Contemporary History. The Jewish Community of Vienna was the only one that recorded their own expulsion and deportation up until the end of the NS regime. The documents missing for decades are now being exhibited for the first time in Vienna. They are historically unique finds which offer new insights into the Holocaust.
How must it have felt to them? What was the experience like of yearning for the opportunity to flee the country, symbolized by the tickets which they held in their hands, entitling them to board the ship, Royal Mail Lines?
What was going through the minds of Hugo S. and his family who left Vienna in February, 1930 to cross the ocean with the British line to far-away Bolivia? Or Emil S., when he stepped off the boat onto land in Buenos Aires? Or Dr. Max R. who received permission to leave the country and board the ship with his wife and two children headed for Montevideo?
Each individual ticket booking for the Royal Mail Lines was fastidiously recorded and filed away and remains to this day in its original ledger. Only the paper clips which now have become rusty over the many years have been replaced in the meantime in order to protect the paper. Those pieces of paper upon which the Cunard White Star confirmed their passage to New York begin to fall apart when one touches them.
The documents contain numerous stamps and signatures. Some of them were signed by four various representatives from the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG), confirming that part of the of travel costs would be paid by the emigrant aid offered by the Religious Community.
In spring of 1939, the passage across the Atlantic to Cuba cost just under 1,000 Reichsmark, which is about 4,000 Euros today. Each little subsidized amount had to be calculated because there was strong pressure to emigrate and because the necessary sum was tremendous. At the beginning of 1939, 117,979 people, to be exact, belonging to Vienna’s Jewish community had made a reservation.
Most of them had lost their work since the NS takeover in March, 1938, and many of them sold their belongings in order to survive. Salomon K. named North America as his destined goal. His bicycle shop had been confiscated on the day after the Nazis marched into Vienna, and he had been arrested. He said that his family had nothing more to take with them from Vienna than three suitcases and a bale of sheets.
And what awaited the twenty children who on February 22, 1939 climbed onto the train in Vienna headed for Antwerp, Belgium? A yellowed invoice upon which is written 8.4 Reichsmark for breakfast for the children, two Reichsmark for an invitation to coffee for the Belgian nuns, and five Reichsmark which were spent for a tiny mishap involving a ‘windowpane’ occuring on the way from Köln to Aachen bore witness to their trip.
The bureaucracy involved in Jewish persecution was recorded in detail; for example, “provisions” accompanying the children “had to be kept to the bare minimum.” Their parents had to swear under oath “that the children in no way possessed any assets and that also the parents had not given them any assets nor had they transferred any to them.” The permission obtained for registering each and every child for the so-called ‘transport of children’ was like having to jump over hurdles. And after their departure the Gestapo demanded again an exact report. Up until the beginning of the war on September 1, 1939, almost 3,000 children were successful in leaving Austria with support of the Religious Community.
Thousands of petitions, emigration files, telegrams, protocols concerning negotiations with the NS in command were found in 2000 in one of the IKG buildings in Vienna’s district Fünfhaus. What began as clearing the building led to the discovery of 500,000 pages of treasured documents depicting the Austrian Jews’ fight for survival.
Also found was an old wooden box containing index cards, which meanwhile have become a symbol of remembrance, meaning that memories of those years have has not been wiped away. Its unimposing exterior served as a protective covering, hiding the personal data of countless numbers of people. It contains many small pieces of paper, each one detailing the age, profession, country of emigration and financial support given to the persecuted.
The finds are historically unique because the majority of Jewish historical sources throughout all of Europe were systematically destroyed by the Nazis.
Beginning this week, parts of the finds will be shown in an exhibit at the Jewish Museum Vienna open to the public under the ambiguous title, “Ordnung Muss Sein (There Must be Order) – The Vienna Israelite Religious Community’s Archive.”
Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek, head curator of the Vienna Jewish Museum, points out two significant aspects of the unique historical value of the tradition passed down by the Vienna Israelite Religious Community:
• The archive covers a span of 300 years – from the beginning of Vienna’s Jewish community until the post-Holocaust period. According to current research, nothing comparable exists in terms of its completeness and scope.
• And it is the only archive in which the commissioning of people’s expulsion and deportation has been documented in such a painstakingly “orderly” manner.
The IKG was the only community within the German-speaking territory – despite formerly referred to under a different name – which existed until 1945, whereby the personal data of every single individual was recorded in detail during the NS regime.
Shortly before the end of the war the valuable holding was almost destroyed by a bomb dropped in the middle of the Religious Community located in the center of Vienna. With hands crippled by gout, Abraham Singer, the IKG’s librarian, dug up the buried papers from the crater left by the bomb. After the 1950s the major part – about three million pages from NS times – was lent to Jerusalem on permanent loan. “The Vienna Israelite Religious Community sent the old archive, which tells the story of Vienna’s Jews, to Israel so that it can be protected forever,” said IKG’s president at the time, Ernst Feldsberg.
Apart from the countless number of documents of over 17.5 million victims of the NS regime, which were released over the past few years by the International Search Service in Bad Arolsen, the IKG’s archive strikes continued interest. Paul Shapiro from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.: “Until now the history of Jewish persecution was almost entirely based on written documents left behind by the Nazis.” What a Jewish community suffered through now becomes alive.” The New York Times wrote in a preliminary report of the exhibition in Vienna that it is here “the lost Holocaust history of a nation” is brought to light.
Nontheless, the idea that what was lost will suddenly unfold before one’s eyes is an illusion. Curator Heimann-Jelinek: “There will be no history told because the history is fragmented; we can no longer piece it together; no tampering with the proof can “heal” it.
A large space was filled with hundreds of boxes filled with archives which are not to be opened. Heimann-Jelinek: “The viewer has no access to the contents of what was once Jewish Vienna. One can only imagine it from the outside.” Also since the IKG’s archive in Vienna belonged not only to Jewish but Austria’s memory, one wants to remind the viewer that dealing with such memory requires a certain sensitivity.
Many thousands of pages serve as testaments. Salom K., who emigrated to North America and wanted to do “any work offered to him” was deported in May of 1942 to Minsk, and on the day after his arrival, he was exterminated. In his last letter written to the IKG he had expressed hope to be accepted on the Lloyd Triestino for passageway to Shanghai.
His name is on the list of forty-eight transports of deported people which was also “forgotten” and found in the newly discovered holdings in Vienna. The file scarcely takes up half a meter of space on the shelf and contains the name of more than 48,000 people. The exhibition shows the covers of notebooks, upon which date and destination of deportation is written by hand with the sixth transport noting the entry, “15. X. 1941, Litzmannstadt, Lodz.” Merely three weeks later 5,000 people were deported to the ghetto in Lodz; those who survived were exterminated in gas wagons in Kulmhof.
“Births of Jews.”
Head of IKG’s archive, Lothar Hölbling, refers sarcastically to the huge survey map bearing the heading, “Jewish Migration from the Ostmark,” as “representing Eichmann’s dream.” “On one side is written, 180,000 Jews in the Ostmark” at the start of May, 1938, wheras on the other side is written, “39,984 Jews in the Ostmark” end of March 1941. (Note: In 1938 there were some 206,000 people considered Jews by the Nuremberg Laws on racial policy who lived in Austria.)
Running statistics entitled “Death of Jews in Vienna,” conceal also many suicides such as that of author Egon Friedell who committed suicide on March 16, 1938. Another is entitled, “Births of Jews in Vienna” – it shows the fast, steep incline – beginning 1941 when there was only one Jewish child born in any given month in Vienna.
Migration is depicted as an intertwining net of necessary paths through a jungle of bureaucracy that had to be taken. The “Path of the Jews” is broken down into two lines, a darker blue one indicating “Bureaus Designated for the Jews” and a lighter blue one indicating “Bureaus only Conditionally Designated for the Jews.”
After being exhibited in Vienna, the chart will go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. for three years.
Under whose charge this macabre view of deportation was commissioned is not clear. It is certain, however, that the Israelite Religious Community, itself, produced the charts because there are also drafts of the individual illustrations found in their archive. The historian, Jonny Moser, Holocuast survivor after having fled Austria for Hungary, was an assistant to the Swedish diplomat, Raul Wallenberg,* and considered one of the most knowledgeable on IKG history. He suspects it was Adolf Eichmann, chief NS organizer, who commissioned the extermination of the Jews. Moser: “The use of charts involving statistics as they are depicted on this map, was frowned upon by the Nazis because it was thought to be a Jewish invention.” Eichmann, nevertheless, liked it.
To what extent Vienna served as a model for the NS expulsion of the Jews after March 1938 is often written about. The wild looting of Jewish shops and residences as well as the violent assaults were considered what triggered the extremely severe actions taken by the NS in comparison to that what happened in the Old Reich in Germany.
Following their discussion on hatred for the Jews in Vienna, the historians, Hans Safrian and Hans Witek, came to the conclusion: “Due to the stronger pressure exerted from below and due to the excesses of local pogroms by anti-Semites, it had become necessary for the Nazi bureaucrats in Vienna, much earlier than in Germany, to contain the riots by finding pseudo legal methods and forms of organizing the implementation of terror in a “methodical and orderly fashion.”
A correspondent from the New York Times reported from Austria back in March 23, 1938: “One thing is clear. Wheras the first victims of the Nazis were the leftist parties – Socialists and Communists – in Vienna it were the Jews. In fourteen days they succeeded in subordinating the Jews to an continually severe regime, whereas in Germany it took one year.”
The Vienna Religious Community placed hope in cooperating with the new people in power. The historian and author, Doron Rabinovici, wrote in his excellent examination of the sensitive and painful history of the Jewish functionaries: “In comparison to the hostile mobs or to the anti-Semitic riots in March of 1938, the NS officials appeared initially to the Jewish functionaries to be more temperate and willing to negotiate.”
Three days after the takeover of power by the National Socialists, an NS troupe managed to enter the Israelite Religious Community in Vienna’s Seitenstettengasse. On March 18 the official building was searched and occupied during an extensive crackdown. Among other items found was a receipt for a donation intended to contribute to a referendum planned by Federal Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg. In effect, it was a welcomed pretext for the Nazis to arrest the head of the Jewish Community and to impose a 500,000 Reichsmark fine. Soon thereafter, the head of the Religious Community, Stieglitz, committed suicide.
Josef Löwenherz, official director of the IKG, had already been given a slap on the face by Adolf Eichmann during their first meeting. The Religious Community was closed, and on May 2, 1938, again opened but forced to assume a fully different structure. Rabinovici: “In the meantime, however, all of the Jewish interest groups were debilitated and beheaded.”
Eichmann ordered the Jewish functionaries to come to the empty Palestine office and let them stand there while spoken to. He refused to shake hands with the Jewish representatives “out of ideological reasons,” ridiculed and threatened them. Rabinovici: “The Community fell into a trap. The horrible conditions created by the Nazis forced those being persecuted to accept subordination.”
On May 8, 1938 Eichmann reported from Berlin: “You can believe me - I brought the leadership to an absolute trot….tomorrow I will again control the IKG and the Zionists. I will do this at least once a week every week. I have them completely in my hands, and they don’t dare to make a step without consulting me first.”
Apecial command of the “Department concerning the Jews,” within the SS’s security section headed by Eichmann, began implementing his perfidious concepts: The Jewish Community should become his tool. The IKG’S large organizational structure was put completely under his control, with Josef Löwenherz appointed director of the bureau. The IKG should see to a smooth running of compulsory measures, thereby shielding the real perpetrator of Jewish victims. Löwenherz was ordered to the “Central Office for Jewish Migration” and installed in the occupied Rothschild Palace to receive his instructions. He was to pass these on to the Jewish population. He had to report back to Eichmann and later to SS strongman, Anton Brunner, every week.
The Austrian Historical Commission revealed how the Religious Community was put under pressure to demand donations from foreign Jewish aid organizations to help implement forced migration. Eichmann declared in June of 1939: “The Jewish functionaries were given instructions to ask for 100,000 dollars in cash on a monthly basis from Jewish financial institutions for the purpose of moving Jews out of the Ostmark.” The historians, Gabriele Anderl and Dirk Rupnow, document that a total of 4.2 million dollars in foreign currency was raised for Jewish migration. The Religious Community was forced to sell the money to those leaving. With the proceeds they took thousands of needy emigrants under their arm and fed them.
Raul Hilberg, who originated from Vienna and became the doyen of Holocaust research, found among the yellowed papers documents from his family. His father wrote that he “had very little means” for the purpose of migrating. The family fled in March 1939 by way of Cuba to New York. In his most recent book, “Sources of the Holocaust,” Hilberg wrote: “The reality of events cannot be reconstructed. The relentless search for knowledge continues; may it continue to be so extensive and time consuming that nothing gets lost or is forgotten.”