Herzl memorabilia from N.J. collector at Yeshiva Museum

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NEW YORK — If you're looking for a pair of sugar tongs with Theodor Herzl's picture on them, Manfred Anson is your man. The Bergenfield, N.J., resident is a collector of Herzl memorabilia, and to date he has more than 1,000 items, all having to do with the founder of modern Zionism. Most of his collection, sugar tongs included, is on display at Yeshiva University Museum.

Anson has been collecting Herzl memorabilia for more than 30 years, and it all began with some medals.

Anson was 11 when the Nazis came to power in his native Germany. When he was 14, his parents enrolled him in a Jewish agricultural college that trained prospective immigrants for Palestine.

His first contact with Herzl was at age 15, when he read "Der Judenstaat," the book Herzl wrote in German outlining the need for a Jewish state. But at that age, Anson said, the book did not make much of an impression.

Anson was lucky enough to escape to Australia in 1940, where he stayed until 1963. His sister, who survived the war and settled in New Jersey, convinced him to come to the United States. (His parents survived the war as well, but they died before his arrival here. His brother was killed in a concentration camp.)

In 1961, Anson had won a trip to Israel in a raffle. He was impressed with what he saw, but said he could not have stayed there. It was after his immigration to the United States that he began collecting medals. From hounding antique shows and shops, Anson noticed that Herzl appeared on more medals than did most well-known Jews. After Herzl's death, his image, displayed in the homes of many Eastern European Jews, became a symbol for the Jewish yearning to return to Zion.

Anson began collecting the medals first, and then his collection evolved into coins, plaques and other memorabilia.

Slowly, Anson became more interested in Herzl the man and began collecting his personal items. One of the highlights of his collection is an original copy of "Der Judenstaat" signed by Herzl. Anson bought it at an auction.

Herzl became devoted to the Zionist cause after he covered the 1894 trial in France of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, accused and convicted of treason. Because the anti-Semitic rhetoric surrounding the trial had such a major impact on Herzl, Anson sought out the satirical postcards and anti-Jewish propaganda of the time.

Among other documents Anson owns are a handwritten Herzl letter from the time of the First Zionist Congress, dated Aug. 29, 1897, and copies of Herzl's will. He changed his will several times, Anson explained, and in one of the copies he requests to be buried in a metal coffin so that his remains will be easily transferable to Israel once it becomes a state.

With each Zionist Congress, commemorative postcards were issued, many by famous artists. Anson, who has quite a number, said they are among the rarest of Herzl memorabilia, as well as the most expensive. And then there are the more obscure items, like the sugar tongs, a watch with Herzl's face in the center of the dial, Shabbat candles and a pipe stand. Anson found many of these items in New York and in Israel.

Anson also has two signs for Herzl Street, one from a street in Brooklyn and the other from Israel. In order to get them, he collaborated with his friend Paul Federbush, who lived in Bayside, N.Y., but now lives in Israel. He said Federbush is the only other Herzl collector whose collection rivals his. Calling theirs a "friendly rivalry," Anson said that both men wanted street signs, knowing that a street named after Herzl is in every Israeli city. But neither wanted to commit an act of vandalism by stealing one. So Federbush went to a municipal office in Israel and explained that he and his collector friend would like official street signs, and two were specially made for them.

"We always help each other that way," Anson said. "If one of us finds something we have already, we let the other know."

Once Anson established himself as a collector of Herzl, instead of having to constantly call dealers to see if they came across anything new, the dealers began to call him. Most of the postcards come from various dealers, while plaques and other items bearing Herzl's image usually are found in antique stores or even at flea markets.

Also included are some more modern artifacts, including books, posters commemorating various Zionist anniversaries, and an issue of a 1996 Jewish Standard, in which Anson wrote an article about the 100th anniversary of "Der Judenstaat."

Anson's collection is worth seeing for anyone who is interested not only in Herzl himself but in the founding of Israel, since the two are so intertwined. For instance, Anson's collection includes a 1948 front page of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, proclaiming statehood.

In the introductory statement to the exhibit, Anson wrote, "To sum up, I have been fortunate to enjoy the indulgence of my wife and children who may have had to go without a few things important to them because Herzl was so important to me. The romance of collecting Herzl over the past 30 years has been one of the more rewarding things I have done for myself, my family, and hopefully, for the Zionist cause."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."