T O P I C
THE JEWS OF AUSTRIA
The history of the Jews in Austria probably begins with an exodus of Jews from Palestine under Roman occupation. Over the course of many centuries, the political status of the community rose and fell many times. Sometimes the Jewish community prospered and enjoyed political equality at other times it suffered pogroms, deportations, and antisemitism.
For example they were expelled in 1669/70 and allowed to return ten years later when individuals were granted permission to resettle. The end of the Catholic-Protestant wars saw an improvement in Jewish conditions. The "Toleranzpatente" of Emperor Joseph II in the 1780’s mark the first formal basis for basic religious freedom of the one and a half million Jews in the Hapsburg Empire.
The "Pillersdorf constitution" of 1848 granted full civil rights and religious freedom to all religious groups of the Empire. Many rights were taken back after the revolution was crushed and Franz Joseph I became the new Emperor.
Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist movement in Vienna while a supporter of the 19th century's increasing nationalism when progressive nationalists developed antisemitism The end of WW1 saw thousands of unemployed former soldiers in Vienna looking for scapegoats (Adolf Hitler was then working as an "artist" in Vienna).
Many upper-class Jews intermarried in the 19th century, so "multiplying" the number of people who were later claimed to be Jewish. At the Anschluss in 1936, there were 200,000 Jews in Austria (180,000 in Vienna) later classified as Jewish according to the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi-Germany.
Large-scale emigration started in 1938. Mocking on the streets and attacks became common in Vienna and during the pogroms of November 1938 ("Reichskristallnacht"). 27 Jews were killed and 6,500 arrested, half of whom were deported to concentration camps.
In 1938, there were 91,000 Jews left classified as "fully Jewish", 22,000 in other categories. From 1940 onwards most were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp or other camps, mostly in Poland.
After the war, the Jewish community in Austria was rebuilt, although it was much smaller. In the 1950s an immigration wave from the Soviet Union came to Austria. This was increased after the fall of the Iron Curtain, The current Austrian Jewish population is around 12,000–15,000—most of them living in Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg. About 800 of them are Holocaust survivors who lived in Austria before 1938 and about 1500 of them are immigrants from countries from the former Soviet Union.
The Memorial for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Vienna commemorates 60,000 to 70,000 Austrian Jews who were in Nazi camps. There are communities in Salzburg, Vienna and some other cities.
The Stadttempel synagogue constructed between 1824 and 1826 was built into a block of houses and hidden from plain view of the street, because of an edict by Emperor Joseph II that only Roman Catholic places of worship were allowed to be built with facades fronting directly onto public streets. This edict saved the synagogue from total destruction during the Kristallnacht of November 1938, since it could not be destroyed without setting on fire the buildings to which it was attached. It was the only synagogue in the city to survive World War II, as the Nazis destroyed all of the other 93 synagogues and Jewish prayer-houses in Vienna. It has since been declared a historic monument and is now the main synagogue in Vienna. There are about 7,000 Jews in Vienna.
In the 1981 Vienna synagogue attack, two people from a bar mitzvah ceremony at the synagogue were murdered and thirty injured when Palestinian Arab terrorists attacked it with machine guns and hand grenades.
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THE MIDDLE AGES
The history of the Jews in Austria probably begins with an exodus of Jews from Palestine under Roman occupation. Over the course of many centuries, the political status of the community rose and fell many times: during certain periods, the Jewish community prospered and enjoyed political equality, and during other periods it suffered pogroms, deportations, and antisemitism. After the Holocaust the Jewish community in Austria was rebuilt, although it was much smaller. In the 1950s an immigration wave from the Soviet Union moved to Austria. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, there has been a renewed influx of Jewish people from the former Soviet Union. The current Austrian Jewish population is around 12,000–15,000—most of them living in Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg. About 800 of them are Holocaust survivors who lived in Austria before 1938 and about 1500 of them are immigrants from countries from the former Soviet Union.
Jews have been in Austria since at least the 3rd century AD. In 2008 a team of archeologists discovered a third-century CE amulet in the form of a gold scroll with the words of the Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one) inscribed on it in the grave of a Jewish infant in Halbturn. It is considered to be the earliest surviving evidence of a Jewish presence in what is now Austria. It is hypothesized that the first Jews immigrated to Austria following the Roman legions after the Roman occupation of Israel. It is theorized that the Roman legions who participated in the occupation and came back after the First Jewish–Roman War brought back Jewish prisoners, though this presumption has no concrete evidence.
THE MIDDLE AGES
A document from the 10th century that determined rights of equality between the Jewish and Christian merchants in Danube implies a Jewish population in Vienna at this point, though again, there is no concrete proof. The existence of a Jewish community in the area is only known for sure after the start of the 12th century, when two synagogues were created. In the same century, the Jewish settlement in Vienna increased with the absorption of Jewish settlers from Bavaria and from the Rhineland.
At the start of the 13th century, the Jewish community began to flourish. One of the main reasons for the prosperity was the recognition by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor that the Jews were a separate ethnic and religious group, and were not bound to the laws that targeted the Christian population. Following this assumption, in July 1244, the emperor published a bill of rights for Jews, which encouraged them to work in the money lending business, encouraged the immigration of additional Jews to the area, and promised protection and autonomous rights, such as the right to judge themselves and the right to collect taxes. This bill of rights affected other kingdoms in Europe such as Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Silesia and Bohemia, which had a high concentrations of Jews.
During this period, the Jewish population mainly dealt with commerce and the collection of taxes and also gained key positions in many other aspects of life in Austria. In 1204, the first documented synagogue in Austria was constructed. In addition, Jews went through a period of religious prosperity and a group of notable rabbis settled in Vienna and were later referred to as "the wise men of Vienna". The group established a beth midrash and it was considered to be the largest Talmudic school in Europe during that period.
The prosperity of the Jewish community caused increased jealousy from the Christian population and hostility from the church. In 1282, when the area became controlled by the Catholic House of Habsburg, Austria stopped being a religious center for the Jews.
Jews were largely hated because they acted as tax collectors and moneylenders. The earliest evidence of Jews collecting taxes appears in a document from 1320. During the same time, riots occurred against the Jews in the area. The Jewish population continued to decline in middle of the 14th century and at the start of the 15th century during the regime of Albert the Third and Leopold III. This period was characterized in the cancellations of many debts that would have been collected by Jews, the confiscation of Jewish assets, and the creation of economic limitations against them.
In middle of the 15th century, following the establishment of the anti-Catholic movement of Jan Hus in Bohemia, the condition of the Jewish population worsened as a result of accusations that the movement was associated with the Jewish community. In 1420, the status of the Jewish community hit a low point when a Jew from Upper Austria was charged with the desecration of the sacramental bread. This led Albert V to order the imprisonment of all of the Jews in Austria. Two hundred ten Jews were burnt alive in public and the rest were deported from Austria, leaving their belongings behind. In 1469, the deportation order was canceled by Frederick the Third, who was known for his good relationship with the Jews and was even referred to at times as the "King of the Jews". He allowed Jews to return and settle in all the cities of Styria and Carinthia. Under his regime, the Jews gained a short period of peace (between 1440 and 1493).
The relative period of peace did not last long, and with the start of the regime of Ferdinand the First in 1556, though he also opposed the persecution of the Jews, he levied excessive taxes and ordered them to wear a mark of disgrace. Between 1564 and 1619, in the period of the regimes of Maximilian the second, Rudolf the Second and Matthias, the fanaticism of the Society of Jesus prevailed and the condition of the Jews worsened even more. Later on, during the regime of Ferdinand the Second in Austria, which in spite of that like his grandfather he opposed the persecution of the Jews and even permitted constructing a synagogue, he demanded a huge amount of tax from the Jewish population.
The nadir of the Jewish community in Austria arrived during the period of the regime of Leopold the First, a period in which Jews were persecuted frequently and were deported from different areas, including a deportation from Vienna in 1670, but gradually returned after several years. Jews also had to bear different laws—one of which permitted only first-born children to marry, in order to stop the increase of the Jewish population. Although Leopold the First treated the Jewish population severely, he had Samson Wertheimer, a Jewish economic advisor, working for him.
A Sabbateans movement, which was established during the same period of time, also reached the Jewish community in Austria, especially due to the rough condition of the Jews there, and many of them immigrated to the land of Israel in the footsteps of Sabbatai Zevi.
After the period of the religious fanaticism towards the Jewish population of the region, a period of relative tolerance began towards the Jewish population which was less noticeable during the reign of Maria Theresa of Austria, and its peak was during the reign of Franz Joseph I of Austria, which was very liked by the Jewish population.
Upon the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772, the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, or simply "Galicia", became the largest, most populous, and northernmost province of the Austrian Empire. As a result of this, many Jews were added to the Austrian Empire and the empress, Maria Theresa, quickly legislated different laws aimed at regulating their rights and canceled Jewish autonomy in order to put the authority over the Jews in her hands instead.
Although the empress was known for her hatred of Jews, several Jews did work for her at her court. The empress made it mandatory that the Jewish population would start going to the general elementary schools, and in addition permitted them to join universities. Jewish schools did not exist yet during that time.
After Maria Theresa's death in 1780, her son Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor succeeded her and started working on the integration of the Jewish population into Austrian society. The emperor determined that they would be obligated to enlist to the army, and established governmental schools for the Jewish population. The 1782 Edict of Tolerance canceled different limitations that had been placed upon the Jewish population previously, such as the restriction to live only in predetermined locations and the limitation to certain professions. They were now allowed to establish factories, hire Christian servants and study at higher education institutions, but all this only on the condition that Jews would be obligated to attend school, that they would use German only in the official documents instead of Hebrew and Yiddish, that dorsal tax would be forbidden, that the trials held within the community would be condensed, and that those who would not get an education would not be able to marry before the age of 25. The emperor also declared that the Jewish population would establish Jewish schools for their children, but they opposed that because he forbade them organizing within the community and establishing public institutions. In the aftermath of different resistances, also from the Jewish party, which opposed the many conditions held upon them, and also from the Christian party, which opposed many of the rights given to the Jewish population, the decree was not fully implemented.
Upon his death in 1790, Joseph II was succeeded by his brother, Leopold II. After only two years of his reign, he died and was succeeded by his son Francis II, who continued working on the integration of the Jewish population into the wider Austrian society, but he was more moderate than his uncle. In 1812, a Jewish Sunday school was opened in Vienna. During the same period of time a number of limitations were placed on the Jewish population, such as the obligation to study in Christian schools and to pray in German.
Between 1848 and 1938, the Jewish Austrian population enjoyed a period of prosperity beginning with the start of regime of Franz Joseph I of Austria as the Emperor of the Austria–Hungary Empire, and dissolved gradually after the death of the emperor up to the annexation of Austria to Germany by the Nazis, a process that lead to the start of the Holocaust in Austria.
Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria bestowed on the Jewish population equal rights, saying "the civil rights and the country's policy is not contingent in the people's religion". The emperor was well liked by the Jewish population, which, as a token of appreciation, wrote prayers and songs about him that were printed in Jewish prayer books. In 1849 the emperor canceled the prohibition against the Jewish population organizing within the community, and in 1852 new regulations of the Jewish community were set. In 1867 the Jewish population formally received full equal rights.
In 1869 the emperor visited Jerusalem and was greeted in great admiration by the Jewish population there. The emperor established a fund aimed at financing the establishment of Jewish institutions and in addition established the Talmudic school for rabbis in Budapest. During the 1890s several Jews were elected to the Austrian parliament.
During the regime of Franz Joseph and after, Austria's Jewish population contributed greatly to Austrian culture despite their small percentage in the population. Contributions came from Jewish lawyers, journalists (among them Theodor Herzl), authors, playwrights, poets, doctors, bankers, businessmen and artists. Vienna became a cultural Jewish center, and became a center of education, culture and Zionism. Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, studied in the University of Vienna, and was the editor of the feuilleton of the Neue Freie Presse, a very influential newspaper at that time. Another Jew, Felix Salten, succeeded Herzl as the editor of the feuilleton.
Other notable influential Jews contributing greatly to Austrian culture included composers Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, and the authors Stefan Zweig, Arthur Schnitzler, Karl Kraus, Elias Canetti, Joseph Roth, Vicki Baum and the doctors Sigmund Freud, Viktor Frankl and Alfred Adler, the philosophers Martin Buber, Karl Popper, and many others.
The prosperity period also affected the sports field: the Jewish sports club Hakoah Vienna was established in 1909 and excelled in football, swimming and athletics.
With Jewish prosperity and equality, several Jewish scholars converted to Christianity in a desire to assimilate into Austrian society. Among them were Karl Kraus and Otto Weininger.
During this period, Vienna elected an antisemitic mayor, Karl Lueger. The emperor, Franz Joseph, was opposed to the appointment, but after Lueger was elected three consecutive times, the emperor was compelled to accept his election according to the regulations. During the period of his authority Lueger removed Jews from positions in the city administration and forbade them from working in the factories located in Vienna until his death in 1910.
The intertwining of the Jewish population and the attitude of the emperor towards them could also be seen in of the general state of the empire. From the middle of the 19th century there started to be a lot of pressures from the different nationals living in multinational House of Habsburg empire: the national minorities (such as the Hungarians, Czechs and Croatians) began demanding more and more collective rights; among German speakers, many started feeling more connected to Germany, which was strengthening. Under these circumstances, the Jewish population was especially notable for their loyalty to the empire and their admiration of the emperor.
Circa 1918, about 300,000 Jews in Austria were scattered in 33 different settlements. Most of them (about 200,000) lived in the capital city of Vienna.
The history of Austria during the First Republic was strongly influenced by Jews. Many of the leading heads of the Social Democratic Party of Austria and especially the leaders of the Austromarxism were assimilated Jews, for example Victor Adler, Otto Bauer, Gustav Eckstein, Julius Deutsch and also the reformer of the school system in Vienna, Hugo Breitner. Due to the Social Democratic Party being the only party in Austria that accepted Jews as members and also in leading positions, several Jewish parties that were founded after 1918 in Vienna, where about 10% of the population was Jewish, had no chance for gaining bigger parts of the Jewish population. Districts with high Jewish population rates, such as Leopoldstadt, the only districts where Jews formed about the half of the population, and the neighbouring districts Alsergrund and Brigittenau, where up to a third of the population was Jewish, had usually higher percentage rates of voters for the social democratic party than classical "worker"-districts.
Also the cultural contribution of Jews reached its peak. Many famous writers, film and theatre directors (for example Max Reinhardt, Fritz Lang, Richard Oswald, Fred Zinnemann and Otto Preminger) actors (i.e. Peter Lorre, Paul Muni) and producers (i.e. Jacob Fleck, Oscar Pilzer, Arnold Pressburger), architects and set designers (i.e. Artur Berger, Harry Horner, Oskar Strnad, Ernst Deutsch-Dryden), comedians (Kabarett artists, for example: Heinrich Eisenbach, Fritz Grünbaum, Karl Farkas, Georg Kreisler, Hermann Leopoldi, Armin Berg), musicians and composers (i.e. Fritz Kreisler, Hans Julius Salten, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner) were Jewish Austrians. In 1933, many Austrian Jews, who had worked and lived in Germany for years, returned to Austria, including many who fled Nazi restrictions on Jews working in the film industry.
In 1934, the Austrian Civil War broke out. The new regime was conservative-fascist and leaders of the Social Democratic Party got arrested or had to flee. But, except for Jews strongly engaged in the Social Democratic Party, the regime, which thought itself as pro-Austrian and anti-national socialism, brought no worsening for the Jewish population.
The census of 1934 counted 191,481 Jews in Austria—of them 176,034 living in Vienna and the most of the rest in Lower Austria (7,716) and Burgenland (3,632), where also notable Jewish communities existed. Of the other Bundesländer, only Styria (2,195) also counted more than 1,000 Jews. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates 250,000 Jews in Austria in 1933.
In 1936, the previously strong Austrian film industry, which had developed its own "emigrant-film"-movement, had to accept the German restrictions forbidding Jews from working in the film industry. Emigration among film artists then rose sharply with Los Angeles becoming the major destination. The main emigration wave did not start until March 1938, when Austria was annexed by Germany, and November 1938, when nearly all synagogues of Austria were destroyed (more than 100, of them about 30 to 40 built as dedicated synagogues, 25 of them in Vienna).
"Razzia" (raid) after the annexation of Austria at the headquarters of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde in Vienna, March 1938
The prosperity period ended abruptly with the annexation Austria to Nazi Germany in 1938 (the "Anschluss"). At the time of the annexation, the Jewish population in Austria consisted of 181,882 people, of them 167,249 in Vienna—but thousands of Jews already emigrated the years before. Including people with one Jewish parent or at least one Jewish grandmother or grandfather, who were also persecuted by the Nazis, the number of Jews and Jewish ancestry accounted 201,000 to 214,000 people.
The Nazis entered Austria without any major resistance, and were accepted approvingly by many Austrians. Immediately with their entrance into Austria the Nazis started instituting anti-Jewish policies throughout the country. They expelled the Jewish population from all cultural, economic and social life in Austria. Jewish citizens were humiliated as they were commanded to perform different humiliating tasks, without any consideration of differential of age, social position or sex.
In the same year as the annexation, "the Night of Broken Glass" (Kristallnacht) was carried out in Austria, in response to the Jewish refugee, Herschel Grynszpan, assassinating the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in France. As a result, Jewish Synagogues and buildings all over Austria were shattered and robbed throughout the country by the Hitler Youth and by the SA, as well as many homes of the Jewish population. During that night 27 Jews were killed.
After the Anschluss many Jews tried to emigrate out of Austria. The immigration center was in the capital of Austria, Vienna, and the people leaving were required to have visas and documents approving their departure in order to get out of the country. They were required to leave everything of value in Austria. To leave the country, high "taxes" had to be paid. Emigrants hurried to collect only their most important belongings and the departure fees and had to leave behind them everything else. Most Jews who remained ended up being killed in the Holocaust.
During the period of the Holocaust, the general Chinese consul Feng-Shan Ho was stationed in Vienna. While risking his own life and his career, Ho, with the aid of his Catholic Viennese staff, rapidly approved the visa applications of thousands of Jews seeking to escape the Nazis. Among them were possibly the Austrian filmmakers Jacob and Luise Fleck, who got one of the last visas for China in 1940 and who then produced films with Chinese filmmakers in Shanghai. Ho's actions were recognized posthumously when he was awarded the title Righteous among the Nations by the Israeli organization Yad Vashem in 2001.
In 1939 the Nazis initiated the annihilation process of the Jewish population. The most notable persons of the community, about 6,000, were sent to the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. The main concentration camp in Austria was the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, which was located next to the city Linz. Many other Jews were sent to the concentration camps in Theresienstadt and Łódź and from there to the Auschwitz concentration camp. In the summer of 1939 hundreds of factories and Jewish stores were shut down by the government. In October 1941 Jews were forbidden to exit the boundaries of Austria. The total number of Jews who managed to exit Austria is about 28,000. Part of the Vienna Jews was sent to the transit camp Nisko in Nazi occupied Poland. In the end of the winter of 1941, an additional 4,500 Jews were sent from Vienna to different concentration and extermination camps on the territories of Nazi occupied Poland (mainly to Izbica Kujawska and to other ghettos in the Lublin area). In June 1942, a direct delivery exited the city to the Sobibor extermination camp, which had around one thousand Jews. In the fall of 1942, the Nazis sent more Jews to the ghettos to the towns of the cities they occupied in the Soviet Union: Riga, Kaunas, Vilnius and Minsk. Those Jews were murdered by Nazi soldiers mainly by gunshots.
By October 1942 Austria had only about 2,000 to 5,000 Jews left. About 1,900 of them were sent out of the country during the next two years, and the rest remained in hiding. The total number of the Austrian Jewish population murdered during the Holocaust is about 65,500 people, 62,000 of them known by name. The rest of the Jewish population of Austria, excluding up to 5,000 who managed to survive in Austria, emigrated—about 135,000 people of Jewish religion or Jewish ancestry, compared to the number in 1938. But thousands of Austrian Jews emigrated before 1938.
Until 1955, about 250,000 to 300,000 "displaced persons" lived in Austria. About 3,000 of them stayed in Austria and formed the new Jewish community. After the Holocaust, the Jews throughout Europe who managed to survive were concentrated in the DP camps in Austria in order to get their identification. The survivors who had nowhere to return to remained in the camps, and were helped by groups of volunteers who came from Israel. Many of the Jews in the DP camps eventually immigrated to Israel, and many others returned to Germany and Austria. In October 2000 the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial was built in Vienna in memory of the Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust.
One of the notable prisoners of the Mauthausen concentration camp was Simon Wiesenthal, who after his release worked together with the United States army in order to locate Nazi war criminals.
During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 about 200,000 Hungarians fled over Austria to the west, among them 17,000 Jews. Seventy-thousand Hungarians stayed in Austria, a number of Jews among them. One of the best known of them is the political scientist and publicist Paul Lendvai.
Details of the property seized under the Nazis in Vienna from Austrian Jews such as Samuel Schallinger who co-owned the Imperial and the Bristol hotels, and the names famous beneficiaries who took them and never gave them back, are outlined in the book Unser Wien (Our Vienna) by Stephan Templ and Tina Walzer.
The Stadttempel in Vienna—the main building of the Jewish community, which houses the central synagogue
After the Holocaust the Jewish community in Austria was rebuilt, although it was much smaller. In the 1950s an immigration wave from the Soviet Union moved to Austria. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, there has been a renewed influx of Jewish people from the former Soviet Union. The current Austrian Jewish population is around 12,000–15,000—most of them living in Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg. About 800 of them are Holocaust survivors who lived in Austria before 1938 and about 1500 of them are immigrants from countries from the former Soviet Union.
In July 1991 the Austrian government recognized its role in the crimes of the Third Reich during World War II. In 1993, the Austrian government reconstructed the Jewish synagogue in Innsbruck, which was destroyed during Kristallnacht, and in 1994 they reconstructed the Jewish library in Vienna, which was then reopened.
Neo-Nazism and antisemitism did not vanish entirely from public life in Austria. In the 1990s many threatening letters were sent to politicians and reporters, and some Austrian public figures have occasionally shown sympathy to Nazism.
Kurt Waldheim was appointed as the Austrian president in 1986 despite serving as an officer in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. He remained the president of Austria until 1992. During his term he was considered a persona non grata in many countries.
Monument on the place of the destroyed Leopoldstädter Tempel, showing the former size of this synagogue.
The Austrian government was sued for Austria's involvement in the Holocaust and required to compensate its Jewish survivors. Initially the government postponed the compensation matters, until the United States started putting pressure on the matter as well. In November 2005 the Austrian government sent out compensation letters to 19,300 Austrian Holocaust survivors. The total amount that Austria put into the compensations was over $2 million, which they paid the Holocaust survivors themselves, to the businesses that were damaged, and for the stolen bank accounts, etc. In addition, the Austrian government also transferred $40 million to the Austria Jewish fund.
The biggest Jewish presence in Austria today is in its capital Vienna, consisting of synagogues, a Jewish retirement home, the Jewish Museum (founded in 1993), and different community institutions. Austrian Jews are of many different sects, including Haredi and Reform Jews. The Jewish community also has many activities arranged by the Chabad movement, which is in charge of managing kindergartens, schools, a community center and even a university. In addition there are also active branches of the Bnei Akiva and the Hashomer Hatzair youth movements. Today, the biggest minority among the Jewish community in Vienna originates from Georgia, and the second biggest Jewish minority originates from Bukhara, each with separate synagogues and a large community center called "The Spanish center".
There were very few Jews in Austria in the post-war years, however some of them became very prominent in Austrian society. These include Bruno Kreisky, who was the Chancellor of Austria between 1970 until 1983, the artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser and Jewish politicians such as Elisabeth Pittermann, a member of the Parliament of Austria from the Social Democratic Party of Austria and Peter Sichrovsky, who was formerly a member of the Freedom Party of Austria and a representative in the European Parliament.
Latent antisemitism is an issue in several rural areas of the country. Some issues in the holiday resort Serfaus gained special attention in 2010, where possible Jews were denied from making hotel bookings, based on racial bias. Hostility by some inhabitants of the village towards those who accommodate Jews was reported. Several hotels and apartments in the town confirmed that Jews are banned from the premises. Those who book rooms are subjected to racial profiling, and rooms are denied to those who are identified as possible Orthodox Jews.
Austrian Jewish Community
Touring Vienna’s Jewish Heritage, Jewish Museum, Judenplatz & Stadttempel from TourMyCountry.com
ANSCHLUSS & EXTERMINATION
The fate of the Austrian Jews
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Evidence found in the form of ancient artifacts demonstrates the presence of a Jewish community in Austria as early as the time of the Roman empire and corroborates the previous assumption that Jews settled in what later became Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia in the third century B.C.E.
It is believed that the flow of Jewish immigration in the region increased after the rebellion against the Roman occupation of Judea. Many Jews were sold as slaves and were shipped across the empire. Others emigrated of their own accord.
However documentary evidence points to the first true settlement of Jews in the 12th century. A charter of privileges was granted by Emperor Frederick II in 1238, giving the Jewish community extensive autonomy. But over the course of the following eight centuries this status was to change, and the commercial and political clout of the Jews in the Austrian Empire would rise and fall many times over
In 1420, the status of the Jewish community hit a low point when a Jewish person from Upper Austria was charged with the desecration of the sacramental bread. This led Albert the Fifth to order the imprisonment of all of the Jews in Austria. Two hundred and ten Jews were burnt alive in public and the rest were deported from Austria, leaving their homes and belongings behind.
Between 1848 and 1938, the Jewish Austrian population enjoyed a period of prosperity beginning with the start of regime of Franz Joseph I of Austria who bestowed on the Jewish population equality of rights saying, "the civil rights and the country’s policy is not contingent in the people’s religion".
Jews took advantage of their new freedoms by establishing wool factories in Bohemia and Moravia, Silk factories in Hungary, as well as playing an important role in the building of steel mills and the railroads. In Vienna, Jews built the only factory that produced chocolate.
At the turn of the century some 300,000 Jews in Austria were scattered in 33 different settlements. Most of them; approximately 200,000, lived in the capital city of Vienna.
Vienna was also a center of Zionist thought and Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism, had studied at the University of Vienna. Many Viennese Jews were well-integrated into urban society and culture. Jews made up significant percentages of the city's doctors and lawyers, businessmen and bankers, artists and journalists.
THE DAYS OF THE REPUBLIC
The end of the First World War brought the disintegration of the Habsburg Empire and the rise of Republic of Austria. Although many of the leading heads of the Social Democratic Party of Austria and especially the leaders of the Austro-Marxism were assimilated Jews, the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the rise of ethnically defined nation states created an "identity crisis" for the Jews.
Most anti-Semites considered Jews to be biologically or racially alien, and this prejudice force many Jews to cling more tightly to their Jewish ethnicity as opposed to a national identity based on ethnic origin.
The Jewish population in Vienna declined dramatically during the years of the Austrian Republic (1918 -1938), yet their profile amongst the population in certain areas of the city increased. Mainly due to industrial, professional and economic factors. According to Jewish scholars at the time, 62 percent of all lawyers in Vienna were Jewish. 47 percent of physicians, and nearly 29 percent of all University professors were also Jewish.
When the Nazis took power in Austria in 1938 they estimated that 25 percent, some 36,000 business enterprises in Vienna were owned by Jews. Including some 60 percent of all those engaged in Finance or big industry.
After the takeover of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in the German Reich on 30 January 1933 a concerted effort to subjugate their smaller neighbor was undertaken by the Austrian Nazi parties which were subsequently outlawed in June of the same year.
However the ban did not stop terrorist activities from occurring and on 25 July 1934 an attempted a coup d'état resulted in the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss.
Although the coup failed, the assassination of Dollfuss was accompanied by Nazi uprisings in many regions in Austria, resulting in further deaths. In Carinthia a large contingent of northern German Nazis tried to grab power but were subdued by the patriotic Heimwehr units.
Similarly, the Nazi assassins in Vienna surrendered and were executed. Kurt Schuschnigg became the new chancellor of Austria
On 12 February 1938 Adolf Hitler met the Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg at Berchtesgarden, in an attempt to force him to lift the ban on the Austrian National Socialists party and release all imprisoned members of the Nazi party and let them participate in the government.
Schuschnigg refused and took steps to prepare for the defense of Austria, however over the ensuing weeks realized that he was being undermined by his own cabinet ministers who conspired to have him removed from office. Schuschnigg retaliated by trying to gather support throughout Austria and inflame patriotism among the people.
On March 9th, 1938 he called a referendum for a "Independent Christian Austria" and to better his odds at winning the plebiscite, he had the the minimum voting age increased to 24 in order to exclude younger voters who largely sympathized with Nazi ideology.
The billboards urge Austrians to vote YES in the upcoming plebiscite on the German annexation of Austria. Vienna, Austria, April 1938
Hitler used this action as a pretext to to call the referendum a fraud and would not be recognized by Germany. Goebbels issued press reports that riots had broken out in Austria and that large parts of the Austrian population were calling for German troops to restore order.
An ultimatum was sent by Hitler demanding that Schuschnigg hand over all power to the Austrian National Socialists or face an invasion. Schuschnigg realizing that neither France nor England was willing to take steps to prevent the Nazi ultimatum, resigned as Chancellor that same evening.
President Wilhelm Miklas of Austria refused to appoint the Austrian Nazi leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart as chancellor. The German Nazi minister Hermann Göring ordered Seyss-Inquart to send a telegram requesting German military aid, but he refused, and the telegram was sent by a German agent in Vienna.
On March 12 Germany invaded, and the enthusiasm that followed gave Hitler the cover to annex Austria outright on March 13. A controlled plebiscite of April 10 gave a 99.7 percent approval. The Wehrmacht troops encountered no resistance.
Two days later an estimated 100,000 people gathered outside the Heldenplatz to celebrate Hitlers entrance into Vienna and the union of Austria and the German Reich.
DAYS OF TERROR
ews in Vienna forced to scrub Schuschnigg's slogans off the sidewalk
After the Anschluss many Jews tried to emigrate out of Austria. The city of Vienna with its large Jewish population, suffered first from the intensified anti-Jewish measures imposed on the community. However it was not only Jews, but also Catholics and other opponents of the Nazi regime that were imprisoned, tortured and driven to suicide.
Some 76,000 people were arrested in the days following the "Anschluss," and a first convoy carrying 151 Nazi opponents set off for the Dachau concentration camp near Munich on April 1.
But in most cases it was the Jews who were hit hardest. Universities, from which Jews were banned, lost over 40 percent of their students and professors in a matter of hours.
Many had their property confiscated, their homes looted or appropriated, and the ensuing lawlessness and corruption by the Nazi officials was so rampant that some were even arrested, and investigated by the Gestapo for misappropriation of Reich property.
In August 1938, Adolf Eichmann established the "Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung" in Vienna. This organization was to be responsible for the "solution of the Jewish problem" in Austria. Its "efficient" methods of persecution and deportation were later copied in Germany and in several of the Nazi-occupied countries.
A special body, the Vermoegensverkehrsstelle or; "asset transfer office" was responsible for the transfer of Jewish property to non-Jews. With the help of the major Jewish welfare organizations in the world, the community and the Palestine Office were able to assist in the emigration of thousands of Jews.
The importance of this aid grew with the straitened circumstances of Austrian Jewry; as against 25% of the emigrants who needed financial assistance in May and July 1938, 70% needed assistance in July and August 1939. Between July and September 1938 emigration reached a monthly average of 8,600.
Local residents watch the burning of the ceremonial hall at the Jewish cemetery in Graz during Kristallnacht
After Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, the situation for Jews in Austria worsened and more sought to leave. However, the options of where to flee were limited. Several hundred were able to leave for the U.S.A., Palestine and Shanghai, but it was only England - under pressure - that took Jews by the thousands.
During the pogroms of November 10 (see *Kristallnacht), approximately 8,000 Jews were arrested, and of these 5,000 were sent to Dachau. Six hundred and eighty others committed suicide or were murdered that single night.
In Vienna alone, 42 synagogues were burned and 4,038 Jewish shops were looted. Almost all Jewish homes were destroyed and cemeteries desecrated. Synagogues were also destroyed in Graz, Salzburg, Klagenfurt, Linz, Innsbruck, Baden, Eisenstadt, Berndorf, and Bad Voeslau.
In Linz, all the Jewish inhabitants were arrested, and all Jews in the district were ordered to move to Vienna within three days. One-third of the fine of a billion marks ($83,300,000) imposed on the whole of the German Reich Jewry was levied on Austrian Jews. By May 1939 around 100,000 Austrian Jews had emigrated.
The Director of the Organization Department of the World Zionist Organization Leo Lauterbach outlined the situation of the Austrian Jews in his 1938 letter to fellow Zionist leaders in London:
...Generally speaking the situation in Vienna seemed to be, both on the non-Jewish and the Jewish side, characterized by confusion, uncertainty and a state of flux. The mission of Sir Wyndham Deedes was greatly handicapped by the fact that, at the time of his and my visit, there seemed to be no established authority from whom the official policy could be reliably ascertained and whose intervention could be solicited.
The position might have changed since, but at the time it appeared that the chief authority was vested in the Gestapo, whose officials were at that time in Berlin and who, as we learned there afterwards, returned to Vienna with, it was stated, a full measure of independence from their headquarters in Berlin.
Possibly the Gestapo are now under instructions from Herr Buerckel. A clear policy with regard to the Jewish problem in Austria has neither been announced in public, nor was it conveyed to us in the few interviews we succeeded in having. One cannot, however, avoid the impression that this policy will be essentially different from that adopted in Germany and that it may aim at a complete annihilation of Austrian Jewry. To all appearances, it is intended to eliminate them from economic life, to deprive them of all their financial resources, and to compel them either to starve or to leave the country without means, at the expense of the great Jewish organizations abroad and with the help of such countries as may be willing to receive them.
For reasons of their own the authorities seem to wish to deal with Austrian Jews without any interference by the Jews in Germany. One cannot help feeling that, after the protracted campaign of intimidation, the Jews of Austria have become a pliable instrument in the hands of their oppressors, who may think that they will achieve their ends more easily if they deal directly with people whose moral backbone has been broken.
If this analysis is correct, no effort should be spared on our side to counteract such tendencies and to give the Austrian Jews not only material support, but also moral encouragement. For that purpose it would seem to be the most urgent task of the moment to delegate to Austria representatives of the great Jewish and Zionist organizations abroad who, with permission of the authorities, would be allowed to act there, even if only temporarily, as advisers and helpers of the local leaders. In addition, any future financial support given by Jewish institutions abroad ought to be made dependent as far as possible upon the establishing of a permanent contact between the Jewish institutions in Vienna and those in Berlin....
-(sgd) Leo Lauterbach
29th April, 1938
In 1939 the Nazis began the systematic annihilation of the Austrian Jewish population. In the summer of the same year hundreds of factories and Jewish stores were shut down by the Austrian government. Later in October, over one thousand youth and elderly Jews were deported to Buchenwald and in the same month two additional transports were sent to the Nisko area of Poland.
A report by the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, October 18, 1939 regarding Jews being sent to Nisko stated the following:
Further to the Note on the conversation between SS Hauptsturmbannfuehrer Eichmann, Dr. Ebner of the Gestapo and the Special Representative of Reichskommissar Dr. Becker, it is stated that the Resettlement operation to Poland will begin at 22.00 hours on October 20, 1939, with the first transport of 1,000 Jews fit for work, from the Aspang Rail Station in Vienna.
The Jews were supplied by the Jewish Community with tools for the erection of a barracks village at Nisko, where transports of Jews fit for work have already been sent from Maehrisch-Ostrau. The Jews on the transport will also be given foodstuffs for 4 weeks.
Further transports will leave regularly on Tuesdays and Fridays of each week with 1,000 Jews. The second and third transports will consist of Jews and Jewesses at present under arrest in Vienna, whose departure date has been set by the Gestapo. From the fourth transport on, complete families will already be sent.
When the barracks village at Nisko has been completed, the Jews who arrived with the first transport will in continuous progression be distributed to the interior to the formerly Jewish villages in that area.
The composition of the transports is arranged by the Jewish Community of Vienna (as long as this remains possible) and a Jewish transport management is responsible for the transports. In addition, each transport is accompanied by 25 police (Schupo) officers under the command of a police captain, who must prevent all danger of escape by use of arms.
By December 1940, there were still about 50,000 to 60,000 Jews living in Vienna. They were mostly unemployed, evicted from their homes and living with other families, crammed into "collective" apartments, their bank accounts blocked or frozen; in short, they were barely surviving.
At in the start of the new year of 1941 all Jews were forbidden to exit the boundaries of Austria and up to that time only about 28,000 managed to flee the country as the death process began to build momentum. In June, 1942 a transport left Vienna and went directly to the Sobibor extermination camp delivering around 1000 Jews to be murdered.
October 15, 1941 marked the beginning of the first systematic deportations of Jews from Vienna to the Lodz Ghetto but large number of Jews were also sent to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp outside of Linz. By the end of the winter of 1941, an additional 4,500 Jews were sent from Vienna to different concentration and extermination camps in Poland.
In February and March 1941, about 5,000 Jews were deported to Kielce, Poland, from whence they were sent in 1942 to the Belzec.
After the Wannsee Conference, Eichmann announced to the Viennese community his general Aussiedlung ("evacuation") program under which 3,200 more Austrian Jews were deported to Riga, 8,500 to Minsk, and 6,000 to Izbica and several other places in the Lublin region. This last group was almost entirely exterminated.
On June 1, 1942 Eichmann Informed the Jews on Deportations from Austria to the Theresienstadt Ghetto:Vienna, June 1, 1942
Memorandum on the visit to the Reich Security Main Office, Reich Ministry of the Interior, Department IV B 4, on Friday, May 29, 1942, at 10:30 A.M. and to SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Eichmann on Saturday, May 30, 1942, at 12:00 noon at the same office.
1. In accordance with an order received I reported to the Reich Security Main Office, Dept. IV B 4, on May 29, 1942, together with Dr. Benjamin Israel Murmelstein, the six members of the Presidium of the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Berlin: Baeck, Eppstein, Henschel, Kozower, Kreindler and Lilienthal, as well as the two representatives of the Jewish Community of Prague: Janovic and Friedmann. There we were informed that in connection with a sabotage attack on the exhibition "The Soviet Paradise" in Berlin, in which five Jews had been actively involved, 500 Jews had been arrested in Berlin and of these 250 had been shot and 250 sent to a camp. We were further informed that additional measures of this kind were to be expected in the event of any other act of sabotage in which Jews took part. An instruction was given that this position was to be made known to the Jews in a suitable manner in order to make clear to them what the result of such acts would be.
2. During the visit to SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Eichmann I reported on the situation in Vienna, the position [reached] by the emigration transports, the probable number of Jews over 65, who were to be taken to Theresienstadt for permanent residence, as well as on financial questions. SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Eichmann informed me that the total evacuation of the Jews was planned from the Altreich [Germany before 1938], the Ostmark [Austria] and the Protectorate. Jews under 65 years old would emigrate to the East, and those over 65, as well as some groups of those under 65, such as men seriously disabled in the War, and those who received medals in the World War, etc., would be sent to Theresienstadt for permanent residence.
In accordance with the Regulation of February 16, 1942, the Czechs living in Theresienstadt must leave the locality by May 31, 1942, so that the entire area of the city will be available for the Jews. After this a start will be made on transporting the Jews designated for permanent residence there. The administration of the city is to be carried out independently by the Council of Jewish Elders (Judenaeltestenrat). In addition to the old people, several thousand young people are to remain there in order to carry out necessary work in the city and countryside (about 640 (?) acres of land are available) and to look after the old people.
Institutions necessary for the maintenance of the Jews are also to be set up or, where possible, existing institutions will be enlarged. According to the instructions of the Council of Elders the Jews will be accommodated partly in the existing large barracks, or privately in the houses. A part will be catered for in communal kitchens, and a part privately. In addition to personal luggage of up to 50 kgs. per person, a large quantity of equipment and furniture for apartments and dormitories, as well as tools, are to be sent to Theresienstadt. The number of items of this type will be decided on each occasion by the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna, in accordance with the freight cars available.
Special importance will be accorded to the provision and maintenance of sanitary installations. Good doctors and nurses will go to Theresienstadt to look after the health of the Jews and, in particular, to prevent epidemics. This will also to a large extent be the task of the Council of Elders. The financial maintenance of the Jewish population settled in Theresienstadt will be provided by the funds of the three organizations, the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Berlin, and the Jewish Communities of Vienna and Prague. These organizations in general have considerable funds at their disposal.
The budget will be decided in accordance with requirements for certain periods at a time, and the necessary sum made available to the Council of Elders in Theresienstadt. The capacity of Theresienstadt to accommodate Jews is quite large. When I was asked how many Jews from Vienna might be considered for Theresienstadt, I named a figure of about 12,000 persons; SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Eichmann declared that the number of Jews from Vienna could be settled there.
I pointed out that a total evacuation of Jews from Vienna was scarcely possible, because as a result of the large-scale emigration and the unusually high age of the remaining population there is a disproportionate number of aged and sick persons, who must be considered as incapable of travelling. In any case a fairly large number of Jews will remain in Vienna owing to the exclusion from deportation of [members of] Jewish mixed marriages.
I also asked that a part of the Jews designated for emigration, particularly the children at present in youth and children's homes, who are under my care as guardian of orphans, should be sent to Warsaw with the personnel looking after them, because I could then be sure that they will receive the proper care and attention in a large Jewish center. SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Eichmann declared that the destination for emigration was decided together with departments of the Wehrmacht, and that it was not possible to say in advance where the transports would go; he would see what could be done in this matter.
- signed Dr. Josef Israel Loewenherz
General Director and Head of the Jewish Community, Vienna
Between June and October, 13,900 people were deported to Theresienstadt, most of them aged 65 and over. On Oct. 10, 1942, the last transport of 1,300 persons left for Theresienstadt. The Viennese Jewish community was then officially dissolved on Nov. 1, 1942, but still remained 7,000 Jews in Austria.
Deportations to the East continued, albeit at a slower pace, and by the end of the war only 1,000 Jew survived in Vienna.In the summer of 1943, there were still approximately 800 Jews left in Vienna. They had gone underground and were secretly helped by members of the community and the Budapest Jewish rescue committee.
A few managed to escape to Hungary, but many others were caught by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz. Some managed to stay underground until Vienna fell to the Soviet Army.
In total, some 65,000 Austrian Jews were assassinated under the Third Reich and 130,000 were forced into exile, including the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, painter Oskar Kokoschka and several Nobel Prize winners and scientists.
Of the approximately 50,000 Jews deported from Austria to ghettos and extermination camps only 1,747 returned to Austria at the end of the war. The largest group of survivors, which numbered 1,293, was liberated from the Theresienstadt Ghetto).
Soviet and American forces occupied Austria in April and May 1945.
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