Vienna has long been known for its rich culture and vibrant history as an artistic center of Europe throughout time. Gil Travel has brought Jewish travelers from around the world to Vienna on various tours and trips with direct connection to this city's featured Jewish experiences. Over our travels we have gather our favorite tidbits and facts about Jewish Vienna that you probably didn't know! So study up and put your knowledge to the test on your next visit to Jewish Vienna.
The Jewish heritage of Vienna tells us that in 1895 the first Jewish museum in Europe was opened in Vienna. The museum was closed by the Nazi in 1938 and the over 6,000 objects were distributed to different museums around Europe. Today, about half of the objects have been returned and over artifacts have been acquired from various private collections.
Leopoldstadt, Vienna is nicknamed ‘Matzo Island’. Leopoldstadt, Vienna’s 2nd district, is situated on an island between the Danube and the Donaukanal. Jews have been living in this area of Vienna since the 12th century. Before World War II, there were more than 100 prayer houses and 60 synagogues in the area; and a Jewish population of around 200,000. Vienna was one of the most prominent Centres of Jewish culture in Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thankfully, Karmelitermarkt, the centre of the former Jewish market in Leopoldstadt, is once again full of kosher food stores and restaurants.
From the exterior, Stadttempel, the Main Synagogue of Vienna is indistinguishable from adjacent houses and because of this; it is only historical synagogue remaining in Vienna. At the beginning of the 19th century an edict issued by Emperor Joseph II granted the Jewish community of Vienna permission to build a synagogue, however only Roman Catholic places of worship were allowed to be built with facades fronting directly on public streets. While this initially delayed construction of the synagogue for logistical reasons, this edict actually saved the synagogue from total destruction. Stadttempel was the only Jewish construction, of 94 Jewish synagogues and temples in Vienna, to survive Reichskristallnacht without being completely destroyed. Since the synagogue was built attached to other buildings and happened to be within 150 from the headquarters of the Nazi party, the synagogue could not be set on fire without the fire also destroying all of the buildings to which it was attached.
Between the years of 1920 and 1921, about 200 Viennese Jews voluntarily chose death rather than accepting forced baptism and were burned at the stake. Holocaust memorial Museum Judenplatz (‘Jew Square’) is built in this location over top of the remains of the Or-Sarua synagogue which was burned down during a pogrom in the 13th century. This was also the place where hundreds of Jews committed suicide, because of vicious prosecution by the Catholic Church, rather than renounce their faith.
A Jewish University, the Lauder Business School, opened in Vienna in 2005.The University is located in the 19th district of Vienna in an ancient building that was originally constructed for Princess Maria Theresa. The university has grown tremendously since it first opened its doors. The Lauder Business School is committed to providing a state-of-the-art business education as well as fostering a secular Jewish campus environment. Meals are kosher, and a certain number of courses in Hebrew and Jewish studies are compulsory.
At one time, every tenth person in Vienna was Jewish. Jewish history of Vienna tells us that the Jewish population was once thriving, especially in the late 1900's. Jews made up a large part of the wealth and culture of this incredible city which has long been known for its cultural contributions to 20th century Europe.
There are no streets in Vienna named for Sigmund Freud. The Sigmund Freud Museum is the only thing in Vienna monument to this legendary psychologist. During his time in Vienna Freud gathered plenty of friends and enemies, which might explain why he is represented with a museum exploring his contributions to society without also having a street named agter him like with many other famous Viennese.
There is a stone monument built of a fish in Vienna’s Abandoned Jewish Cemetery, Judischer Friedhof Rossau cemetery. According to unlike.net, there is an ancient legend that this is the burial site of a talking fish that had revealed himself as a dybbuk, or demon. Right before the fish was to be killed, it cried the ‘Shema’, a prayer recited by Jews at the time of their death. Modern scholars, however, believe that this monument was a medieval water fountain used for ritual washing.
Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel, the Riesenrad in Prater Park, was one of the first object of ‘Aryanisation’. Following World War I, Jewish businessman Eduard Steiner bought the Ferris Wheel in an auction and ran it until 1938 when his property was confiscated by the Nazi Regime for the purpose of ‘Aryanisation’. In 1944 Eduard Steiner was murdered in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the same year that the Giant Ferris Wheel caught fire and was almost completely destroyed.
Jews have been living in Austria since the 3rd century at least. In 2008 a team of archeologists discovered a third-century CE amulet in the form of a gold scroll with the words of the Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one) inscribed on it in the grave of a Jewish infant in Halbturn. It is considered to be the earliest surviving evidence of a Jewish presence in what is now Austria. The Jewish culture of Vienna has thus long been present in this ever-important region.