Rudolf Goldschmidt Sonneborn was born in
Writing his obituary in the New York Times on June 4th 1986, Wolfgang Saxon described Rudolf as a "“New York Industrialist, a longtime leader of the American Zionist movement and one of the most prominent fund-raisers for the young state of
“Mr. Sonneborn had a successful business career dealing with petrochemicals and specialty petroleum products. But he was better known for his friendships, going back to 1919, with such future Israeli leaders as David Ben-Gurion and Dr Chaim Weizman. Through them his name became prominently linked with the famous ship Exodus and other American efforts to send supplies and materiel to
These 44 ‘Letters Home’ (written between January and August, 1919) were presented to family and friends in New York on the occasion of Rudolf's 80th birthday - June 22, 1978. (Photo published 1972)
They are Rudolf’s personal account of his first trip to
This 'introduction' letter was written to Rudolf’s mother* by Henrietta Szold of the ‘Zionist Organization of America’ shortly before Rudolf's departure:
ZIONIST ORGANIZATION OF
Mrs. Sigmund B. Sonneborn
My dear Mrs Sonneborn
How curiously things come about. I was just going to write to you, on a different matter of course, when your letter about Elias Breeskin* was handed to me.
First as to Miss Dohme*. I shall be very glad to see Mr. Breeskin, and I am writing to him with this mail. I am not at all sure that I can be of any assistance, but I shall do my best, and I will write to you again when I have had my talk with him. I hope your confidence in me will be justified.
What I wanted to write to you about was Rudolf’s proposed trip. I was amazed to hear of his going and rejoiced. I can imagine that it must have required some degree of self-conquest on your part to give your consent, and yet I cannot believe that the struggle could have been a prolonged one, because, whether you are in sympathy with Zionism or not, you cannot but be thrilled by the romance of the great venture upon which we Jews are embarking. If all goes well at Versailles- and I refuse to believe that events will do anything but go well there- just think what it will mean in the days to come for your son to be able to say that he was witness with his own eyes of the beginnings of the restoration of his people- a people who are undertaking the unprecedented thing, gathering themselves together from the four quarters of the globe; learning to speak their language after two thousand years of forgetfulness; setting about the consistent development of a culture that has maintained itself in spite of adverse conditions; laying the foundations in short of a normal national life, human in its Jewishness and Jewish in its humanity after the abnormal living of generations upon generations.
I cannot conceal from you at the same time I am thinking of the effect Rudolf’s journey may have upon the young men of his own generation. He will be a propagandist through the act and through the influences which he is bound to bring back with him.
I saw Mr. Sonneborn this morning for a moment when he was here at our office. I am sorry that I could not have any sort of a talk with him and convey to him what he possibly knows, that Rudolf is going under the best possible auspices as the companion of Dr. Friedenwald, who will have associated with him so admirable a scholar and gentleman as Dr. Rubinow, the director of our Medical Unit.
Please give my love to your mother. I hope she is not fretting too much about Rudolf’s resolve.
In the hope of the New Zion. I am
*Camille Katherine Sonneborn nee Goldschmidt:- b.
*Breeskin, Elias:- talented young Russian Jewish immigrant violinist, protégé of the Sonneborn family.
*Dohme, Miss:- Baltimorean Christian fiancée of Elias Breeskin