Ivonne Meybohm

Contact: ivonne.meybohm@web.de 

Ivonne Meybohm (b. 1981) read History and Modern German Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin.

She worked on the Zionist Youth Movement before starting her dissertation on David Wolffsohn in 2007. She was a Leo Baeck Fellow in 2007 and 2008, during which she spent a lot of time in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. While writing her dissertation she was also funded by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, the Minerva Foundation and the Gerda Henkel Stiftung. She finished her piece on David Wolffsohn in 2011 and published it in 2013 with Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht. In 2012-2013 she worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg on a project about the sports clubs of the Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten. Since February 2013 she has been the project coordinator of 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.


David Wolffsohn (1850s – 1914) was Theodor Herzl’s closest assistant and succeeded him as president of the World Zionist Organization in 1905. Using Wolffsohn as an example, this study shows how the World Zionist Organization changed from a financially and politically uninfluential and loose organization with much infighting to a historically powerful actor.

The study does not present a classical biography, but rather the interwoven history of a person and an institution. By combining the methodological approaches of the new cultural history with social-, political and economic history, the study examines both the person and the institution. The multifaceted perspective also covers Wolffsohns network, including his colleagues, supporters, and opponents. It contextualizes the Zionist organization within the framework of other contemporaneous national movements as well as international emancipation movements, such as the social democratic and international women’s movements.

In addition to domestic and foreign politics, this study highlights the Zionist commercial politics. Just as recent scholarship has ignored the life and work of Wolffsohn, the World Zionist Organization’s commercial politics have also remained unexplored.

This biography challenges earlier scholarship on Zionism, which mostly present a teleological reading of Zionist history based on the successful founding of the state of Israel in 1948. In contrast, using the example of Wolffsohn’s biography, it is possible to show that the long range success of this extraordinary project could not be foreseen in the beginning.