From prosperity to persecution, the history of Jewish life in Vienna, Austria, is extensive. There are few European cities that are so closely intertwined with Jewish history.
By visiting Vienna today you can see many memorials to the hardships that Jews in Austria have suffered. You will also see tributes to the great accomplishments to many famous Viennese Jews, including Franz Kafka, Theodor Hertzl, Martin Buber, and Sigmund Freud.
Did you know that, during the Jewish Renaissance, three out of four Austrian Nobel Prize winners in medicine were Jewish? More than half of Austria’s physicians and dentists were Jews, and so were more than 60% of the lawyers. Today, Vienna is enriched not just by its waltz, but also by its long, rich Jewish history.
When touring Jewish Vienna, a great place to start is with the Jewish Museum Vienna, which is made up of two branches: the Jüdisches Museum in the Palais Eskeles and the Museum Judenplatz.
The Palais Eskeles is a residence in the city center not far from St. Stephan’s cathedral. Originally, the museum opened in 1896, which makes it the oldest museum of its kind in the world. The museum was, however, closed by the Nazis in 1938 and not re-opened again until 1989.
The museum has a permanent exhibition of the history of Jews in Austria, which is spread out over four floors, and the renowned Judaica collection by Max Berger. There are also between six and eight special exhibitions every year. The museum has now shown some 150 exhibitions and attracted over 1.2 million visitors from all over the world.
The collections in the Jewish Museum Vienna provide outstanding documentation of the history of the Jews in Austria over the centuries. There are approximately 15,000 objects, which are among the most important archives of Jewish cultural history from the Habsburg empire, the First Austrian Republic, interwar Vienna, and the Nazi era. Many of the items are on display in the Viewable Storage Area.
The next stop on your tour of Jewish Vienna will be at the very heart of medieval Vienna, at a charming square called Judenplatz, or Jew’s Square. Here you can see two memorials. The first is for Gottfried Ephraim Lessing, a German humanist and enlightenment writer.
The other one is Vienna’s Shoa memorial, or Memorial for the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust. The memorial was designed by artist Rachel Whiteread and is made up of a large concrete cube that depicts outwardly facing library walls and book spines. On the ground around the memorial the names of the places where 65,000 Austrian Jews were killed are inscribed.
The somber memorial was unveiled in the year 2000. At the same time, the Judenplatz Museum, which documents the history of Vienna’s Jews in the Middle Ages, was opened. The Judenplatz Museum offers archeological findings from the excavations on Judenplatz, as well as a multi-media presentation of Jewish life in the Middle Ages, a medieval city model, and documentation about the medieval synagogue.
Your tour of Jewish Vienna does not stop here; there is even more to see! Some other sites you will enjoy visiting include the Schoenberg Center on Schwarzenbergplatz and the Sigmund Freud House at Berggasse 19. You can also visit the Central Cemetery, where you will find the grave sites of some of the most important and influential Viennese Jews.
For more information about the many attractions of Jewish Vienna, you can visit the Jewish Welcome Service website at www.jewish-welcome.at/. The site’s whole purpose is to welcome you to the city of Vienna and to inform people all over the world about Jewish Vienna.