Nov 18, 2013


Jewish Museum Vienna

The permanent exhibition of the Jewish Museum Vienna (after 1945)

Our City! Jewish Vienna - Then to Now - Part 2 (before 1945)
The first written record of a Jew in Vienna in 1190 is of Shlom, the mint master of the Babenberg duke Leopold V. Over 820 years have elapsed since then. During half of this time Jews were allowed to live in Vienna only in very limited numbers, if at all. The community was dissolved and its members expelled on three occasions, ending with the Shoah. Before 1945 the Viennese Jews had to fight three times for permission to found a community: in the Middle Ages when Jewish life centered around present-day Judenplatz, in the seventeenth century in the ghetto in Unterer Werd, and in the years following the revolution of 1848. Before 1900, this third community was the third-largest in Europe. It produced a number of figures who shaped Vienna around 1900. Jews lived during this time above all in the city center, Leopoldstadt, and Alsergrund, but there were already synagogues in many other districts. The long history leading up to this third community, the burgeoning optimism after 1848, and the brutal destruction after 1938 are the topics dealt with in this second part of the permanent exhibition.
The bicycle, the vision, and anti-Semitism - The third community around 1900
The third community, which was brutally destroyed in 1938, is still regarded today as the epitome of Jewish Vienna. Herzl, Freud, Mahler, Schnitzler, and many more influenced Viennese life at the turn of the century. This idealistic regard conceals the fact that anti-Semitism was also rampant and was in no way “imported” in 1938. Theodor Herzl is a good illustration of the contradictions of the time. In 1896 he formulated two visions, which could not have been more dissimilar. In a feature article he enthused about cycling in Vienna, which for him was a symbol of progress and freedom. His optimism gives no indication that at the same time he was also questioning the idea of Vienna as a place to call home. His world-famous visionary book "The Jewish State" had appeared a few months earlier. Zionism was his answer to the oppressive anti-Semitism of the turn of the century in Vienna and Europe. The exhibition shows Herzl’s bicycle, modern for the time, which he used during his summer vacations in Altaussee. He had been introduced to cycling by Arthur Schnitzler, whose novel "The Road into the Open" describes not only the cycling boom in Vienna but also the unbearable anti-Semitism of the turn of the century.
Middle Ages - Traces of the first community
It is not known when the first Jews settled in present-day Austria. An independent Jewish community with a synagogue and cemetery probably did not exist until the early thirteenth century. The celebrated rabbi Izchak bar Moshe made it into a center of scholarship, and the culturally and economically flourishing community became one of the most important in the German speaking world. It came to a traumatic end with the destruction, plundering, forced baptism, torture, and persecution of the first Vienna Geserah (= catastrophe, doom). In March 1421 over 200 Jews were burnt on Erdberger Lände. The nine floor tiles are from the medieval synagogue, whose foundation walls were excavated in the 1990s. They can be visited today at our second museum site on Judenplatz, which focuses on medieval Jewish Vienna.
Into the ghetto - The second community after 1600
It was not until 180 years after their expulsion in 1421 that Jews were allowed to form a community again in Vienna. The emperor needed them as financiers, particularly during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). The Jews had to leave the inner city in 1624, however, and move to the ghetto in Unterer Werd in today’s 2nd district. This is where this boundary stone comes from. The Unterer Werd was a flood-prone area in the middle of a branch of the Danube. In a society that offered no equality before the law, the ghetto nevertheless had some advantages for the members of the Jewish minority, as they could pursue their lives within its walls largely free of attacks by Christians. The situation gradually deteriorated over the years, and in 1670 Emperor Leopold I decided to expel the Jews from Vienna once again. This reflected not only his own hostility to the Jews but also the interests of the burghers of Vienna, who wished to be rid of their Jewish competitors.
Court Jews - Involuntary loners, courageous networkers
Wars and baroque splendor were expensive. To finance both, the emperor summoned a few financially successful Jews to Vienna shortly after the community had been expelled in 1670. They were granted privileges and writs of protection that were denied their poor co-religionists. The court factors were clever networkers, taking great risks and being constantly obliged to meet the exorbitant demands of their grand principals. Thanks to their influence they could also lobby for non-privileged Jews. Their own position was still dependent on the ruler’s whim, however. If he could not repay his debts, all he required was a spurious denunciation to rid himself of the former financier.
Vienna: Now or Never - Tolerance Tithe for Residence
After multiple consultations, the following payments have been agreed with the Jews: 177,000 fl. for the Hirschl brothers, 75,000 fl. for Nathan Oppenheimer , 75,000 fl. for Ulm, 75,000 fl. for Herz Lehmann, 30,000 fl. for Wolf Schlesinger, 75,000 fl. for Spitzer 75.000 fl., 75,000 fl. for Simon Michel. Coercive measures are to be taken against all other Jews who have not yet submitted payment offers.” This was the outcome of the finance conference by Emperor Charles VI on August 23, 1717. The method had long antecedents in Vienna: Against the payment of considerable sums a few wealthy Jews and their families and household were granted residence privileges for a limited time. Even today, several buildings in Vienna, including some of its most famous sights, bear witness to the enormous financial payments made by Viennese Jews to obtain residence and business privileges. They include St. Charles’ Church and the National Library building. Poor Jews who could not pay tolerance tithes were not allowed to settle in Vienna. If they stayed in the capital for a few days they had to pay a levy called “Leibmaut,” which was considered particularly degrading and dishonoring, as such levies were normally charged only for goods. After the issuance of the Edict of Tolerance for Viennese Jews on January 2, 1782, the “Leibmaut” was officially abolished, but the payment was reintroduced in the form of a “bolletta tax.”
Turkish Jews
The Sephardic community was at the begining very small. It was founded by Diego d’Aguilar, about whom little is known today. Coming from a family in Portugal that had been forced to convert, he returned to Judaism and was summoned to Vienna by Emperor Charles VI in 1722 as court factor to reorganize the tobacco monopoly. He subsequently financed the enlargement of Schönbrunn Palace for Maria Theresa.
Vienna – city of tolerance?
In the 1780s Emperor Joseph II issued several Edicts of Tolerance. Their impact on the Jews in the monarchy varied considerably. Most Viennese Jews at this time were affluent – otherwise they could not have paid the “tolerance tax” demanded by the Emperor. For them the new law was a step forward: the poll tax was abolished; they no longer had to wear a yellow band; they could attend schools and universities, even if they were still not allowed to practice many professions; and they could live anywhere in Vienna, although they were not permitted to own property. But the Viennese accounted for fewer than one percent of the Jews in the monarchy. By contrast, the Edict of Tolerance greatly compromised the relatively autonomous structures of the Jews of Galicia and Hungary, since in return for the privileges the Emperor demanded that they abandon their traditional way of life.
Arnstein & Eskeles - Court Jews as Bankers, Their Wives as Networkers
The history of the Arnstein and Eskeles families shows how the Edict of Tolerance in Vienna helped not only the emperor but also a few Jewish families. Bernhard Eskeles (1753–1839) and Nathan Adam Arnstein (1748–1838) came from two “old” Viennese court factor families. Eskeles’ father Isachar Berusch (1692–1753), a scholar from Moravia, was the son-in-law and successor to the court factor Samuel Oppenheimer (1658–1724). Nathan Adam’s grandfather Isaak Aaron (1682–1744) arrived in Vienna in 1705 and entered the service of Samson Wertheimer. His father Adam Isaak (1721–1782) had contributed to the rescue action that reversed the order given by Maria Theresa expelling the Jews from Prague. The young court factors and wholesalers Bernhard Eskeles and Nathan Adam Arnstein became bankers and respected ennobled members of Viennese society. Eskeles was one of the founder members of the Austrian National Bank. Their respective marriages to Cäcilie (1760–1836) and Fanny Itzig (1758–1818), daughters of a Berlin court factor, helped them as well, although the sisters were known in Vienna less for their origins than for their creative social life. They introduced the concept of the salon from Berlin, offering Viennese society a cultured home outside the old noble houses. Fanny Arnstein’s salon gained political significance in particular during the Vienna Congress when it became a meeting place for diplomacy and opinion-forming. The vigilant secret police there also saw what was probably Vienna’s first Christmas tree – a custom that Fanny Arnstein had imported from Berlin.
Torah as focal point - “Tolerance” without a community
The ritual objects come from the time when the Jews of Vienna were not allowed to form a community. Some of them reflect the story of the ruling dynasty seen from a Jewish perspective.
Behind the façade - The outside “in group”
Austria in the first half of the nineteenth century was a reactionary police state – a difficult environment for a small enlightened Jewish community that was not allowed to exist. But the Viennese Jews found an energetic ambassador in Michael Lazar Biedermann, a wholesaler and banker. With great skill he made the impossible come true: the institutionalization of an unrecognized religious community. In 1824 he fetched Isaak Noah Mannheimer from Copenhagen to Vienna. Mannheimer was an outstanding preacher and charismatic reformer. To appease the police state, he was appointed not as a rabbi but as a religion teacher. Shortly afterwards, the community hired Salomon Sulzer, a brilliant musician, as cantor. In 1826 the City Temple in Seitenstettengasse finally opened as the new center of a community that still wasn’t allowed to exist.
Revolution! A tightrope act
In no other major European city did Jews play such an important role in the 1848 revolution as they did in Vienna. The revolution strengthened the self-awareness of the Viennese Jews, even if real civic equality was still a long way off. They put their faith in a German culture and nation set free by the revolution, within which they could consider themselves as equals among equals. This trust soon proved illusory. The German nationalists became more radical and soon excluded the Jews as “aliens” from their world of equals. Even during the revolution the Jews experienced a foretaste of this new anti-Semitism. Freedom of the press not only produced emancipatory writings but also gave a wider readership to anti-Semitic sentiments.
Anything possible? Optimism in a fragile time
The failure of the revolution in 1848 was a great disappointment for the liberal Jews of Vienna. The young emperor Franz Joseph I revoked the hard-fought entitlements, such as the right to own property or to join the civil service. However, the authorities could no longer completely forbid freedom of movement within the monarchy. In the long term the revolution, although it had been quashed, still brought progress. The first highpoint for the Jews of Vienna was the long-awaited recognition of the community in 1852. Fifteen years later, in 1867, for the first time every person in the monarchy was deemed equal before the law and also granted full freedom of movement. Vienna became a city of immigrants. In 1880 over 60 percent of the population of Vienna had not been born there. The Jewish community had around 72,000 members, 10 percent of the population.
Formation of the third-largest Jewish community in Europe
Leopoldstadt Temple was officially inaugurated six years after the founding of the community in 1852. With its magnificent façade, seating for 2,240 people and standing room for a further 1,500, it reflected the increased self-awareness of the rapidly growing community.
Reform vs. orthodoxy - Dispute over the Viennese liturgy reloaded
The arrival of orthodox Jews, particularly from Galicia and present-day Slovakia, was eyed with suspicion by the established “tolerated” Jews. In the 1860s there were already eleven orthodox prayer houses, attended by around one quarter of the Viennese Jews. To maintain the unity of the community, the liberal rabbi Adolf Jellinek and his orthodox colleague Salomon Spitzer (there are no portraits of him in existence) had to find a compromise. The prayers considered obsolete by the reform Jews were to be said silently, and in return the reform Jews abandoned the use of the organ, borrowed from Christian churches.
Vienna as a Center of Learning
“If they had wanted to study, they would not have come to Vienna,” the orthodox rabbi Salomon Spitzer (1826–1893) is said to have replied in 1863 to the idea of founding a training institute for rabbis. Vienna did not apparently enjoy a high reputation in the traditional world of yeshivot. The preacher Adolf Jellinek (1820–1893) also knew this. He therefore combined his opposition to the progressive assimilation through “Judaic studies,” a reform-oriented movement in the German-speaking Jewish world, with the advocacy of a Jewish educational institution. This plan was implemented in 1863 with the founding of the Vienna Beth Hamidrash. Although the name suggests an orthodox house of learning, this institute was devoted in reality to free research and the pursuit of knowledge. Jellinek believed that it should strive above all to establish truth combined with peace, since unity and peace should prevail in the field of learning. One of the first full-time teachers was Meir Friedmann (1831–1908). He also attempted to overcome the differences within the Jewish community by means of Judaic studies. An orthodox Jew himself, he devoted himself completely to learning and soon became a leading researcher in the field of old rabbinical literature (Sifre debe Rab 1864). As he always recognized the national character of Judaism, he also supported the Zionist idea that was emerging at the time. The opening of the Jewish Theological Institute in 1893 gave Vienna its own rabbinical seminar. In spite of its reputation, it was never recognized by the public education authorities as an official school.
Industrial revolution – railway and Ring
The optimistic years following the revolution led to economic growth and the enlargement of the city. Educated immigrants in particular, including many Jews, were able to make a solid and in some cases spectacular business career for themselves. Loans and investments from Jewish bankers and industrialists permitted the development of progressive technologies. Salomon Rothschild financed the Nordbahn railway and hence access to salt, coal, and iron. Together with the Gutmann brothers he developed the Witkowitz (Vítkovice) industrial plants in Moravia. For his part, Hermann Todesco was involved in the development of the Südbahn railway and built a textile factory in Marienthal south of Vienna. Like other rising families, the Todescos built a large residence on the new Ringstrasse. It was here that Sophie von Todesco held her much frequented salon.
Maya Zack, The Shabbat Room
In 1895 the first Jewish museum in the world was founded in Vienna. In 1899 it commissioned Isidor Kaufmann, an artist famous for his Jewish genre scenes, to construct a Shabbat room for the museum. Kaufmann had undertaken several study trips to the eastern crown lands. His "Gute Stube" offered the mostly assimilated Jewish visitors a place of contemplation in the heart of the city in which they could recall the “good old days.” The idea of a reconstruction arose for this exhibition. The "Shabbat Room" by the artist Maya Zack, who was born in Israel in 1976, is the result of intensive artistic research. With the aid of photos of the Gute Stube and knowledge of Kaufmann’s work, she reinterprets the museum installation, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938. The work is a journey in time. The artist uses computergenerated visualizations to allow the different manifestations to interact – from the conception phase in the artist’s studio and the various sites of the old Jewish Museum to the few surviving objects from the "Gute Stube" in the Visual Display area of the present-day Jewish Museum Vienna.
Fathers, mothers, and the emperor - Founding in Vienna around 1900
A board with a list of donors from the turn of the century contains the name not only of Emperor Franz Joseph I but also above all of a considerable number of Jewish men and women from established families, who contributed to the economic progress of the Gründerzeit era. The list recalls not only the many donations by Jewish oligarchs for the public benefit but also the closeness of Jews to the emperor in his later years. As a young emperor after the 1848 revolution he had curtailed the recently acquired civil rights. Now, when the multi-ethnic state was threatening to fall apart, he realized that the Jews of the monarchy were his most loyal subjects. They were aware that without the emperor’s protection they would be even more exposed to pressure. No rights for minorities could be expected in the potential national successor states.
Sons, daughters? A Viennese family constellation around 1900
These portraits are representative of the younger generation of Jews, who around 1900 entered the artistic, scientific, or political arena. Next to these prominent fin-de-siècle figures is a board with donors from the Jewish Gründerzeit generation. This juxtaposition of parents and sons shows that most of the young celebrities were born into prosperous families. Their portraits bear eloquent testimony to the iconic status they acquired during the twentieth century. There is a striking absence of “daughters,” whose breakthrough into the intellectual world came later, between the wars. In 1900 they were still confined to a networking role, one that Berta Zuckerkandl, for example, successfully reinterpreted.
After the war, before the war
Some 300,000 Jews fought in the Austrian imperial army in World War I, of whom 25,000 were officers. The uniform nourished a false hope of equal treatment. But the collapse of the multi-ethnic Habsburg empire in 1918 led to the creation of nation states seeking linguistic, cultural, and ethnic unity. A republic without specially defined rights for minorities was to quickly prove detrimental to the Jews. They were now more strongly exposed to the anti-Semitic sentiments of the majority society than they had been under the protection of the Habsburg rulers. But the period after World War I was also a period of change. For the first time Jewish women became prominent in the artistic, academic, and political world. Many Jews were involved in the Social Democratic Red Vienna. The IKG began to turn its attention more to Zionism.
The Jews of Vienna were unprepared for the inconceivable: the systematic humiliation, deprivation of rights, looting, and mass expulsion of over 120,000 people, then the deportation, and extermination of more than 65,000 people who could not escape early or far enough abroad. The Jewish Museum is the only large museum in Vienna to deal in a permanent exhibition with the subject of the extermination of the Jews, which is more than a “Jewish story.” A Jewish museum in Central Europe has no choice; it cannot but recall the Shoah. This does not absolve Austrian politicians and society from their responsibility also to confront this story in other places and from a general Austrian point of view.
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