gave the opening
speech on the condition of the Jewish people, which subsequently
became a tradition at later Zionist Congresses.
At the Sixth
Zionist Congress, Nordau defended Herzl's "Uganda Proposal" arguing
that they offered a temporary solution to the Jewish people's
sufferings. It was he who coined the term nachtasyl (night
shelter) to describe the Uganda plan. Following Herzl's death, Nordau
was offered the position of President of the World Zionist
Organization but he declined preferring instead to serve as advisor
to David Wolffsohn. He opposed the
growing trend toward practical
Zionism remaining faithful to Herzl's political program.
Nordau distanced himself from the Zionist movement
but not from the idea. He last attended a Zionist Congress in 1911
and although resident in Spain during the First World War tried to
maintain contact with the movement throughout that period. Weizmann attempted to bring him back into the organization at the end of the
War; however, Nordau rejected the overtures, believing that the
movement was a shadow of what Herzl had intended it to be.
In 1920 he raised the idea of evacuating half a
million Jews from Europe to Eretz-Israel but no one took the idea
seriously at that time. By then he had returned to Paris, where
despite discussion of his immigration to Eretz-Israel he died after a