Community in Austria - World Jewish Congress

Before the Holocaust, Austria had a considerably important Jewish population that was mostly concentrated in Vienna, including renowned figures such as Theodor Herzl, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Arthur Schnitzler, and Stefan Zweig. Many Austrian Jews fled after Nazi Germany conquered the country in 1938, but more than 65,000 were deported and killed during the Holocaust. The Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) estimates that in 2020, approximately 10,300 Jews lived in Austria.

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
Jewish Community of Vienna (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien)

Benjamin Nägele

: +43 1 531 04 0
+43 1 531 04 108

President: Oskar Deutsch

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

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 customs and tax rules from 906–908 C.E. that recorded the presence of Jews in Austria during the 10th century.

In 1238, Vienna’s Jews were granted a Charter of Privileges by Emperor Frederick II. Under its terms, he put them under his protection as so-called “chamber serfs.” Chamber-serfdom referred to a legal status that meant that, from the 12th century, Jews “belonged” to the Roman-German emperor. Then, in 1244, the “Charter of the Jews" was issued by Duke Frederick II. This set out terms for their protection and also settled legal questions (such as judicial affairs and moneylending). In subsequent centuries, there were to be several more such “Charters of the Jews,” for example, under Maria Theresa in 1753 and 1764.

By the 14th century, a fixed Jewish tax was imposed, followed by persecution and massacres. In 1420, all Austrian Jews were arrested; 270 were burned at the stake, while the others were expelled and their property confiscated. The Vienna Gesera in 1421 brought the Jewish community in the Middle Ages to a truly bloody end. 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 the 1669 Edict of Expulsion, several 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.

It was not until the Enlightenment era that normal Jewish life could be re-established in Vienna, when the Edict of Tolerance granted civil rights to Jews in 1782. However, it took almost another century before, in 1867, Jews were recognized as equal citizens. Then the Jewish community grew very quickly: in 1860, it numbered 6,200, but was already up to 40,200 by 1870 and to 147,000 by around 1900.

During the first part of the 19th century, Austrian Jewry enjoyed a stealthy 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, or “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.

This growth was surely in part thanks to the Jewish Act of 1890, which established a legal basis for the relationship between religious associations and the state. At the start of the First Republic after the First World War, there were nearly 200,000 Jews living in Vienna. During the November Pogroms in 1938, almost all synagogues were burned down. The only one to survive was the Vienna City Temple, the construction of which began in 1825.

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.

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 (who is the current 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 Monastery. 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, he publicly said that Ariel Muzicant, President of the Federation of Austrian Jewish Communities, “could have dirt on his ots," a markedly antisemitic 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 Defense Ministries. After the so-called “Ibiza Affair” came to light in May 2019, the coalition ended, and an interim government took over. After the new elections later that year, a new government coalition between the ÖVP and the Greens was formed.

The Jewish Act, established in 1890, was most recently amended in 2012 to enshrine even more firmly the principle of the “unitary community,” which serves as the single point of contact for public authorities but is itself made up of all kinds of different associations and synagogue communities. The unitary community offers the very diverse communities of which it is composed—covering the whole religious spectrum from very Orthodox to liberal, from traditional to secular, and also including Ashkenazi and Sephardic groupings—a way of speaking to the outside world with a single voice. It was instrumental in securing passage of the Austrian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Act in 2021. This law is regarded as one of the key elements in the National Strategy against Antisemitism proposed by the ruling government coalition.

The Years of Holocaust

By the mid-1930s, some 180,000 Jews lived in Vienna, and 20,000 more lived in other parts of Austria. While Austrian Jewry thrived in the Habsburg Empire’s final decades, antisemitism became an ever-growing presence. Adolf Hitler often referred to the avowedly antisemitic Karl Lueger, who served as mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910, as one of the personalities who influenced his 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 antisemites.

Following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938, the Jewish community was subjected to persecution and often mob violence. While many Austrian Jews were able to flee the country, those who remained endured the full horrors of Nazi terror. Most of Vienna’s synagogues were destroyed; Jewish homes and businesses were looted during the Kristallnacht pogrom; and thousands of Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

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 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 65,500 Austrian Jews were murdered, with 62,000 of them known by name; more than 14,000 Jews were among the 85,000 inmates who died at Mauthausen.

In 1994, Thomas Klestil, the first president of the Austrian Republic to give a speech in the Knesset, publicly condemned Austria's involvement with the Nazi Party in the Holocaust. With that speech, the “Austrian Victim Myth” began to change. Today, Austria, like Germany, has a variety of programs and incentives to support Holocaust education and fight antisemitism. One of those programs is the "Austrian Service Abroad," which sends young Austrian volunteers abroad every year in cooperation with the World Jewish Congress.


Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that approximately 10,300 Jews lived in Austria as of 2020. 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

In Austria, the Jewish community is primarily represented by the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG) in Vienna, which has nearly 8,000 members out of approximately 12,000 Jews living in the city. Vienna is also home to the independent Sephardi Federation, the Caucasian Jewish Center, and branches of international Jewish organizations such as B'nai B'rith and WIZO. Additionally, there is a local Zionist Federation and a Jewish sports club, S.C. Hakoah.

Schools, synagogues, kosher restaurants and shops, mikveh baths, a diverse cultural life, and all manner of work with young people flourish here; the small Jewish community in Vienna is now regarded as one of the most dynamic in the German-speaking world. 

In 1994, the psychosocial center ESRA opened its doors in Vienna. It was established by the Jewish community to provide psychological support to Holocaust survivors. Right from the start, ESRA was actively supported by the municipality of Vienna, which is still the most important sponsor through the Vienna Social Fund.

The city of Vienna provides a tourist brochure about “Jewish Vienna,” which displays information not only about the history of the Jews in Vienna but also current cultural events, ranging from opportunities to enjoy kosher food to Klezmer concerts, museum exhibitions, and film festivals. Visitors can also peruse the virtual tour of Jewish Vienna.

The Jewish Museum of Vienna is located at two locations in Vienna: Dorotheergasse and Judenplatz. The museum has a wide variety of exhibitions on many different topics, in addition to informing visitors about the history of Jews in Austria. Some recent examples include The Jews of Shanghai, Love Me Kosher, and 100 Misunderstandings About and Among Jews. The museum is sponsored by the city of Vienna and the Federal Ministry of Art and Culture.

The Jewish Film Festival is an annual event showcasing Jewish film contributions. Partners include the National Fund, the Future Fund, and the Ministry of Art, Culture, and Sport. The Yiddish Culture Festival in Vienna takes place annually for around one month as well; it includes concerts sponsored by various governmental institutions and ministries (the National Fund, the Ministry of Europe, Integration, and External Affairs, the Ministry of Art and Culture, the Future Fund, etc.)

Religious and Cultural life

There are five Jewish communities in Austria: Vienna, Linz, Salzburg, Tirol & Vorarlberg, and Graz, with Vienna being the largest. The IKG-Vienna oversees the umbrella organization, the Israelite Religious Society, making it central to Jewish life and decision-making in Austria. Additionally, there is a reform-liberal Jewish community in Austria. This community is not one of those represented by the unitary community.

Kosher Food

Vienna has many kosher supermarkets and restaurants, which are listed on the IKG Vienna website. During the summer, there are kosher hotels in the Saalbach-Hinterglemm and Bad Gastein resorts.

While Shechita is allowed legally, it is under the caveat that the animal is stunned directly after the cut is made—a compromise to ensure that animal rights laws are considered while still allowing for Shechita. However, this proves to be very complicated and expensive, as it is difficult to manage both the cut and stunning in direct succession. Thus, most kosher meat in Austria is imported and not produced locally.

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 (Hebrew language and religious studies school) on the Lauder Chabad campus. The Vienna University has an institute for Jewish studies, and the Institute for the History of Jews in Austria is set in a former synagogue in St. Poelten.

Students are often faced with issues stemming from a lack of awareness by the general public about Judaism. Since knowledge about Jewish High Holidays is lacking, important coursework and/or exams sometimes fall on Yom Kippur.


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

Likrat is a peer-to-peer program for promoting information about Jewish life and establishing relationships to break down barriers and preconceptions about Jews among the non-Jewish public. Jewish youth between 14 and 18 years old receive professional training in workshops and seminars. The trainees learn religion, Israel, Jewish history, Shoah, rhetoric, communication, and group dynamics skills. After completing this training, the Jewish youths attend schools to have an open dialogue about Judaism with non-Jewish students of the same age, to answer critical questions, and to counter possible prejudices. The project is co-funded by the Future Fund, the Chancellor's Office, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Integration and External Affairs.

The Austrian Union of Jewish Students (JÖH) is the representative organization of Jewish students in Austria. The union organizes events, political activism, and support for students facing issues at their universities, particularly where these relate to Judaism. The union is supported financially by the Office of the Chancellor.

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 organization 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, who was a 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. 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 called Or Chadash. 

Relations with Israel

Ever since Austria's formal recognition of 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. In 2017, Austria adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

Israel Embassy:
Anton Frankgasse 20
1180 Vienna

Telephone: +43 1 476 46 0
Fax: +43 1 476 46 575

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