In October 1903, shortly before Theodor Herzl’s early death, a Jew from Austria-Hungary, Edmund Eisler, sent the father of modern Zionism a letter. In it, he compared Herzl’s vision of a Jewish State to his own ideas, especially as articulated in his utopian novel Ein Zukunftsbild: Ein romantisches Gemälde, which he had published anonymously nearly twenty years earlier in 1885. Any response Herzl may have penned to Eisler has been lost to history and is not to be found in his archives. Eisler’s utopian work, however, survives, both in Y. Tolkes’s 1954 Hebrew translationFound in Gezel Kressel, ed. by Ḥezyone medinah: yalḳuṭ uṭopiyot Tsiyoniyot//Visions of a State: Anthology of Zionist Utopias, Tel Aviv 1954, 27–98. and in a typed copy of the original German publication that can be found in Nathan M. Gelber’s papers held in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem.The manuscript is held in the Nathan M. Gelber Private Collection at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP), P83-I-154.
Ein Zukunftsbild is short, totaling a mere 95 pages in the German original. In this novel, the reader discovers the germs of ideas that would become recognizable key ideas for the nascent Zionist movement in the decades following its publication. These ideas include not only a return to Palestine, but also a vision for a new societal order that privileges peace, tolerance, and fairer economic systems intended to repair the faults in contemporary European societies. However, to focus on Eisler’s prose as a mere vehicle for proto-Zionist talking points that are articulated in characters’ lengthy monologues misses the literary value of this idiosyncratic text. For the novel contains more than mere ideas.
In Ein Zukunftsbild, Eisler used fiction to imagine a whole world unfolding across a narrative arc. It begins in the aftermath of a pogrom in an unnamed European land. The main character, Abner, founds a movement that advocates for Jewish return to Palestine. Within a decade, he gains sufficient support from a large following of Jews and non-Jewish politicians to lead a large migration back to Palestine, where his followers install him as king and he goes about implementing his vision for a new society.