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[Page 489]

Dr. Tolo (Naftali) Nusenblat

by Mordechai (Motek) Hampel (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

Although Dr. Tolo Nusenblat was not born in Dąbrowa, I saw it fitting to immortalize him in this memorial book, because of the family connection to the home of the well-known Reb Nachman Gutman from our town. This article about the history of Dr. Nusenblat was written by our friend, M. Hampel, one of the editors of “Pinkas Bendin” and “Pinkas Zaglembie”, who was previously active in the pioneering youth movement in Dąbrowa, before the rise of the “reaper” [i.e. Hitler].

Tolo (Naftali) Nusenblat was born in 1895, in Stryy (Galicia, then Austria). He was educated there, and completed the gymnasia there and continued his studies in Lviv (Lemberg). In his youth he belonged to the educational youth movement “Bnei Zion” [Sons of Zion] and later joined “Hashomer”, and his undertaking was to cultivate scout values, and from this the “Hashomer Hatzair” movement developed after the First World War. When the previous war broke out he was conscripted to the Austrian Army, fought at the front and was even seriously wounded. In recognition of his bravery in the battlefield he was promoted to an officer and was presented with a silver medal.

After the war he moved to Vienna, where he studied law and received a doctorate, however he did not work as a lawyer, since he was completely dedicated to researching the history of Dr. Herzl, and even purchased essays and various items from Herzl's estate with his own money.

With the occupation of Austria by Hitler's armies (1938) and its annexation to the Third Reich, Nusenblat fled to Poland and settled in Dąbrowa Górnicza, where his wife Tamar lived, the daughter of a public activist, philanthropist and dedicated Zionist, Nachman Gutman and his wife Chawa, in whose company the writer of this article was invited to act together in the field of Zionism.

On the eve of the breakout of war that appeared on the horizon, Nusenblat and his family left Dąbrowa, close to the German border, and they went in the direction of the Polish metropolis, Warsaw which was quickly conquered by the Germans. Nusenblat was placed in the kehila committee and worked extensively for his brethren being tortured under the boots of the German troopers. Dr. Natan Ek relates in his book “Hatoim bedarckei hamvet” [Those erring in to path of death], that Nusenblat was very active in the Warsaw Ghetto, participating in assemblies, receptions and meetings: “We once sat in a reception and someone noted that today was Tu Bishvat. Dr. Nusenblat stood up and began lecturing about the trees in Eretz Yisrael. Apparently he had been busy for some time preparing research on this subject, since he enthralled us with the abundance of amazing details: the tree in the Bible, in the Talmud, in modern literature, the tree in the life in Eretz Yisrael and in the Diaspora, drawings of trees in emblems, the tree in song and poetry and so on. We sat for about an hour and consumed his words”.

In spite of the hardships and shortages in the ghetto Nusenblat did not cease to persevere to deal with his favorite subject, the research of Herzl, his life and work. Tuwja Borzykowski z”l, the writer of the book “Bein kirot noflim” [Amongst collapsing walls], testifies to this: “Dr. Nusenblat even persevered in the ghetto on his far reaching biographical essay about Herzl, and he owned a collection of documents and precious material. Whilst wandering about the ruins of Nalewki (the Jewish quarter in Warsaw), a voice called out to me, and it was the voice of Dr. Nusenblat – his situation was desperate. He had fled his burning home on 44 Muranowska Street.

dab489.jpg [12 KB] - Dr. Tolo (Naftali) Nusenblat
Dr. Tolo (Naftali) Nusenblat,
son-in-law of Reb Nachman Gutman,
the researcher and biographer of Dr. Herzl

Seeing him holding a heavy suitcase, I suggested that he throw it away, since what was the point of saving property when there was no value to human life. Instead of a reply he opened the suitcase and showed me, that he was carrying material for the research of Herzl and said: “I'm not asking for my life to be spared, but at least the archive should survive”.

[Page 490]

He wasn't able to save the Herzl archive, which he had looked after and cared for during the period of annihilation and destruction.

Nusenblat's family were taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943 and transferred to labor and extermination camps, men and women separately. According Dr. Wdowinski's testimony, a firebrand saved from the flames, one of the former heads of the Revisionist movement in Poland, who was together in one camp with Nusenblat, who “drank the cup of poison” and was murdered together with his father-in-law, Nachman Gutman (the exact date is unknown).

Dr. Hilel Zajdman, describes in his book “Yoman ghetto Warsza” [Warsaw Ghetto Diary] a different version to the bitter end of Dr. Nusenblat: …Dr. Nusenblat participated in the Warsaw Rebellion, in April 1943, and was killed. These details are unknown to me. According to the book “Sefer Stryy” [The book of Stryy] which came out in Israel in 1962, Nusenblat was captured by the Germans in September 1942, who transferred him to one of the extermination camps and was murdered there.

In the magazine of the World Zionist Organization, “Haolam” [The World] (15th of March 1944, edition no. 23), it was written: “The news reached us that together with other dear people – – – Dr. Tolo Nusenblat was cruelly killed in Lublin by the Nazis. For more than twenty years he dealt in the research of Herzl and with great admiration followed all the stages of Herzl's life – – – his aspiration was that in Eretz Yisrael a large research institute would be founded, the “Herzl Institute”, that would continue his activities on a large scale, and would collect original material on the history of Herzl and the history of Zionism in general, however he wasn't able to realize this dream.”

Nusenblat frequently published articles in various magazines, accompanied by documents and informative letters about Herzl. In this manner, for instance, he published in “Haolam” (1939, edition 37 page 719) an article on the first journalistic steps of Herzl on the Jewish question. Nusenblat testified, that he took pains to completely and punctiliously go over, almost unprecedentedly over all the same Viennese newspapers, in which Herzl had worked in his youth as a writer. There he came upon articles by Herzl, discussing the painful question of anti-Semitism, that was written in the “Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung”, on the 16th of March 1889, called “An event in a barrel” (the name was taken from the work “The tale of a tub” by the famous English writer Jonathan Swift, admired by Herzl, and he used his expressions in the number of places in his articles – M.H.) This article – in the opinion of Nusenblat – was liable to throw new light on the development of Herzl as the creator of the Zionist idea, and the visionary of the Jewish State.

Dr. Nusenblat is enumerated amongst the biographers and dedicated bibliographers of Dr. Herzl, his personality, Zionist visions, his activities and his generation. In order to research Herzl, Dr. Nusenblat invested the best of his years, his talent, his strength and capital. He searched for material in archives, in libraries, in stores for rare books, in the homes of Herzl's relatives and friends; he collected letters mainly written by Herzl and to him, scattered here and there.

dab490.jpg [30 KB] - The anniversary of the death of Dr. Theodor Herzl
The 20th of Tamuz [July 3rd]
the anniversary of the death of Dr. Theodor Herzl

He looked after Herzl's archives, which before the Second World War were looked after by Engineer Kremnicki, Dr. Schnitzer, Adolf Boehm and others (these archives were later transferred to Jerusalem).

Dr. Nusenblat, in his research of the smallest details of Herzl's life, discovered a great deal of important original material, and frequently new and previously unknown material about Herzl. Unfortunately all of this precious treasure was lost in the Warsaw Ghetto, that had been collected so diligently and with immeasurable effort. No Zionist historian, in his writing about the history of Zionism, could not miss the original books of Dr. Nusenblat on the subject of Herzl.

[Page 491]

Nusenblat edited a number of books and files in German on the subject of Herzl:

  1. “Herzl as recalled by his generation” (In 1929, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Herzl).
  2. “A nation on the way to peace – Theodor Herzl and Bertha Suttner” (1933). Bertha von Suttner (Prague 1843 – Vienna 1914) was an pacifistic Christian-Austrian writer. She was the first to receive a Nobel Prize (1905) for her book “Die Waffen nieder!” [“Lay down your arms”]. She fought anti-Semitism and helped Herzl with political connections for the Zionist idea; she said of Herzl: “Those who knew him and understood him, loved him because of this – and their heart was saddened by his memory.”
  3. “Theodor Herzl's annual” (1937) He considered publishing an annual every year, but the city of Nusenblat's residence Vienna fell into Hitler's hands, and his dream of regularly publishing an album evaporated.
In the above file, “Herzl as recalled by his generation”, Nusenblat describes an impressive and heart touching depiction: Herzl on his death bed surrounded by his closest family. Zionist students take turns to guard the sick bed, his doctor, Professor Zinger, endeavors to encourage and instill in him the hope of life. Herzl sits up, points to the students, saying to the doctor: “These good and excellent people belong to our nation. You'll see that a day will come and they will go up to the country of their dreams”. As Herzl breathed his last the doctor said: Just as a prophet dies, he sees his homeland from a distance.

Dr. Nusenblat also dealt in the research of Zionist symbolism: “Magen David” and blue and white flag, and published a number of articles on this subject. He planned to write a history of the anthem “Hatikva” and about its composer, Naftali Herz Imber, however his murder brought an end to all his plans – and he being in the prime of his life and full of research achievements.

dab491.jpg [45 KB] - Nusia Sztorchajn and other pioneers in Dąbrowa
Nusia Sztorchajn and other pioneers in Dąbrowa
communing with the memory of Dr. Herzl over his grave in Vienna
before making their “aliyah”

[Page 492]

Dr. Naftali (Tolo) Nusenblat

by M. Sh. Geshuri

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Dr. Naftali (Tolo) Nusenblat was one of the Zionist circle of Bnei Zion gymnasja students in Galician Stryj (founded by Dr. Avraham Inzler). In his youth, he joined Hashomer, from which the Hashomer Hatzair movement sprouted after the First World War.

He was a captain in the Austrian Army during the First World war. He was injured on the front and received a distinguished service award. He studied law and received a doctorate. He did not work in his profession, but rather gave himself over completely to literary and publicity work. He worked especially in researching the history of Dr. Herzl and his era. He gathered a great deal of material and published it in articles and research papers in Zionist newspapers as well as in other anthologies.

In 1929, he published his first book “Contemporaries of Herzl” in German, an anthology of memories about Herzl's contemporaries. In his book “One People on the Way to Peace” (1933), he published valuable archival material on the history of the political value of Herzl , especially regarding the convention of 1899.

In 1937, a monthly publication began to be published in Vienna, dedicated to research on the history of Herzl and the Zionist movement. It was called “Theodor Herzl Yearbook”, and was in German. He only succeeded in publishing the first volume, which included [previously] unknown archival material, and historical articles on Herzl and on the beginnings of the Zionist movement.

Following the entry of the Nazis to Vienna, he fled to Poland and settled in Dąbrowa Górnicza, where his father-in-law Nachman Gutman lived. At times, he visited Warsaw, Łódź, and other cities, not only regarding the coal trade, but primarily for communal affairs. He had a fine appearance, a tall stature, and blue eyes. His movements were always sprightly, and he appeared as a young man – even during his middle age. Love of his fellow Jew in general and of Zionism in particular were the content of his life, and the topic of conversation with his acquaintances when they met. All the rest was secondary in his eyes.

Dr. Nusenblat was an expert collector, who gathered a large collection of Dr. Herzl's letters and manuscripts. This entire precious treasury was lost in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Dr. Nathan Ek (Ekron) writes in his book “Lost in the Pathways of Death” (published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 5620 / 1960) an interesting detail in the life of Dr. Nusenblat. Once (it was in 1931), when he was sitting in the Prückel coffeehouse[1] in Vienna, which was located near the national garden and the Ministry of War, Nisenblat was talking to him about the conversations he was having with the residents of Vienna in order to dredge up testimonies and memories of Herzl. Among them was an elderly Jew from the generation of Herzl, who had known him. Nisenblat has talked with him some time before in the same coffeehouse where they were sitting, and he told him, among other things, the following story:

One evening, he was walking with Herzl in the outskirts of Vienna, and they reached Prückel. Like many of his generation, this Jew also related to Herzl's dreams with coldness and suspicion. He would often warn him to not waste his energies on talents on these delusions; it would be better to devote his energy to realistic things, and then there would be no doubt that he would rise higher up in accordance with his worth. Herzl suddenly stopped walking, and said, “After my death, young people will arise, enthusiastic patriots as well as scientists, who will follow after all my steps on the earth. They will examine my deeds, research every line that I have written, and expound on every statement that emanated from my mouth. All of this – is because of these delusions…” The elderly Jew continued, and told Nisenblat: “This is what Herzl told me in this place (as he pointed toward the window), and here you are, Herr Doctor, behold you are that enthusiastic youth, that 'Herzl researcher' who this late giant mentioned that evening.” “When I heard this story,” concluded Nisenblat, “I just up from my place like Archimedes in his time, and called out, 'I have found.' What find did I find? The expression 'Herzl researcher,' which, according to that Jew, had emanated from Herzl. Until this time, when I was asked what my work was – I did not know the proper answer. I would mumble, and say 'a historian,' 'a journalist,' or merely a 'writer.' And I was not satisfied… Now I know what I am. Indeed, I am a Herzl researcher. This is a branch of science. This is my profession. From that time, I would sign 'Herzl researcher' on official papers when I was asked for my profession.”

Nisenblat also researched Zionist symbolism, the Magen David, and the blue and white flag. He published articles on these topics in the Yivo Bletter, Techumim, and others. I do not know how he found my address in Jerusalem, but it is a fact

[Page 493]

that I had once received a letter from him from Dąbrowa Górnicza containing many questions on national anthems that were composed at various times in Jewry, and that were needed for his research. I attempted to respond to all his questions with details, and even got in touch with various people in the Land. Thus, we remained in contact through correspondence. He then informed me that with the material that I sent him, he was about to conclude a book on Jewish anthems, and he was prepared to send me the chapter in which he used the material that I sent him. I told him that I was going to visit Poland shortly, including my native area of Zagłębie, and that we could meet and discuss anything that is of interest to him. The war broke out in the interim, and I could not travel abroad.

He and his wife Tamara the daughter of the wealthy Nachman Gutman visited different places: Lwow, Vienna, Karlsbad, Prague, Zurich, Łódź, an Warsaw. There was no Zionist congress in which they were not among the participants. In general, there was no important Jewish convention that he missed. In Vienna, he discovered the chairs from the private workroom of Dr. Herzl in Vienna. His father-in-law purchased them, salvaged them from their owners, and gave them as a present to the Herzl Room that is located next to the main Jewish National Fund office in Jerusalem. Today, they are found in the Herzl Room that was transferred to the offices of the Herzl mementos in Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Dr. Herzl was the choicest of his heart, the prince of his imagination, who ruled all the treasures of his soul. Nusenblat always repeated that, to this day, we do not know and value the full greatness, strength, and splendor of this giant, because this personage has not yet been researched and exposed in all its glory.

In Dąbrowa, he continued his travels and the editing of his Zionist writings. He also visited the cities of the area and lectured on Jewish topics. The Jews of Dąbrowa had already heard something about Dr. Nusenblat, and tried to collaborate with him in his cultural and Zionist work. In general, he was liked in the city, and his personality added color to the cultural life of the city and the area.

About one week before the outbreak of the war, Dr. Nusenblat, his wife, and family decided to leave Dąbrowa and go to the capital city. When the war broke out – so they thought – it would be better to live in a large city than to remain in their small town near the border of Germany. Thus, it fell to their lot to immediately suffer from the first bombardment of Warsaw, which lasted for almost three weeks. After the city was conquered by the Germans, they received a notice from their town that it was forbidden to return there, for the Gestapo was searching for the wealthy, renowned Mr. Nachman Gutman.

The family of seven lived in Warsaw off the money that they had brought with them from their home. However, it was their bad luck that they did not have much cash in their hands at the time of the outbreak of the war. Within a few months, they all suffered from want for the first time in their lives. Then – also for the first time – a heavy burden was placed on Tolo's shoulders. Tolo suffered greatly in those days, especially after his father-in-law Reb Nachman became ill. Now, seven people lived in a single room. Before the ghetto was set up, Tolo would visit the streets of the gentiles, go to those people who were his customers, collect loans owed to him, or attempt to receive loans. These sources virtually dried up after the ghetto was established. Finally, he received a communal position, but this did not solve the issue of livelihood. They continued to live a life of lack and pressure.

The Nusenblat family was removed from the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943, and taken to a labor camp at the borders of Poland – men separately and women separately. They were murdered there after several months – as was related by one of the survivors, Dr. Wdowinski, formerly one of the Revisionists in Warsaw, currently in New York[2]. Dr. Wdowinski was in the camp with Nusenblat and Nachman Gutman almost until their end.

Translator's footnotes

  1. This coffeehouse still exists. http://www.prueckel.at/ return
  2. See https://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%206497.pdf return

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