Rev. William Henry Hechler died on January 30, 1931. On February 2, 2011, eighty years and three days following his demise, a tombstone was dedicated and placed at his grave, which had previously been unmarked. The inscription below his name reads:A Lover of God, His Word And His Ancient People. Tireless Adversary of Anti-Semitism Friend and Counsellor of Theodore Herzl
Theodore Herzl could not have imagined that, within weeks of publishing his ground-breaking pamphlet, The Jewish State, his work would find an enthusiastic supporter from a Christian chaplain. In 1896, long before the internet afford the luxury of putting anyone’s work before the public eye, were it not divinely ordained, it is difficult to imagine that a singular man, a Gentile, who himself had published The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine according to the Prophecy, would be rummaging through book stalls in Vienna and end up with Herzl’s pamphlet in his hands.
Even if it does not seem to be a miracle to us, it did to William Henry Hechler. In his own work, published just a couple of years earlier, Hechler wrote that the days of Jewish salvation would begin around 1897 and that, “It is the duty of every Christian to love the Jews.” Herzl’s publication was unpopular with many Jews for political reasons. Hechler’s work was rejected by Christians who had never seriously studied the Prophets.
Individually, it is likely that their singular works might have drifted into oblivion. Both men had passion and wisdom. Herzl had a vision. William Henry Hechler had something else. He had connections.
Hechler was determined to share what he had deduced from reading Biblical prophecy, he also saw Herzl’s The Jewish State as affirmation of his reasoning. He reached out to Herzl and, ultimately, did what he could to engage his contacts in the Germany hierarchy to support Herzl’s Zionist proposition. It would be a mistake to say that their combined efforts opened the door to the establishment of the Jewish State, but it might be accurate to say that it would not have happened without them. There was widespread resistance to both their vision and their efforts, but they laid a foundation upon which others would build.
At the dedication of the headstone, Jerry Klinger, the president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, said, “It has long been recognized that, without Hechler’s intercession and support, Herzl may have simply remained an obscure, eccentric Viennese journalism. The course of Zionism, and possibly the very founding of the modern State of Israel, may not have been successful.”
Israeli Ambassador, Ron Prosor, also remarked, “The support he gave to Theodor Herzl is symbolic of the understanding that is found today among our Christian friends, of the eternal connections that exists between the Jewish People and Eretz Yisrael.”
In the annals of history, it may be fitting to say that William Henry Hechler was the very first Friend of Zion.