Weizmann's Initial Reaction to Manchester Zionism 

Many years after his time in Manchester, Weizmann set down in his memoirs Trial and Error (1949) how he remembered the city.

"With such men about me - and I have described just a few of them - how could I do otherwise than develop a deep attachment to the University? It is true that I suffered one deep disappointment in the course of my academic career: I never got my full professorship.  But the disappointment has not dimmed my affection for Manchester, and the years I spent there make up one of the brightest and warmest periods in my recollection. Nor was it the university alone. Perhaps it is not easy for a stranger to get to know Manchester, but when my wife and I did get to know it, we realised that my almost random choice of this provincial city had been an inspired one. Manchester boasted - as so many cities do, in their own way - that "what Manchester thinks today, England thinks tomorrow." In this case, the boast was not empty. Apart from its great university, Manchester was a true metropolis of culture. It had in those days the Horniman Repertory Theatre, a pioneer in its time; it had, and still has, the Halle Concerts, deservedly famous in the world of music, and the Manchester Guardian, as distinguished a newspaper as is to be found anywhere. The municipality was a model of liberalism and intelligence. All in all, we found ourselves at one of the centres of intellectual activity. It was in Manchester that my wife and I became British subjects. I only regret that my wondering life forced me, after twelve years of residence there, to break my contract with Manchester so completely."

A few of his letters from the period better reflect his ambivalent attitude towards Manchester and Manchester Jewry. Upon his arrival, he had been positive.

"The town is very interesting. The institute is marvellous, the laboratories enormous, the libraries beautiful, both the municipal ones and at the institute."

(Weizmann - fiancé Vera, 31 July 1904)

As time went on, however, he became less enthusiastic.

"Each morning I cross the working-class district of Manchester and observe the faces of workers gathering at the factory gates, monster that it is, sapping at their vitality all day long. What infinitely deep life-drama can be read on those emancipated, pale faces! I see men going through life grinding their teeth, and I sense that they are right, incontrovertibly! How horrifying!"

(Weizmann - fiancé Vera, 25 March 1905)

And as regards the Zionists he found in Manchester, he was certainly not impressed.

"I must tell you that conditions here are frightful, in fact beyond description. You are dealing with the dregs of Russian Jewry, a dull ignorant crowd that knows nothing of such issues as Zionism… there is no press to speak of: the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish World are mean little pages… and the plebeian press is even worse…"

(Weizmann - Menahem Ussishkin, 29 March 1905)

"Materialist, commercial England has succeeded in burning out everything exulted in our Jews, so that the creation of a Jewish intelligentsia here has become an impossible task."

(Weizmann - fiancé Vera, 14 April 1905)

"The Cheethamites [MZA members] are a mob, a rabble of the down-trodden, and those outside who consider themselves the betters of ‘our poor ghetto brethren’ are in fact worse. Their Zionism is empty, a mere amusement. Obliged as I am to work in such a milieu after being used to something entirely different, it is little wonder that occasionally I want to weep."

(Weizmann - fiancé Vera, 9 September 1905)


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IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: 57 Birchfield Road (Patricia Cummings) Full reference: Sources.