A 70-year-old mystery surrounding the re-interment of Theodor Herzl’s remains in Jerusalem was solved a few weeks ago. The pall that draped Herzl’s coffin mysteriously vanished sometime after the 1949 ceremony and was not found since.

The cloth was prepared in Vienna in 1936 by architect Oscar Strand and artist Arthur Weisz, as plans were made to move Herzl’s remains to what was then British-controlled Palestine. The cloth was then shipped to Jerusalem. When World War II broke out, those plans were put on hold. Tragically, Weisz was murdered in Auschwitz.

Upon the establishment of the State of Israel, one of David Ben-Gurion’s first decisions was to fulfill Herzl’s wishes and bring his remains to Israel for re-interment, and the cloth was used to cover the coffin. The cloth (parochet) was removed in the ceremony and was entrusted in the hands of the Jewish National Fund, but it mysteriously vanished. Years of efforts to locate it bore no fruit. After 70 years, a decision was made to replicate it. In July 2019, during Herzl’s annual memorial ceremony, the replica was publicly presented. But then, a month later, the story took an unexpected twist: the original cloth was found in a JNF warehouse.
Weisz’s son, Yitzhak Weisz, is author of the book Herzl – A New Reading, originally written in French and translated into Hebrew and English. Weisz tells the Magazine: “I spent years in the Zionist Archives doing research for my book, and all this time I had no idea that my father was involved with Herzl in any way.” After submitting the book for publication, Weisz wondered into the Book Gallery, a rare book and print store in Jerusalem, where he saw a poster of the front page of the August 17, 1949, issue of Haaretz, announcing the reburial of Herzl’s remains in Israel. The caption of a photo showing the cloth draping the coffin caught his attention and, stupefied, he realized that the cloth had been prepared already in 1936. This led Weisz right back to the Zionist Archives, and after searching through hundreds of pages, he discovered that it was indeed his father who crafted the cloth.
“I feel as if my father covered the body of Herzl, and I in my book shed true light on the ideas of Herzl’s that had been so falsified,” Weisz reflects.

This month’s astonishing reappearance of the original cloth was a startling experience for Weisz, who was three years old when his father was taken to Auschwitz.

“I feel that I had the opportunity to do the mitzvah of kibud av (respect one’s father) and also grant him immortality in some way: now, the thousands of people who read my book and contemplate this cloth will know that one of those six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust was a Jew named Arthur Weisz.”