Jewish Life in Vienna
Few European cities have a history as closely connected with Jewish history as Vienna. As early as the Middle Ages, the Vienna Jewish community was relatively large for the time, and despite two major expulsions, Jews continued to settle in the city on the Danube.
Nazism caused yet another dramatic rupture in the historical development of the city in general and its Jewish community in particular. Before 1938, the Jewish community was one of the largest in Europe numbering some 185,000. After 1945, a small but active Jewish community reestablished itself again; today, it comprises about 7,000 members – of the 10,000 to 12,000 Jews who live in Vienna at present.
During the past two decades, the city has stepped up efforts to face up to the history of Jews in Vienna, including both positive and negative aspects, and to reexamine Vienna’s Jewish heritage.
In addition to the Jewish institutions that have sprung up over the last few years – thanks to the support of the City of Vienna – a number of museums and memorials evoke the city’s Jewish heritage: the Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna, the Judenplatz Museum, the Sigmund Freud House, the Schoenberg Center, the Memorial against War and Fascism on Albertinaplatz and the Shoah Memorial on Judenplatz, to name only the most important.
Make sure to visit the Jewish pages of the City of Vienna!
Jewish Vienna – Then and Now
The traditional religious center of Jewish life in Vienna is the Vienna City Temple, the only synagogue that survived the pogrom of November 1938. The building complex at Seitenstettengasse 4 in the first district houses not only the synagogue, but also the offices of the Vienna Jewish Community, the Vienna Chief Rabbi, the editorial offices of the official community newspaper Die Gemeinde (The Community), the Jewish community center which stages various events, also hosts the Library of the Jewish Museum and a kosher restaurant.
Near Seitenstettengasse, in the heart of the so-called “Bermuda Triangle” – a popular bar and restaurant hotspot – there is yet another focal point on Judenplatz which confronts visitors with Jewish life past and present: the Shoah Memorial and the Judenplatz Museum, opened in fall 2000.
On the way from Seitenstettengasse to Judenplatz, you pass the Old City Hall (Altes Rathaus – Wipplingerstrasse 8, 1010 Vienna), where the Documentation Archives of the Austrian Resistance (www.doew.at) are located; they document the crimes of National Socialism and include important materials about right-wing extremist and racist developments in Austria. The Documentation Archive database contains information on over 62,000 Austrian holocaust victims.
Long pursued half-heartedly, the issue of compensation and restitution of the victims of National Socialism has been addressed at various levels in the 1990s. The appointment of the Austrian Historical Commission in 1998 at last marked the creation of a body to scientifically and comprehensively investigate the whole complex of expropriation of Jewish property in all areas of business and society.
Public institutions (museums etc.) were for the first time instructed on a broad basis to conduct provenance research. On January 17, 2001 the Republic of Austria committed itself to reparations under the Washington Agreement that compensate for property and assets that were stolen during the Nazi era. Under the Austrian General Settlement Fund Law (“Entschädigungsfondsgesetz”), a general fund was set up in 2001 to comprehensively address open claims regarding compensation for victims of National Socialism.
Restitution is not confined to a national level. The City of Vienna has introduced various measures for restitution issues covering everything from property to art. The City of Vienna’s homepage (www.wien.gv.at/english/administration/restitution) documents the Austrian capital’s far-reaching initiatives as regards restitution and, in addition, provides a service facility for those affected. It is also designed to ease the difficult search for victims and their descendents around the world.
Compensation by the City of Vienna, such as the return of the Hakoah sports ground and activities in art restitution, have been addressed, as have nationwide measures and social benefits for Nazi victims. Indeed, the issue of the Hakoah sports ground has now been resolved. A new sports and training facility was opened in the 2nd district in March 2008. Hakoah has been granted 19,500 square meters of land behind the Ernst-Happel Stadium to compensate for what was taken by the Nazis. Its construction has been funded in equal parts by the Austrian State and the City of Vienna.
Further details about memorials and cemeteries as well as organizations and associations, can be found in the Vienna brochure “Jewish Vienna – Heritage and Mission” which can also be accessed online at: http://www.wien.info/media/files/juedisches-wien.pdf.
Judenplatz – Place of Remembrance
Since the erection of the Shoah Memorial and the establishment of a museum about medieval Jewry, Judenplatz has become an impressive place of remembrance. Here you also find excavations of the medieval synagogue which can be accessed through the museum in the Misrachi House (Judenplatz 8, 1010 Wien). It contains documentation of the first Jewish settlements in the Middle Ages, which date back as far as the eleventh century, and of the first major expulsion of Jews in the years 1420-21, the so-called “Vienna Geserah”.
The Jewish community was completely annihilated at that time – an anti-Jewish relief on the building at Judenplatz 2 (“Zum grossen Jordan”) serves as a reminder of this disastrous event. Austria’s Catholic cardinal Schönborn arranged for a memorial plaque to be placed on the house at Judenplatz 6, as a reminder of the anti-Jewish role of the Catholic Church; and in April 2001, the Jewish Community placed another memorial plaque, this one devoted to those who helped Jews during the Nazi era, on the so-called Misrachi House at Judenplatz 8.
The memory of the crimes of National Socialism and the Holocaust is kept alive by the imposing memorial to victims of the Shoah by British artist Rachel Whiteread. The concrete cube depicts outwardly-facing library walls. It measures ten by seven meters, and is almost four meters high. On the ground around the memorial, the names of the places where 65,000 Austrian Jews were killed are inscribed. This memorial was erected by the City of Vienna at the initiative of Simon Wiesenthal and unveiled on October 25, 2000 after a long series of controversies. At the same time, the Judenplatz Museum, which documents the history of Vienna’s Jews in the Middle Ages, was opened.
The Judenplatz Museum is to be found in the building at Judenplatz 8 (1010 Vienna), which also houses the orthodox-Zionist organization Misrachi (Misrachi synagogue on the first floor; Bnei Akiva youth center on the second floor). In the basement of the building, the architects Jabornegg & Pálffy installed a museum that not only offers archeological findings from the excavations on Judenplatz, but also boasts a multi-media presentation of Jewish life in the Middle Ages, a medieval city model, and documentation about the medieval synagogue. The museum rooms also grant direct access to the impressive excavations of the medieval synagogue. It was one of the largest synagogues in the Middle Ages, and you can still see the foundations of the hexagonal bima, the raised lectern for the reading of the Torah, as well as the foundation of the Torah shrine and parts of the walls and floor of the women’s shul.
Museums document Jewish History
Not far from Judenplatz is the Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna, which is housed in an old aristocratic mansion at Dorotheergasse 11. Here the history of the Jews of Vienna is comprehensively documented. The museum closed for extensive refurbishment for around eight months in January 2011 and is scheduled to reopen in September. The building upgrades will also see a redesign of the permanent exhibition at the museum.
A central element of the new permanent exhibition is the famous Judaica Collection by Max Berger, which illustrates Jewish life in the context of the Shoah and examines post war developments through the prism of Max Berger’s personal story. The third floor houses the publicly accessible Show Depot which stores and exhibits the ritual objects which were saved from the synagogues destroyed in 1938. More than 80 synagogues and temples were destroyed in Vienna during the November pogrom of 1938. On the first floor, the museum stages temporary exhibitions on key themes of Jewish cultural and intellectual history.
Two additional museums examine the importance of Jewish heritage to the cultural and intellectual history of the city: the Schoenberg Center on Schwarzenbergplatz and the Sigmund Freud House at Berggasse 19.
The Freud Museum is located in the apartment where Freud had his consultation rooms and also lived until National Socialism forced him to emigrate to London in 1938. Personal memorabilia that were not moved to London are on view. An exhibition in the former practice rooms traces the life and work of the founder of psychoanalysis. Connected to the museum are a library and a modern event room in which small exhibitions are mounted.
A few years ago, the Arnold Schoenberg Center was established at Palais Fanto (corner of Schwarzenbergplatz 6, Zaunergasse 1, 1030 Vienna); it documents the life and work of this eminent modern Austrian composer. Various exhibitions are also put on here.
On the way from the Jewish Museum to Palais Fanto you pass Albertinaplatz – where Alfred Hrdlicka erected his Monument against War and Fascism – and the Vienna State Opera, of which famed composer Gustav Mahler was once the Music Director. And not far from the Schoenberg Center, you find the Vienna Konzerthaus; many Jewish upper middle class families were among its founders and patrons. If you walk along the Ring boulevard, you will pass numerous splendid mansions, many of which were once owned by Jewish families – Palais Todesco near the Vienna State Opera, Palais Schey, Palais Epstein, and Palais Ephrussi, to name but a few.
Jewish Life Today
Although the focal point is the synagogue in Seitenstettengasse, Jewish people today live all over the city. The second district, Leopoldstadt, has a particularly high Jewish population. There are also numerous Jewish institutions here, for instance the new IKG campus, the Lauder Chabad Campus, the Jewish Vocational Education Center, prayer rooms, ritual baths and other religious educational institutions, and a Hakoah sports ground again in the Prater.
In the second district you will also find Jewish shops, kosher supermarkets, butchers, bakers, restaurants, snack bars and, in the area around Tempelgasse, the Sephardic Center and Synagogue. The site that until 1938 contained the Leopoldstadt temple is now home to the ESRA psychosocial institution (www.esra.at) for survivors of Nazi persecution and their descendants.
There is also a Jewish Institute for Adult Education (Volkshochschule) at Praterstern which also gives non-Jews the opportunity to learn more about Judaism in courses on Yiddish, kosher cookery, Israeli folk dancing, Klezmer music and religious issues. Further sources of information are the Jewish newspapers and magazines which are published alongside the official voice of the Jewish Community “Die Gemeinde”. They include “Das jüdische Echo. Europäisches Forum für Kultur und Politik”, “NU”, “Illustrierte Neue Welt”, “David”, “Heruth”, “Atid” and “Der Bund”.
Over the past 300 years, the Leopoldstadt district has been home to the most concentrated settlement of Jews in Vienna. It was also the location of the so-called Mazzes-Insel (“Matzoh Island”), where poor Jewish families lived, often in close quarters. The settlement dates back to the seventeenth century, when the so-called ghetto in the Unterer Werd could be found in today’s Carmelite Quarter; this neighborhood was destroyed at the end of the seventeenth century during the second major expulsion of Jews during the reign of Emperor Leopold, and a church was erected on the foundations of the synagogue. Since then, this city district has been known as Leopoldstadt. A small part of the Leopoldstadt Temple (today ESRA, Tempelgasse 5, 1020 Vienna) has been preserved.
However, this expulsion did not prevent a new settlement by Jews in the city only a few decades later – this part of the city once again became the focus of Jewish settlers. The new Lauder Chabad Campus school center was designed by Adolf Krischanitz and also houses a prayer room. Since 2008 Zwi Perez Chajes School has been re-sited to the new Campus of the Vienna Jewish Community (IKG) where the Hakoah sports ground also is. The new IKG Campus in Simon-Wiesenthal-Gasse behind the Ernst-Happel Stadium features not only educational and sports facilities, but also a youth center and a home for the elderly. The latest information can be found on the IKG website (www.ikg-wien.at).
The oldest Jewish cemetery in Vienna is located in Seegasse in the ninth district. Today, however, it is a reconstructed museum facility. The second-oldest cemetery is in Währing, which was for the most part destroyed by the Nazis. Only a small part remains and is in a very poor state of upkeep. The largest Jewish cemetery is to be found on two sites in the Central Cemetery. By the first gate you find the old Jewish cemetery; by the fourth the new cemetery with a ceremonial hall. The old part, in particular, contains the graves of many prominent Viennese Jews.
To visit the grave of Theodor Herzl you must go to Döbling Cemetery in the nineteenth district. Today, however, there is only a cenotaph, because his remains were transported to Israel in 1948.
Eruv in Vienna
Since September a new Eruv has been active in Vienna. To check on the status of the Eruv please visit: http://eruv.at/english/index.php
Jewish Welcome Service Vienna
Judenplatz 8, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-535 04 31 500, www.jewish-welcome.at
Founded in the 1980s by Leon Zelman, Vienna City Council and the Vienna Tourist Board, the Jewish Welcome Service has invited thousands of displaced Jewish citizens to Vienna since its creation. In October 2009 the Jewish Welcome Service moved from Stephansplatz to the Misrachi building on Judenplatz. In addition to enabling thousands of Viennese Jews to return to the city, the service’s main aim is to provide information about Jewish Vienna.
The Jewish Welcome Service acts as an interface between the nearby Israelitische Kultusgemeinde and the City of Vienna’s Jewish Museum. Its function is to allay any concerns Jewish visitors may have about traveling to the city. The Jewish Welcome Service provides support for dealing with the authorities and Jewish organizations, and helping people trace their family history. The Jewish Welcome Service information point (foyer Judenplatz Museum) is open from Sunday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Vienna Jewish Community (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien)
Seitenstettengasse 4, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-531 04-0, www.ikg-wien.at
The website of the Jewish Community has numerous links and many useful addresses, telephone numbers etc. to gain further information. It also contains details of where and how you can go about tracing the whereabouts and fates of relatives.
Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna
Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-535 04 31-210, www.jmw.at
Opening hours: Sunday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Closed: Every Saturday as well as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Closed for refurbishment until September 2011.
Judenplatz 8, 1010 Vienna, www.jmw.at
Opening hours: Sunday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Friday 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Closed on Saturdays and on Rosh Hashanah. Admission is free on all other Jewish holidays, with the museum closing from 2:00 p.m. the day before. . Branch of the Jewish Museum – information: see Jewish Museum. The Judenplatz Museum is open to visitors as usual while the Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse is closed for refurbishment!
Library of the Jewish Museum Vienna
Seitenstettengasse 4, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-535 04 31-412, www.jmw.at
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. This reference library contains over 41,000 works in German, English, Hebrew and Yiddish spanning four centuries.
Sigmund Freud Museum
Berggasse 19, 1090 Vienna, tel. +43-1-319 15 96, www.freud-museum.at
Opening hours: Daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., July 1 -Sept 30 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Arnold Schoenberg Center
Schwarzenbergplatz 6/entrance Zaunergasse 1, 1030 Vienna, tel. +43-1-712 18 88, www.schoenberg.at
Opening hours: Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed on public holidays
Press releases for the Jewish Museum Vienna and the Judenplatz Museum can be obtained from the Media Office of the Jewish Museum. Please contact:
Media Office of the Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna
Weyringergasse 17/2/2, 1040 Vienna
tel. +43-1-505 31 00, Cell Phone: +43-664 506 49 00, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stadttempel - Central City temple
Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg
1010 Vienna, Seitenstettengasse 4
Tel. +43-1-53 104 – 111
Synagoge in ZPC School
1020 Vienna, Simon-Wiesenthal-Gasse 3
Morning prayer: daily at 8 am. when school is in session.
Rabbi David L. Grünfeld
1010 Vienna, Grünangergasse 1
Tel. +43-1-212 00 94
1020 Vienna, Tempelgasse 3
Tel. +43 1/512 83 31
Rabbi Asher Margulies
1020 Vienna, Lilienbrunngasse 19
Tel. +43-1-216 51 94
Rabbi Abraham Y. Schwartz
1020 Vienna, Große Schiffgasse 8
Tel. +43-1-216 36 95
1020 Vienna, Tempelgasse 7
Bucharische Synagoge: Rabbi Aminov (Tel. +43-1-276 44 68)
Georgische Synagoge: Rabbi Yaakov Hotoveli (Tel. +43-1-276 44 76)
1020 Vienna, Große Mohrengasse 19
Tel. +43-1-214 13 47
Religious Leadership: Rabbi Weiss
Director: Rabbiner Moshe Farkas
1020 Vienna, Große Mohrengasse 19
Tel. +43-1-216 16 26
Rabbi Joseph Pardess
1010 Vienna, Judenplatz 8
Tel. +43-1-535 64 60
Bejt Aharon (Augarten) Synagoge
Rabbi Itzhak Niazov
1020 Vienna, Rabbiner Schneerson-Platz 1
Tel. +43-1-214 23 48
1010 Vienna, Marc Aurel Str 2b Stiege 7
Hamidrasch Torah etz Chayim
Rabbi Michael Pressburger
1020 Vienna, Große Schiffgasse 8
Tel. +43-1-216 36 99
1020 Vienna, Blumauergasse 10
Praying Room in AKH Hospital
1090 Vienna, Währinger Gürtel 18-20
Schomrei Hadas - Scharei Zion Synagoge
Rabbi Jakov Biderman
1090 Vienna, Grünentorgasse 26
Tel. +43-1-334 18 18-13
Source: IKG Wien