Jews have long had a vexed relationship with Vienna. They count among the city’s most ardent fans as well as its loudest detractors. Facing much antisemitism both in the Middle Ages and in the 19th and 20th centuries, Vienna’s Jews nevertheless helped shape a great deal of what is considered to be the best of Austrian culture. Ranging from assimilated Jews to enthusiastic converts to ardent Zionists, they drove and supported some of the most well-known ideas and movements of the modern era, including psychoanalysis and Zionism. That they did so in a city that hosted Adolf Hitler as he developed his destructive antisemitic ideologies underscores the paradox of Jewish life in Vienna. Many people remain fascinated by Jews’ participation in high culture and modernism around the fin de siècle: the works of Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud, and Stefan Zweig, to name only a few, continue to mark the landscape of international popular culture. However, the history of Jews in Vienna reaches far beyond the clichéd world of Vienna’s coffeehouses. The city’s reputation as a cosmopolitan capital of an empire, as well as its location between Eastern and Western Europe, meant that Jews from varying cultures mixed together in ways they often did not in other cities. By 1945, of the roughly 200,000 Jews living in Austria before the war, 65,000 had been murdered; most of the rest had been able to flee Nazi persecution between 1938 and 1941 and found refuge mainly in the United States, Great Britain, and British Mandatory Palestine (now Israel). Few of those who survived returned. In recent decades, however, Austrians have begun to come to terms with their active involvement in the destruction of its Jewish population. The reconstruction of Vienna’s postwar Jewish population of between 8,000 and 11,000, which now numbers around 15,000, continues amid growing possibilities for public debate and discussion.
Although most general overviews of the history of the Jews in Vienna are in German, Grunwald 1936 presents a readable, detailed study in English of the Jewish community in Vienna from the 12th century to the first decades of the 20th century. Feurstein and Milchram 2008 also presents a well-researched guidebook on the history of the Jews in Vienna arranged by district in an English translation that is suitable for undergraduates. A number of older accounts in German remain valuable as overviews to Jewish history in Vienna up to the 20th century. Wolf 1876, covers the foundations of the Jewish community, the political decrees and laws that affected it, and early rivalries between the Orthodox and Reform communities. Bato 1928 surveys well-known figures from the late 17th through the mid-19th century in a readable narrative that interweaves historical data with humorous anecdotes. Tietze 2007, which was first published in 1933, remains a standard overview of the history and culture of Vienna’s Jews from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century. Gold 1966, written to honor the Jewish community destroyed in the Holocaust, is of value for its many reproductions of documents and photographs, as well as extensive biographical information on significant Jewish men in culture and politics. Grab 2000 is a brief but thorough essay sketching the history of Jews in Vienna from the 15th century through 1938. Brugger, et al. 2013 is the most recent extensive survey of the history of the Jews in Austria from the Middle Ages to the early 21st century written by experts. It is especially useful for placing Viennese Jews in the historical context of Austria’s other Jewish communities.
Bato, Ludwig. Die Juden im alten Wien. Vienna: Phaidon, 1928.
Informative account of well-known figures and the Jewish community from the late 17th through the mid-19th century. Interweaves historical data with humorous anecdotes.
Brugger, Eveline, Martha Keil, Albert Lichtblau, Chirstoph Lind, and Barbara Staudinger. Geschichte der Juden in Österreich. Vienna: Ueberreuter, 2013.
Wide-ranging survey of the history of the Jews in Austria from the Middle Ages to the early 21st century written by noted experts. Places Viennese Jews in the context of other Jewish communities in Austria. Especially strong on religious life and laws affecting Jews up to 1800.
Feurstein, Michaela, and Gerhard Milchram. Jewish Vienna. Vienna: Mandelbaum, 2008.
Well-researched guidebook written by historians and helpfully ordered by district. Contains brief historical and personal essays. Useful as a guide to buildings, institutions, and memorials of historical significance. In English.
Gold, Hugo. Geschichte der Juden in Wien: Ein Gedenkbuch. Tel Aviv: Olamenu, 1966.
Overview written in honor of the community destroyed in the Holocaust. Especially valuable for reproductions of documents and photographs. Includes detailed biographical information on leading Jewish men in culture and politics after 1918.
Grab, Walter. Zwei Seiten einer Medaille: Demokratische Revolution und Judenemanzipation. Cologne: PapyRossa, 2000.
Vienna-born historian’s brief but thorough chapter “Das Wiener Judentum: Eine historische Überblick” (pp. 192–231) sketches the history of Jews in Vienna from the 15th century through 1938. Includes information about significant political events and leaders.
Grunwald, Max. Vienna. Translated by Solomon Grayzel. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1936.
Detailed study of the Jewish community in Vienna from the 12th century to the first decades of the 20th century, focusing on political conditions, significant events, legal status, significant community and public leaders, as well as wealthy families. Readable narrative, translated from German.
Tietze, Hans. Die Juden Wiens: Geschichte, Wirtschaft, Kultur. Vienna: Mandelbaum, 2007.
First published in 1933, this book remains a helpful standard overview of the history and culture of Vienna’s Jews from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century. Written for a broad audience, it also includes information about the Jewish community and religious life.
Wolf, Gerson. Geschichte der Juden in Wien (1156–1876). Vienna: Alfred Hölder, 1876.
Originally published in 1876, this book covers the foundations of the Jewish community, the political decrees and laws that affected it, and outlines early rivalries between the Orthodox and Reform Jewish communities. Valuable for its reproductions of medieval primary sources. Also available as an e-book on Google Books
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- Ahad Ha' am
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