Nathan Birnbaum

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Nathan Birnbaum is also the birth name of comedian George Burns.

Nathan Birnbaum

Nathan Birnbaum (Hebrew: נתן בירנבוים‎; pseudonyms: "Mathias Acher", "Dr. N. Birner", "Mathias Palme", "Anton Skart", "Theodor Schwarz", and "Pantarhei") (16 May 1864 – 2 April 1937) was an Austrian writer and journalist, Jewish thinker and nationalist.[1][2] His life had three main phases, representing a progression in his thinking: a Zionist phase (ca. 1883 – ca. 1900); a Jewish cultural autonomy phase (ca. 1900 – ca. 1914) which included the promotion of the Yiddish language; and religious phase (ca. 1914–1937), in which he also continued to promote Yiddish.

He married Rosa Korngut (1869 – 1934) and they had three sons: Solomon (Salomo) Birnbaum (1891–1989), Menachem Birnbaum (1893–1944), and Uriel Birnbaum (1894–1956).


Nathan Birnbaum was born into an Eastern European Jewish family in Vienna.[citation needed] He studied law, philosophy and Near Eastern studies at the University of Vienna from 1882 to 1886. In 1883, at the age of 19, he founded Kadimah, the first Jewish (Zionist) student association in Vienna, many years before Theodor Herzl became the leading spokesman of the Zionist movement. While still a student, he founded and published the periodical Selbstemanzipation! ("Self-Emancipation!" (1885–1894, with some interruptions, renamed 1894 "Juedische Volkszeitung"), often written in large part by Birnbaum himself. In it he coined the terms "Zionistic", "Zionist", "Zionism" (1890), and "political Zionism" (1892).[3]

Birnbaum played a prominent part in the First Zionist Congress (1897) where he was elected Secretary-General of the Zionist Organization. He was associated with and was one of the most important representatives of the cultural, rather than political, side of Zionism. However, he left the Zionist Organization not long after the Congress. He was unhappy with its negative view of Diaspora Jewry and the transformation of the Zionist ideals into a party machine.

His next phase was to advocate Jewish cultural autonomy, concentrating in particular on the Jews of eastern Europe. He advocated that the Jews be recognized as a people among the other peoples of the Austrian Empire, with Yiddish as their official language. To this end he ran (in Buczacz, eastern Galicia) on behalf of the Jews (and with the support of the local Ukrainians) as candidate for the Austrian parliament. Although gaining a majority of the votes, his election was thwarted by corruption of the electoral process by the local Polish faction.[4]

He was chief convenor of the Conference for the Yiddish Language held in Czernowitz, August 30 – September 3, 1908. This was the first Yiddish language conference ever to take place.

From about 1912 onwards, Birnbaum became more and more interested in Orthodox Judaism, and became a fully observant Orthodox Jew in about 1916. He continued particularly to act as advocate for the Jews of eastern Europe and the Yiddish language. From 1919 to 1922 he was General Secretary of the Agudas Yisroel, a widely spread and influential Orthodox Jewish organization. He founded the society of the "Olim" (Hebrew for the "Ascenders"), a society with a specific program of action dedicated to the spiritual ascent of the Jewish people.

He continued to write and lecture. His most well-known publication of this period of his life was "Gottes Volk", 1918 (German) - "God's Folk", 1921 (Yiddish)—translated into Hebrew as "Am Hashem" (1948), and translated into English under the title "Confession" (1946, slightly abridged).

In 1933, at the time of the Nazi rise to power, Birnbaum and his wife, together with their son Menachem (an artist) and family, who at that time were all living in Berlin, fled to the Netherlands. (Menachem and his family were later murdered by the Nazis). At the same time, their son Solomon (Professor of Yiddish and Hebrew paleography) and family fled from Hamburg to England. Their other son Uriel (artist and poet) and family fled from Vienna to the Netherlands in 1939.

Nathan Birnbaum died in Scheveningen in 1937 after a period of severe illness.


  • Selbstemanzipation! Periodical. Vienna, 1885-1894. (ed., numerous articles). See above in text.
  • Die jüdische Moderne; (Schulze) Leipzig, 1896,
  • Ausgewählte Schriften zur jüdischen Frage, 2 Bände, 1910.
  • Den Ostjuden Ihr Recht!; (Löwit) Vienna, 1915,
  • Gottes Volk; (Löwit) Vienna, 1918,
  • Um die Ewigkeit. Jüdische Essays; (Welt) Berlin, 1920,
  • Im Dienste der Verheissung, Frankfurt 1927.
  • Der Aufstieg (periodical); Berlin and Vienna, Jan. 1930 - Dec. 1932.
  • Solomon A. Birnbaum (ed): The Bridge, London, 1956.
  • Confession, New York, 1946. Translation (abridged) of Gottes Volk.
  • From Freethinker to Believer in: Lucy Dawidowicz: The Golden Tradition, New York, 1967. Translation of Vom Freigeist zum Glaubigen, Zürich, 1919.
  • Shloimy Birnboim (ed) Ais Laasys - Giklibene Ksuvim fun Nusn Birnboim, Lodz, 1939. (Yiddish). Selected essays.
  • Die Freistatt (periodical). Eschweiler, 1913-1914. Numerous articles.
  • An'iberblik iber maan lebn in: Orlean, Y.L. and Hasofer, N. (eds):Yubileyum Bukh zum zektsiktn Giburtstug fun Dr. Nusn Birnboim. Yeshurun, Warsaw, 1925. Yiddish.

See also[edit]


This article draws heavily on the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia (Retrieved 05:22, Feb 12, 2005 (UTC)). That, in turn, gives the following references:

  • Michael Kühntopf-Gentz, Nathan Birnbaum. Biographie; Diss. Tübingen 1990. (In German.)
  • Angelika M. Hausenbichl, Nathan Birnbaum. Seine Bemühungen um das jüdische Theater und die jüdische Kultur; Dipl.Arb. Wien 2001. (In German.)
  • dies., Wirklich nur Politiker?; in: David. Jüdische Kulturzeitschrift 54, Wien (09/2002). (In German.)
  • Joshua A. Fishman, Ideology, Society and Language. The Oddysey of Nathan Birnbaum; Ann Arbor (Karoma Publ.) 1987. (In English.)
  • Solomon Birnbaum, Nathan Birnbaum; in: Leo Jung (ed.), Men of the Spirit, New York (Kymson Publ.) 1964. (In English.)
  • S. A. Birnbaum, Nathan Birnbaum and National Autonomy; in: Josef Fraenkel (ed.), The Jews of Austria, London 1967, 1970. (In English+German.)


An essay on Nathan Birnbaum's activities within Orthodox Judaism - including information on the Olim ("Ascenders") - may be found at: "Der Aufstieg": Dr. Nathan Birnbaum ZT"L, Ascent and Agudah By Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer.

  • Jess Olson: Nation, Peoplehood and Religion in the Life and Thought of Nathan Birnbaum, Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, USA, 2006.
  • Jess Olson: Nathan Birnbaum and Tuvia Horowitz in: Jewish History 17, (pp 1–29), 2003.
  • Birnbaum, Nathan in: Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 3, (pp. 714–716), 2nd. edn, Thomson/Gale, 2007. (also 1st edn., vol. 3, pp. 1040–1042, 1971).
  • Shanes, Joshua: Birnbaum, Nathan in: The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, Vol. I, (pp 186–187), New Haven, 2008.
  • Kaplan, A.E. & Landau, M. (eds): Vom Sinn des Judentums, Frankfurt/M. 1925.
  • Orlean, Y.L. and Hasofer, N. (eds):Yubileyum Bukh zum zektsiktn Giburtstug fun Dr. Nusn Birnboim. Yeshurun, Warsaw, 1925. Yiddish.
  • Wistrich, R.S.: The Metamorphosis of Nathan Birnbaum in: The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph, (1990).
  • Wistrich, R.: The Strange Odyssey of Nathan Birnbaum in: Laboratory for World Destruction.Germans and Jews in Central Europe, Lincoln, Neb./Jerusalem, 2007.


  1. ^ Bridger, David (1962). The New Jewish Encyclopedia. New York, Behrman House. ISBN 978-0-87441-120-1. 
  2. ^ The New Jewish Encyclopedia. "The Religion Book:Zionism". 
  3. ^ Alex Bein, Herzl Year Book vol. II, p. 6, New York, 1959
  4. ^ Fishman, Joshua A. (1987). Ideology, Society & Language: The Odyssey of Nathan Birnbaum. Ann Arbor, MI: Karoma Publishers Inc. pp. 30–31. 

External links[edit]

  • The personal papers of Nathan Birnbaum are kept at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. The notation of the record group is A188.