To speak about the Jews of Vienna
is for me to speak about an overwhelming helplessness. It means to
speak about myself, too. I'm not Jewish, but Sigmund Freud was,
and Arthur Schnitzler, and Gustav Mahler, and Otto Bauer, and
Joseph Roth, and Arnold Schönberg, and Ludwig Wittgenstein,
and Alexander Zemlinski, and Karl Kraus, and Theodor Herzl, and
Alfred Adler, and Siegfried Marcus, and Jakob Wassermann, and Egon
Friedell, and Hugo Sonnenschein, and Elias Canetti, and Hermann
Broch, and Stefan Zweig, and Bruno Kreisky. These people and many
others I could mention, have had a considerable influence on my
thinking, on the way I perceive and on the way I live. And they
all lived in Vienna as I do.
These are names you may be
familiar with. I could also speak about my friend Ilse Aschner,
who did not even know, that she was Jewish. But the Nazis told
her, as so many others, who were made to Jews, because they had
Jewish ancestors. Ilse managed to escape in the last minute. Her
parents could not. To speak about the Jews of Vienna means to
speak about Ilse Aschner's parents, too, and about the nameless
others, whom I didn't get the chance to know personally, because
they were killed before I was born. At the beginning of the
century 200,000 Jews lived in Vienna. Nowadays there are only
approximately 10,000 Jews.
To speak about the Jews of Vienna
means to speak about millions of European Jews and their fate,
which the Viennese Jews had to share. Was it really fate? Not
really, neither was it an accident, nor was it an isolated event.
It was a systematically prepared and deliberately organized and
performed extermination of millions of men, women and children,
based on a long European tradition of Christian and political
anti-Semitism. To speak about the extermination of the European
Jews means to speak about the exterminators, the perpetrators of a
scenario that has been rehearsed intellectually and
psychologically throughout centuries. There were variations, but
the purpose was the same: the decimation of a distinguished
The history of the Jews of Vienna
is not only part of Viennese history, it belongs to European
history. The history of the European Jews, however, especially on
the verge of catastrophe is specific to Viennese history.
At the end of the 12th century the
first considerable influx of Jews to Vienna began. Shortly
thereafter 16 Jews were killed by people who had the blessing of
the Pope to murder them in the name of Jesus Christ. Following the
burning of Johannnes Hus (1415) Duke Albrecht V ordered the
complete expulsion of the Jews. The poorer ones had been abandoned
on the Danube river. But 120 wealthier women and 92 men were
burned outside the city wall. People cheered. We shouldn't shake
our heads. After all we have not found a way to stop this cheering
on while others are killed.
The property of the Jews was
confiscated by the Duke. The Synagogue was destroyed, its stones
were used to build the University of Vienna. There is no sign of
cultural greatness which is not at the same time a sign of
barbarity, said Walter Benjamin. The history of the University of
Vienna is a striking example of this notion.
We are told that the Jews came
back to Vienna under the special protection of the Habsburgian
emperors. But they didn't come back. Other Jews came. There were
many places in Europe, especially in eastern Europe, where pogroms
against Jews were the order of the day. In 1649, after the
rebellion of the Cossacks, an estimated 100,000 Jews were killed
in the Ukraine. Some Jewish refugees came to Vienna, which seemed
to be a relatively secure place at this time. But twenty years
later about 500 Jewish families were expelled by the next
generation of Viennese. The emperor was no longer able to protect
them. Again this was not the end of Viennese Jewry. For financial
reasons the emperor invited wealthier Jews to come back. Slowly a
new Jewish immigration to Vienna began.
After the revolution of 1848 civil
rights were extended to the Jews as well. Based on this
achievement the Jewish immigration to Vienna especially from the
eastern parts of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy increased and
brought the largest contribution of Jewish people to the city of
Vienna. Freud, Schnitzler, Kraus, Herzl are children of this wave
of immigration. The Liberalism of the 1880ies which served as the
impulse to the immense cultural and scientific prosperity in
Vienna at the turn of the century, stems from the Jewish immigrant
traders, entrepreneurs and businessmen.
At the same time the advanced form
of anti-Semitism, its radicalism and its application as political
demagoguery, was developed in Vienna. For Georg Schönerer, a
radical anti-Semite, the Jews personified all the evils of the
world. On March 3, 1888, he and his gang devastated the editor's
office of the Neues Wiener Tagblatt and rampaged the Jewish
employees. Schönerer had to go to jail. He also lost his
noble title. After he was released, 21 members of his fanatical
nationalist party (Alldeutsche Partei) were elected into the
Reichsrat, the Austrian Parliament.
My mother remembers
Schönerer. She was a little girl, who grew up on a small farm
in the northern part of Austria, not far from the Czechoslovakian
border. The scenery is idyllic. Nowadays many artists settle
there. Schönerer was the owner of the castle of Rosenau. He
used to ride through the neighboring villages and give candies to
the children. My mother still can't believe that this friendly man
should have been so malicious.
Another anti-Semite, who's
influence was much stronger than that of Schönerer, was Karl
Lueger, the popular Mayor of Vienna. Because of his notorious
anti-Semitism the Emperor Franz Joseph refused to support Lueger's
nomination as Mayor. But Lueger was reelected. Franz Joseph
refused again. And Lueger was elected again. After the fifth
election Franz Joseph saw no alternative to Lueger's
Lueger was the creator of a
rhetorically polished political demagoguery against Jews. He was
something of a modern politician. He did not always believe, what
he said. He agitated against the Jews because he realized that
anti-Semitism was a widely accepted attitude. He had good private
contacts with Jews and never rejected a dinner invitation in a
wealthy Jewish house. Many Austrian tradesmen, small merchants and
shopkeepers, victims of the modernization and industrialization,
welcomed the simple explanation that Jews are responsible for
their fate. The Jews were either the big capitalists or the
Marxists. Of course there were wealthy Jewish businessmen and with
one exeption the leaders of the Socialdemocrat Party, the so
called Austromarxists, were Jewish as well. But there were also
thousands of poor Jewish immigrants from the eastern parts of the
empire, who did not fit the image of the crafty Jewish businessman
or the radical Marxist. They were simply hated because they were
Lueger was a politician in a very
modern sense. He practiced the politics of sentiments. His maxim
was: Let's increase the prejudices and fears if they are able to
bring in the votes. For him political power justified any means.
I, myself, don't believe that Karl Lueger would have allowed the
persecution of the Jews, but his political rhetoric contributed to
it. Lueger was very successful in developing an excellent welfare
system which served as an example for many European cities. Many
of the financiers of this renewal of the city were Jews. Lueger
said: I decide who is Jewish.
At this time in Vienna there lived
a young unsuccessful painter, a mediocre student, a man who was
not as popular as he would have liked to be. His name was Adolf
Hitler. Hitler admired both Schönerer and Lueger. What he
tried to do during the twenties, namely to combine Lueger's
anti-Semitic rhetoric with Schönerer's deep hatred of the
Jews, he unfortunately succeeded in doing during the thirties.
Hitler claims in Mein Kampf that he learned his anti-Semitism in
Vienna from both Schönerer and Lueger.
To speak about the Jews of Vienna
means to speak of the persecutors, about millions of Germans and
Austrians and some others who helped them practice the hitherto
unthinkable. It means speaking about two generations who's
thinking was informed by this irresponsible political rhetoric,
from which some are still not able to disentangle themselves. Im
speaking about my parents' and grandparents' generations, I'm
speaking about myself.
Let me tell you one strange
experience. I grew up in a region without Jews but still with
latent anti-Semitism. It was as if Schönerer still was riding
through the villages, spreading his political poison by
distributing candies among the children. There were no Jews, but
my father told anti-Semitic jokes. I didn't understand them, but I
repeated them, because these were the jokes of the adults. On
Sundays, after the catholic mass, the men crowded into the local
inns. While the women at home were cooking, the men told heroic
stories of the war. The old enemies were still the enemies and the
old friends, the Nazi-Germans, were still the friends.
During this time my father
listened attentively to these war stories. He seemed to regret
that he was not able to tell his own heroic stories, because he
had not been old enough to join the German Wehrmacht. He bought
magazines about the heroic German army and saw movies about the
war. He resented that most of them were produced by the Americans.
He became an admirer of general Rommel and on Sunday mornings
after mass, in the inn of the village, he began to speak about the
war. And the others were astonished that he knew more heroic
stories than they did.
There was another farmer, our
neighbor, who never spoke about the war. But everyone knew he had
participated on the eastern front between Poland and Stalingrad.
When he was asked, he just said: There is nothing to tell. But
once when he was drunk, he was asked again to tell about the war.
Suddenly he began to cry. His lower lip trembling, he started to
tell that he did not fight against soldiers. He shot civilians.
His company burned down houses and he shot at the women who tried
to escape with their children.
Although everyone was aware of
this side of the Second World War, it was taboo to speak of the
fact that the German Wehrmacht was involved in the National
Socialist extermination program. You can imagine that his story
did not bring him the highest respect.
I often thought back to this
experience in the tavern. I realized later that my father, who
suffered because he had been too young to participate in the war,
could not take seriously the old man who suffered because he had
participated in the war.
To speak about the Jews of Vienna
means to speak about the extinction of a great culture. The
British author George Clare who became famous for his
internationally acclaimed novel Last Waltz in Vienna, was born in
1920 as a Viennese Jew. He first returned to Vienna 1945 as a
soldier of the British Army. He observed that post-war Vienna has
become very provincial.
To speak about the Jews of Vienna
means to speak about a huge absence. I felt this even when I was
studying in Vienna in the seventies. I did not study in the old
University constructed of the stones from the Jewish Synagogue.
Nevertheless I became aware that the newer university, the
Ringstrassenbuilding, was still affected by the discrimination and
expulsion of the Jewish scholars. This university where only
decades ago several Nobel prize winners had worked, was now
dominated by academic small talk and intrigue. Without its Jewish
academics and scholars the University of Vienna lacked in critical
To speak about Jewish Vienna for
me also means to speak about my rediscovery of Jewish Vienna in
America. I would like to tell you of my appreciation of Egon
Schwarz, whom I met in St. Louis, of Frederic Morton, whom I met
in New York, of Hans Zeisel, whom I met in Chicago, of
I.D.Spenser, whom I met in Hamilton, Ontario, of Lilli and John
Kautsky, whom I met in St. Louis, and of Jakov Lind, whom I met in
Next year would be the 80th
birthday of Jean Amery. He was born in Vienna in 1912 as Johann
Mayer, the son of an impoverished family. His father died in the
First World War. He studied History and Philosophy in Vienna. It
was not important to him that he was half Jewish, but it became
important to him in 1938. He emigrated to Belgium where he joined
the resistance. While distributing leaflets he was arrested. He
was tortured in prison. Since he didn't release the names of his
comrades he was deported first to Auschwitz, later to Buchenwald
and finally to Bergen-Belsen, where he escaped execution, however.
Although he survived the Holocaust, he became a late victim of the
Holocaust. Throughout his life he could not come to terms with
what happened to the European Jews, to him and to his family. He
couldn't stand the post-war forgetfulness of his fate. When you
have been tortured, said Amery, you stay tortured your whole life
long. The Holocaust had made him homeless. In 1978 Jean Amery came
back to his native country, only to commit suicide.
I do hope that Germany and Austria
have learned their historical lesson. With regard to Austria,
however, the Waldheim affair shows that there is still a lot to
learn. There are still too many people unaware of what they and
their forefathers have done. The extermination of six million Jews
and the killing of millions of others is a very high prize to pay
for the democratization of such small countries as Germany and
Austria. I feel optimistic that we are learning to accept our
culpability and that we shall not forget what has happened.
If human rights, the dignity of
every human being, are not the common sense of the overwhelming
majority, the minorities live under a constant threat. And anyone
can suddenly become part of a despised minority.
To think about the Jews of Vienna
means to think about ourselves, about our achievements, about our
capability for a successful coexistence with all these diverse
cultures it means to think about our capabilities for peaceful
solutions in the face of threats and conflicts. To think of the
Jews of Vienna, after all, is to think of our future.