Austria

Before the Holocaust, Austria, and in particular Vienna, had an important and influential Jewish community, whose prominent members included Theodor Herzl, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Arthur Schnitzler and Stefan Zweig. Many Austrian Jews fled the country after its annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938, but more than 65,000 were deported and murdered in the Holocaust. The present-day Jewish community of Austria is represented by the Federation of Austrian Jewish Communities (Bundesverband der Israelitischen Kultusgemeinden Österreichs), the Austrian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

Bundesverband der Israelitischen Kultusgemeinden Österreichs – IKG (Federation of Austrian Jewish Communities)

Telephone: +43 1 531 04 0
Fax : +43 1 531 04 108
 
Email: office@ikg-wien.at
Website: www.ikg-wien.at

President: Oskar Deutsch
CEO: Raimund Fastenbauer


Community News


History

Jewish life in Austria dates to the times of the Roman Empire and peaked in the early 1930s, when Jews comprised 10 percent of Vienna's total population. The status of Austrian Jewry has been characterized both by periods of equality and prosperity and eras rife with pogroms, deportations and anti-Semitism.

There is fragmentary documentation of a Jewish presence in Austria during the first millennium of the Common Era, including the “Raffelstettener Zollordnung,” a listing of sustoms and tax rules from 906-908 that documented the presence of Jews in Austria during the 10th century.

In 1244, Austrian Jews were granted certain rights by Emperor Friedrich II and became active in commerce, but by the 14th century a fixed Jewish tax was imposed on them, followed by persecution and massacres. In 1420, all Austrian Jews were arrested, 270 were burned at the stake and the others expelled, and their property was confiscated. Jews were allowed to settle in the cities of Styria and Carinthia by King Friedrich III (1440-1493), but in 1496, Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I (1459-1519) banished them from both cities at the request of local guilds.
Despite a 1669 Edict of Expulsion, a number of privileged Hofjuden, or court Jews, were allowed to live in Austria. In 1757, about 454 Jews, all members of 12 prominent families, lived in Vienna.
By 1781, when Emperor Joseph II issued an “Edict of Tolerance,” more than 1,500,000 Jews lived within the borders of the Habsburg Empire. After the death of Joseph II, Austrian Jews again suffered a period of discrimination, interrupted by the short-lived “Pillersdorf constitution” that gave full equality to all religions practiced in the Empire.

During the first part of the 19th century Austrian Jewry enjoyed a stealth existence of sorts. In 1824 Rabbi Isak Noa Mannheimer was brought to Vienna as a preacher to the city’s growing Jewish population, but since no Jewish community was formally recognized, he was given the title of “Director of the Official Imperial and Royal Jewish Religious School of Vienna.” Four years later, when Rabbi Lazar Horowitz was invited to serve as Chief Rabbi of Vienna, he similarly received the official title of “Ritualienaufseher,” that is, “Rituals Supervisor.” The Vienna Synagogue was consecrated in 1826, and that same year Salomon Sulzer was appointed Head Cantor of the Synagogue. In 1849, Emperor Franz Joseph formally sanctioned an autonomous Jewish religious community, and the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were accorded full civil rights in 1867.

While Austrian Jewry thrived in the Habsburg Empire’s final decades, anti-Semitism became an ever-growing presence. Adolf Hitler often referred to the avowedly anti-Semitic Karl Lueger, who served as Mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910, as one of the personalities who influenced his own views about Jews. Lueger, who maintained relations with some Viennese Jews, is said to have declared, “Wer ein Jud' ist, bestimme ich” (I decide who is a Jew), a comment subsequently also attributed to other anti-Semites.

Between 1848 and 1938, many Austrian Jews were prominent in Vienna’s commercial, intellectual, cultural, and political life. Among the more famous were Theodor Herzl, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Gustav Mahler (who converted to Christianity), Stefan Zweig, and Arthur Schnitzler. The composer Arnold Schoenberg converted to Christianity in 1921, but publicly returned to Judaism in a public ceremony in Paris in 1933. Victor Adler and Otto Bauer, who served as Austrian foreign ministers after World War I, were both Jews.

By the mid-1930s, some 180,000 Jews lived in Vienna, and 20,000 more in other parts of Austria. While many Austrian Jews were able to flee the country after its annexation by Germany in March of 1938, those who remained endured the full horrors of the Nazi terror, and more than 65,000 Austrian Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

After World War II, the Austrian Jewish community reconstituted itself, albeit on a far smaller scale than before. In 1986, when Kurt Waldheim, a former United Nations Secretary General and Austrian Foreign Minister, was a candidate for the Austrian Presidency, the World Jewish Congress publicly exposed Waldheim’s Nazi past. The U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Ronald S. Lauder (today President of the World Jewish Congress) refused to attend Waldheim’s inauguration. In more recent years, the extreme xenophobic Freedom Party has been a source of concern for the Austrian Jewish community.

In 1996 a public auction of heirless art owned by Jews murdered in the Holocaust was organized by the Austrian government at the Mauerbach Monestary. The funds generated from the sale were transferred to a humanitarian fund for Holocaust survivors.

In 2000, the Austrian Jewish community was deeply upset when the extremist right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), led by Jörg Haider, a man with clear neo-Nazi sympathies, entered the Austrian government. On March 2, 2001, said publicly that Ariel Muzicant, President of the Federation of Austrian Jewish Communities “Dreck am Stecken haben könne” (“can have dirt on his boots”), a markedly anti-Semitic comment.

Following the October 2017 national elections, the FPÖ emerged as the second largest party, and entered a coalition government with the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), with FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache becoming Vice Chancellor, and the FPÖ controlling the Foreign, Interior, and Defence Ministries.

The years of Holocaust

Following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938, the Jewish community was subjected to persecution and often mob violence. Most of Vienna’s synagogues were destroyed and Jewish homes and businesses looted during the Kristallnacht pogrom, and thousands of Austrian Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. During World War II, Austrian Jews endured the same fate as other Jews under Nazi domination. Beginning in October 1941, around 35,000 Viennese Jews were deported to the ghettos of Minsk, Riga and Lodz, as well as Theresienstadt and elsewhere in eastern Europe. Toward the end of the war, Holocaust victims were sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, and its satellite camps, Ebensee and Gunskirchen. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, 65,500 Austrian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, with 62,000 of them known by name, and more than 14,000 Jews were among the 85,000 inmates who died at Mauthausen.

Demography

Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that approximately 9,000 Jews lived in Austria as of 2015. Most of them are in Vienna, with smaller communities in Baden, Bad Gastein, Graz, Innsbruck, Linz, and Salzburg. The present-day Austrian Jewish community is primarily made up of Holocaust survivors and their families, returning Austrian expatriates, refugees from the former Soviet Union and other parts of eastern Europe, and Iranian Jews.

Community Life

The IKG is the primary representative body of Austrian Jewry, and Vienna is also home to the independent Sephardi Federation that represents Jews of Bukharin and Georgian origin as well as a Caucasian Jewish Center set up primarily by Georgian Jews. Numerous international Jewish organizations have branches in Austria, including B'nai B'rith and WIZO, and there is a local Zionist Federation. The Viennese community also has a home for the aged. 

Religious and Cultural life

The only synagogue in Vienna to survive the Holocaust is the Stadttempel, built in 1826, where the community offices and chief rabbinate are located. There are also numerous Hasidic prayer rooms and a Liberal synagogue, Or Chadash. Vienna has four kosher restaurants and four kosher supermarkets, as well as two kosher butcher shops and a kosher bakery. During the summer, there are kosher hotels in the resorts of Saalbach-Hinterglemm and of Bad Gastein. The Jewish sports club S.C. Hakoah has long traditions in Austria and offers facilities for physical training and athletics.

Jewish Education

There are four Jewish kindergartens and four day schools in Austria offering Jewish primary and high school education. The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation operates nursery, elementary, and secondary schools as well as a Heder on the Lauder Chabad campus. The Vienna University has an institute for Jewish studies. The Institute for the History of Jews in Austria is set in the former synagogue in St Poelten.

Youth

Youth organizations in Austria include B'nai Akiva, Hashomer Hatzair, and the Austrian Jewish Students Union, which is affiliated to European Union of Jewish Students.

Jewish Media

The Jews of Austria publish several journals and papers, which also have a wide readership among expatriate Austrian Jews. The two largest are the monthly Die Gemeinde, the official organ of the community, and the Illustrierte Neue Welt, originally founded by Theodor Herzl. The Austrian Jewish Students Union has its own bulletin called Noodnik.

Information for visitors

The Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna chronicles the rich history of Viennese Jewry and the outstanding role that Jews played in the development of the city. The Jewish Museum in Eisenstadt is housed in the one-time residence of Samson Wertheimer, the Habsburg court Jew. There is also a Jewish museum in Hohenems.

The Mauthausen Memorial on the site of the concentration camp, in the Danube Valley near Linz, offers grim evidence of the Holocaust.

Israel

Ever since Austria recognized Israel in March 1949, the two countries have maintained full diplomatic relations, although during the Waldheim presidency, Israel was only represented by a chargé d'affaires. In 2000, after the extremist right-wing FPÖ joined the coalition government, Israel recalled its ambassador. After talks in Jerusalem with the Austrian foreign minister full relations were restored in 2003.

Israel Embassy
Anton Frankgasse 20
1180 Vienna

Telephone: +43 1 476 46 0
Fax:  +43 1 476 46 575
Email: info-sec@vienna.mfa.gov.il

Updated

 

April 2018

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