Jewish Museum Virtually Resurrects Viennese Synagogues

DiePresse - May 18, 2016

German Original:

With one exception, all Viennese synagogues were destroyed during the November Pogroms in 1938. An exhibit is now showing virtual reconstructions.

Until 1938, close to 100 synagogues and houses of prayer existed in Vienna – today, only one of these sacral buildings still exists. With the exception of the City Temple, they were all destroyed during the National Socialists’ November Pogroms. The exhibit „Vienna Synagogues. A Memory“ at the Jewish Museum on Judenplatz now resurrects these buildings – through virtual reconstructions.

„There was a synagogue in almost every Viennese district, in Leopoldsstadt there were even five – and several houses of prayer. Every trace today is gone,“ explained Danielle Spera, director of the museum, on Wednesday. The buildings first were erected in the mid-19th century, after Emperor Francis Joseph I. allowed Jews the founding of a community and corresponding, visible houses of worship. This had previously been impossible for centuries.

„Synagogues destroyed, but plans meticulously preserved“

Continuously, synagogues and houses of prayer rose in Vienna. Their style ranged from very simple to representative. In one single night – from November 9 to 10, 1938 – these works were set afire by the Nazis. „While the Nazis did destroy the synagogues, they meticulously kept the building plans;“ Spera said. Those documents served as the basis for a project by Bob Martens, a professor at the Vienna Technical University, and architect Herbert Peter. The project started fifteen years ago with the goal to make these buildings accessible again, at least virtually.

The results can now be seen at the Jewish Museum on the Judenplatz: „We tried to get close to reality and I think we succeeded,“ Martens explained. „Our approach was to ensure that visitors really take something with them after leaving the exhibit,“ his colleague Peter added. The exhibit displays postcards, contemporary displays, interviews with witnesses, plans, models and documentation like the log of the Vienna fire brigade of November 1938.

The highlights are the computer-aided displays of the destroyed synagogues, which are projected on to the walls via tablets. „What I really, really like are the rooms we can enter, though only virtually,“  the exhibit curator, Werner Hanak-Lettner,  praised the results of the project. In the real world, communal housing from the 1950s and 60s today occupies those lots. Almost all locations feature commemorative plaques to remind of their history.

Clearer Markings Demanded

Spera would appreciate a clearer and consistent marking of those locations where synagogues used to be. This request has been communicated to city councilors, according to the museum director: „We have repeatedly requested that. “

The Exhibit

“Vienna Synangoges. A Memory“ at the Jewish Museum on Judenplatz, May 18 until November 17, 2016. Then the exhibit will move to the Jewish Museum’s main location at Dorotheergasse to become part of the permanent exhibit there. Next to a bilingual catalogue there is also a memo-game accompanying the exhibit; it can be purchased for 12 Euro at the museum.