Austrian Jews

Jewish boy Galicia Austria Poland
Figure 1.--The Duchy of Galicia and Vladimir was medievl state in what is now Poland and the Ukraine. It came under Polish control (1366) and eventually Austrian control (1772) through the Polish Partitions. While Austria was expelling Jews from parts of the empire, the acquisition of Galica brought Austria a substantial Polish population as well as a substantial Jewish minority. This is a post card depicting a Galician Jewish boy. It was one of aeries about European Jews. we believe was printed in Germany and sold to America's Jewisg community in the years before World War I. The card was mailed in 1908.

Austria during the medieval era became an important center of Jewish learning (13th century). The Emperor expelled the Jews (1669). They were not allowed to return until liberal reforms wee adopted (1848). A sizeable Jewish community began to develop, primarily in Vienna. The Jewish population in Austria was in large measure refugees from the anti-Semetic policies of the Russian Tsarist government. Vienna was one of the mot cosmopolitan cities in Europe and Jews made a major contributin to that culture. Austria was the center of a large multi-ethnic empire. There were also Jews in the various provinces of the Empire, many of which became independent or parts of independent countries after World War I. At the peak in the early 1930s, about 300,000 Jews lived in Austrria. There was a long established and largely assimilated Jewish population. Austria had a population of about about 206,000 Jews (March 1938). This was only about 3 percent of the population. The largest community was in Vienna where about 175,000 Jews lived. The Jewish community of Vienna was one of the largest and most prestigious in Western Europe. There were many important synagogues and a dozen Jewish schools. Vienna Jews had an extrodinary recird of culture and learning. The most prominent individual was Freud, but there were many other prestigious individuals. The NAZI Anschluss united Austria with Germany (1938). The NAZIs immediately applied the anti-Semrtic Nuremberg laws. Most of Austria's Jewish community emigrated or were killed by the NAZIs in the Holocaust. There were very few Jews left in Austria when the Allies arrived (1945).

Roman Era

Jews are know to have lived in Austria during the Roman era, but actual evidence is very limited. The appearance of Jews througout the Empire is believed to be the result of the Roman supression of the Jewish Revolot (1st century AD). Precisely when the Jews reached Norcium (roughly modern Austria), we are not sure. At the time, the province of Noricum was largely Romano-Celtic.

Medieval Period

With the decline of the Roman Empire, urban life desintegrated. We know little about what happened to the small Jewish community as Rome declined. While little is known about the Dark Ages, by the mid-medieval era there is a much more extensive information available. As with the rest of Europe, there were periods of relative tolerance intersperse with eras of suprression.

Dark ages

Bavarian and Slavonic tribes contested with each other for control of what is modern Austria (late 6th century). They gradually converted to Christianity. Little is know about Jews during the Dark Ages. One rare report indicates that Bishop Arno of Salzburg (785-871) was treated by a Jewish doctor (“medicum iudaicum”). Roman learning declined with the Barbarian invasions. Few Christians except the clergy were literate. Jew wre more likely to be literate because they were expected to read the Torah. More reports are available by the mid-medieval era. It is likely that during the Dark Ages or early Christian era there was relative toleration of the Jews.

Mid-medieval era

We know much more about Jewish life by the mid-medieval era. Documents substantiate the existance of Jewish merchants by the 10th century. [Raffelstettener Zollordnung] Reports substantiate the Judengasse (“Jew’s Alley”) in Salzburg (12th century). A complication here is just what is Austria. The borders of European principalities changed substantially througout the medival era. Salzburg is of course part of Austria, in fact the most famous Austrian city after Vienna. It did not become part of Austria until after the Napoleonic era (1816). The Church by the mid-medieval era had become the dominant force in Europe and with that dominance supression of the Jews became increasingly pronounced.

Late-medieval era

The Austrian Jewish community grew during the medieval era became an important center of Jewish learning (13th century). Gradually the Hapsburg began to emerge as the Austrian ruling family. The Duke of Austria grnted Jews specified rights (1244). Emperor Friedrich II granted expanded formal rights (1338). There is also evidence of the all to prevalent anti-Semitism wjich was wide-spread in medieval Eutope. There are references to riots at Pulkau targeting Jews (1338). Jews in Vienna lowered interest rates to avoid such riots. The old synagogue of Salzburg in the Judengasse is first reported (1370). At first it was an informal house of prayer. By the 14th century, the Church's dominance had begun to decline. The plague disaster may have been a factor, causing people to ask awkward questions. Reformist movements appeared which the Church supressed. The Church not only supressed the reformers, but also Jews as well seing any not Catholic group as a threat. Jan Hus was a reformer in Bohemia, a province ruled by Austria. The Emperor's Catholic forces suppresed Hus and his followers in the Hussite Wars. During the War many Jews, seen as Hussite allies were expelled from Austria (1420-21).

The Reformation

The Reformation began in Germany with Luther posting his 95 thesis. This religious dispute ushered in one of the most violent eras of European history. The Catholic Church saw them as allies of the Protestants. Ironically Protestants like Luther also perscecuted the Jews.

Expulsion

Austrian authorities at different levels during the medieval era expelled Jews. Some of these actions were local and involved small numbers of Jews for only short periods. Others involved larger numbers for longer periods. One of the first such actions followed the Hussite Wars (1420-21). One of the most extensive action was taken by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. At the time the Holy Roman Empire had many small principalities, many ruled by Church officials. Salzburg was one of those. The Prince-Archbishop expelled the city's Jews (1492). Jews were not allowed to reside permanently in Salzburg until the 19th century. Guilds in Styria and Carinthia were frustrated because of competitions with Jewish artisans. They petitioned the Emperor Maximilian I who expelled the Jews. They were relocated to the Eastern frontierv of the Empire in Zistersdorf near Eisenstadt (1496). Imperial authorities ordered Jews to wear a yellow spot on their clothing to identify them when they entered market towns and cities (1551). The Jewish population of Vienna grew despite the religious strife (16th century). The Jews built a new cemetary. Because of the stone tomstones these cemretaries were important sources of information on Jewish communities in Europe until many were destroyed by the NAZIs. Ferdinand II allowed Jews to live near what is today Leopoldstadt (1624). This was followed by another imperial expulsion order (1669-70). Reports suggest that only adecade later that individuals were being sallowed to return to Vienna. Reports from Vienna refer to Court Jew (“Hofjuden”), such as Samuel Oppenheimer and Samson Wertheimer. Other Jews had importantposts.

Galicia (1772)

The Duchy of Galicia and Vladimir was medievl state in what is now Poland and the Ukraine. It came under Polish control (1366) and eventually Austrian contro (1772) as part of the Polish Partitions. While Austria was expelling Jews from parts of the empire, the acquisition of Galica brought Austria a substantial Polish population as well as a substantial Jewish minority. Galicia was a major battle ground between the Russians and Austrians during World War I. The Austrians had to ask for German military support to hold it. After the War, the province was awarded to the new ndependent Polish state. During World War II the Jewish population was destroyed by the NAZIs as part of the Holocaust.

Readmittance (1848)

They were not formally allowed to return to Austriaithout restriction until liberal reforms wee adopted (1848). A sizeable Jewish community began to develop, primarily in Vienna. The Jewish population in Austria was in large measure refugees from the anti-Semetic policies of the Russian Tsarist government.

Austro-Hungarian Empire (1866)

Austria and Prussia after the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) contested with each other for the control of Germany. Prussia's defeated Austria in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and essentially expelled the country from the rest of Germany. The Austrians made a compact with the Hungarians andrecreated their empire as a multi-national state with a German-Hungaian center. There were also Jews in the various provinces of the Empire. There were advantages for Jews living in a mult-ethnic empire, especially one that afforded a measure of tolerance. In Austrisa-Hungary the Jews were just one of many ethnic groups, fomenting a spirit of tolerance. In addition, so that the Empire coud operate smoothly, the Empire enforced a legal system protecting individuals throughout the different provinces. This befefitted the Jews who were a minority no matter where they lived. Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire tended to identify with the ruling class rather than the larger goverened population. This occurred throughout the Empire. Bohemian Jews sent their children not to Czech, but German-language schools supported by the Austrian governing class. There were many variations in the multi-ethnic Empire. Austria had acquired Galicia in the Polish Partitions (18th century). Hrre there was a mixed Polish-Ukranian population. The Austrians called the Ukranuians Ruthenians in an attempt to disciurage trans-Ukrankian sentiment. Jews identified with the Polish aristocracy. The Hungarian arisistocracy was important in Transylvania, a province to be contested between Hungary anbd Romania. Here Jews tended to identified themselves as Hungarian rather than Romanian Jews. These alegeginces and popular perceptions would have terrible consequences for the Jews after Wotld War I and the disolution if the Empire.

Vienna

Vienna was one of the mot cosmopolitan cities in Europe and Jews made a major contributin to that culture. The largest Austrian Jewish community was in Vienna where about 175,000 Jews lived. The Jewish community of Vienna was one of the largest and most prestigious in Western Europe. There were many important synagogues and a dozen Jewish schools. Vienna Jews had an extrodinary record of culture and learning. The most prominent individual was Freud, but there were many other prestigious individuals.

World War I

World War I began with the Austrian effort to punish Serbia for the assasinatiin of Franz Ferdinand (1914). The ethnically different provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were less enthusiatic about the War. Austria had been on of the major powers of Europe for centuries, but was unprepared for modern War. The enormous casualties and economic disruption that followed undermined the foundatins of the Empire. And the Allies on the basis of President Wilson's 14 Points endorsed national self determination in the post-War peace settlement. The various provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire became independent or parts of independent countries after World War I. Jews in those provinces found their situation changed. They were now minorities in ethnically based states.

Independent Austria

Post-War Austria was a very different state from the pre-War Austria Hungary. It wa now a small, land-locked state with little power or importance. The economy was also disrupted by the fact that customs barriers and natiinal economic policies now separated Austria from its former provinces. At the peak of the Jewish community, about 300,000 Jews lived in Austrria during the early and mid-1930s. There was an established and largely assimilated Jewish population. Austria had a population of about about 206,000 Jews (March 1938). This was only about 3 percent of the population.

The Anschluss (1938)

There was considerable sentiment in both Germany and Austria after World War I to join the two German-speaking states. France adamently refused. Hitler after seizing power revived the issues. Austrain NAZIs were encouraged to promote the idea. Hitler and Austrian NAZIs throughout 1937 demanded an Anschluss with Austria. Belaegered Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg on March 9, 1938, announced plans to hold a plebiscite on the independence of Austria. Hitler used this opportunity to take action against the Austrian State. The NAZIs with the Wehrmacht on the border pressed Schuschnigg was pressed to resign. The NAZI surrogate, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, took over the chancellorship and formed a new government dominated by the Austrian NAZIs. The German Wehrmacht and the SS, armed with list of NAZI opponents, crossed the German-Austrian frontier. Hitler on March 13, speaking before a jubilent crowd in Linz, announced the "Anschluss" (Annexation) of Austria into the German Reich. Joyous celebrations occurred throught Austria. Even while the celebrations were going on, the SS and local NAZIs began rounding up those who had opposed the NAZIs. Violence occured against the Jews. Jewish students and professors were attacked in universities. Jews at random were dragged into the streets to scrub the sidewalks on their hands and knees--surounded by taunting crowds. Austria became the Ostmark within the Reich.

NAZI Austria

he NAZIs immediately applied the anti-Semrtic Nuremberg laws. Thus the full force of German law was immediately brought into force. This included the Nuremburg and many regulations implementing those laws. German Jews had had 5 years in which to adjust as much as possible to NAZI race laws. Austrian Jews had no such adjustment period. They immediately found themselves subject to these laws as well as the whim of local NAZIs all to eager to enforce them and publically humiliate as many Jews as possible with their new found authority.

The Holocaust

The NAZIS began expelling Austrian Jews through both physical and psychological terror as well as organized transports. The principal goal at first was to rob Jews of their property and expel them from the Reich rather than murdering them. The NAZIs organized numerous transports to Dachau made up of mostly of Jews. Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass" was a vicious NAZI pogrom directed at NAZI Jews which made it all to clear what the NAZIs had in stire for Jews. The NAZI conquest of Poland provided a place that Jews could be deported competely under NAZI control. Gettos were quickly established as well as construction begun on many new concentration camps. The NAZIs in eatly 1941 began expeling Jews for what they indicated was resettlement in the East. About 48,000 Vienna Jews were deported to ghettos and concentration camps. Many of the early transports were to ghettos established in Poland after the NAZI occupation. After the death camps were fully opperartional in mid-1942 many of the transports were destined there. Only about 1,700 Jews in these transports survived. The former head of the Hitler Youth movement, Baldur von Schirach, was made the Gauleter of Vienna and played a major role in the destrucyion of the city's Jews. There were very few Jews left in Austria when the Allies arrived (1945).

Sources

Raffelstettener Zollordnung. This is a catalog of Jewish customs and tax rules which is one of the primary sources available on medieval Jewish life.






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Created: 4:11 AM 4/26/2007
Last updated: 6:38 PM 10/11/2011