Jewish Theater in the Nestroyhof

Open Letter by Warren Rosenzweig, Artistic Director of the Jewish Theater of Austria (09/09/03)

The following is an open letter written by Warren Rosenzweig whereby he asks the City of Vienna and the federal government of Austria to enable the reestablishment of the Jewish theater in the Nestroyhof:

As many people are now finally aware, Oskar Marmorek’s long overlooked Judgendstil jewel at Praterstrasse 34 in Vienna houses a once famous Jewish theater in its courtyard. Concealed from public view and consciousness for decades, the theater in the Nestroyhof has an audience again for the first time since it was closed in 1938 by the National Socialists. But the audience waits outside.

Vienna’s Leopoldstadt, once the center of Austrian Jewish culture, was also the home of a dynamic and creative theater community of which the Nestroyhof is the last remaining remnant. Thanks to a recent report in a nation-wide television broadcast (Oskar Marmorek’s Jewish Theater on "Treffpunkt Kultur") about the initiative of the Jewish theater of Austria to rescue it from renewed destruction, the all but forgotten architectural masterpiece is currently in the public eye. But it is more than a nostalgic appreciation for Jugendstil at its finest that gives the rediscovered courtyard theater its unmistakable status and allure in the landscape of Viennese culture. It embodies a rich but tragically disrupted history and it proposes a viable future.

Vienna is famous still today for the great Jewish heritage that was criminally obliterated in 1938. It was a heritage that belonged then, even as it does now, not only to Austrian Jews, but to all Austrians. Today, the Nestroyhof signals hope and opportunity for progress and the possible revitalization of interactive culture. Yet there has been no indication that the few people who have the power to enable its reestablishment have any such intentions. On the contrary, at the same time that the building is officially preparing to come under landmark protection, it’s unique, historically meaningful center - its Jewish theater - is being offered on the open market and the government isn’t even in the bid.

A 21st century Jewish theater would introduce a new era of artistic and cultural enrichment, diversity, and interaction for Vienna. It could contribute significantly to the growing economy of the city’s central, yet culturally neglected 2nd district - its commerce and its tourism and could inspire international admiration and attraction. The rescue of the spectacular theater in the Nestroyhof would require public action and investment. But since the cost of re-establishing the courtyard stage is modest for such a promising endeavor, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine its feasibility, if not its exigency.

Through the Jewish Theater of Austria, creative dialogue with contemporary Jewish identity already has an audience for the past four years. The Nestroyhof offers an ideal, if long delayed opportunity that, if missed, may not appear again. The large audience that now awaits the new fate of the theater in the Nestroyhof, simultaneously conscious about the past and the future, will only increase with the reopening of doors that should never be closed again.

Warren Rosenzweig, Artistic Director
Jewish Theater of Austria Website:
Vienna, September 2003