Jewish Museum: At “Comrade Doctor” in Vienna

German original:

For the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the dense and informative show Genosse. Jude (“Comrade. Jew”) covers a special aspect of Austrian history.

The revolutionary Lew Bronstein fled Russia in 1907 after being sentenced to lifelong exile in Siberia. He ended up in Vienna. Until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when he had to abscond again, Bronstein stayed, with only short interruptions, in the capital of the Habsburg Empire. Together with Adolf Joffe, he issued the „Prawda“ in Russian language, which was smuggled to his former homeland where it should propagate the revolution.

Bronstein, who later became known worldwide under the name of Leo Trotzki as one of the enforcers of the Russian Revolution of 1917, also got acquainted with prominent social democrats in Vienna. They met at Café Central. He mocked Otto Bauer, Max Adler and Karl Renner because of their narrow-mindedness: “In the old, imperial, hierarchical, bustling and conceited Vienna, Marxists addressed each other with ‘Doctor’. Members of the working class often addressed academics with ‘Comrade Doctor’.

Such bon mots and a wide range of interesting cross connections can currently be seen in the Palais Eskeles in Vienna. For the 100th anniversary of the Communist takeover in Russia, the Jewish Museum devotes its show to special Austrian aspects of the revolutionary history of the 20th century: “Comrade. Jew – We Only Wanted Paradise on Earth” shows the Jewish view on a strong interaction, which reaches from the origins until the fall of Communism.


The “Voice of the People” to fall asleep

“Not all Jews were Communists but many Communists were Jews” says director Danielle Spera. She wrote a refreshing contribution to the catalog issued by the curators Gabriele Kohlbauer-Fritz and Sabine Bergler. Spera tells about her private life. Her parental home was communist, her father commuted as the manager of haulages of the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) between Vienna, Moscow and East Berlin: “During his rare stays in Vienna between his journeys, he read me texts from the children's page of the “Volksstimme” (“Voice of the People”) – the party organ of the KPÖ.

That might sound nostalgic, but the exhibition shows that only selectively. It is many-voiced, even a bit overloaded. The appellative character of all the propaganda posters can be tiring. But it also has wit, for example when looking at a Soviet tapestry from the 1930s: a beard was painted into the face of dictator Josef Stalin, which is reminiscent of the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, the founder of the political Zionism. Or, right at the beginning, the gallery with busts and pictures of well-known Jewish people of the labor movement: Dr. Karl Marx, Dr. Rosa Luxemburg, Dr. Otto Bauer, Dr. Viktor Adler (who generously supported Trotzki’s escape). Evil to those who in the future think of “Comrade Doctor” when seeing these icons.


Soviet-Zion on the Border with China

Combined with the catalogue, the show performs the function of a historic seminar. One should take a lot of time for the examination of this history. Utopias and terror, internationalism and anti-Semitism, strong art of the avant-garde, dry socialist realism and deeply tame hero worship are presented side by side.

So many fates: the dramatist Jura Soyfer, who died at the age of 26 after his imprisonment in the concentration camp Buchenwald, or Prive Friedjung, whose long life (1902-2005) was characterized by flight, similar as in the case of Trotzki between East and West. “We only wanted Paradise on Earth. The Memories of a Jewish Communist from Bukovina” is the title of Friedjung’s biography.

The passage about Birobidzhan tells about a distant utopia: on the border with China, a Soviet Zion was planned more than 80 years ago. Stalin let the Jews build a city. They should apparently be located far away from Moscow. Jewish Communists from all over the world were involved in the project. Today, only two percent of the citizens of the city are Jews.