Exhibit on “Jewish Vienna” in the United States

Informationen aus Österreich (11/17/03)

Jewish life in Vienna has been vividly captured through pictures taken by two photographers from Budapest, Janos Kalmar and Alfred Stalzer. The exhibit traced the history through documentation of the large Jewish Religious Community of former times to the small community existing today. The photo exhibit entitled, "Jewish Vienna," was shown at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and was opened with an introductory lecture by the historian, Steven Beller, who characterized the Jews in Vienna as "Menschheitsferment," ("the ferment of humanity") taken from a quotation by Arthur Schnitzler in his novel, Der Weg ins Freie (The Road into the Open) (1908).

Struggling with the conflict between anti-Semitism sensed in the outer world and one’s own personal optimism influenced the Jews of Vienna decisively, claimed the historian. Living within the setting of the "anti-intellectual culture of the Habsburgs," the Jews developed a "critical modernism" and believed in the feasibility of external reforms as well as the capability of inner psychic reform, such as, for example is reflected in psychoanalysis. Jewish thinkers, artists and scientists chose a more liberal and open approach due to having been formed by the ideas emanating from the Enlightenment rather than from Catholicism.

With the rise of nationalism in the Monarchy, many of the Jews no longer "fit in" ethnically, explained Beller. Those in Vienna who had particularly strong leanings toward the ‘Christian’ and ‘social’ were by no means nationalists, but rather looked upon as belonging more to the ethnic group of ‘Christians’ - otherwise, they could have called themselves even Catholics. The Jews, however, were considered "different" and set apart as "non-Christian." "The Vienna of Schnitzler’s era had already some signs of Hitler’s times," claimed Beller.

Beller could not clearly answer why exactly it was in Vienna at the turn of the century and during the two world wars that there was such a strong phenomenon of political anti-Semitism, whereas Budapest revealed comparatively little hostility toward the Jews. He does not share the opinion that anti-Semitism was directed toward the Jewish immigrants from poorer parts of the collapsed Monarchy and that it was a form of xenophobia. All types of people had come to Vienna - Hungarians, Gallicians, Romanians, Russians and particularly Czechs. "Why was there no anti-Czechism?" he asked. The flight from Nazi persecution scattered the "ferment of humanity," the Jews in Vienna, throughout the entire world.

The historian, Steven Beller, grew up in Great Britain as the child of an American father and an Austrian mother and is currently an historian at the George Washington University.