Jewish Vienna Walk. Certainly there isn’t much left of the Jewish Vienna you or your ancestors may have known. But what is left, together with the recent ‘renaissance’ of the local community, fascinates. Since I wanted to get to the bottom of Jewish culture in Wien I joined a Jewish Vienna tour. Here is what to expect from it:
“There is no Jewish quarter in Vienna”, our guide Barbara introduced her tour. Not even Leopoldstadt. The eruv was all over Vienna. Our group of 20 was to focus on a dense historic patch in the centre, and learn from there. 300 metres distance would span the stories of the first ghetto in the Middle Ages; the Second World War and Nazi Regime, up to today’s local Jewish community life.
From Schwedenplatz close to the Danube Canal we set off towards Rabensteig. It was there that Shlomo from Southern Germany settled with his family in the 12th century. There was a surprise connection with English king Richard Lionheart, and the ransom paid for him. In fact, what I found as intriguing as the answers provided were the questions made during the tour. Why did the small Jewish community survive pest and cholera, but not Christian ignorance?
Jewish Vienna Walk. After we stopped in front of the Synagogue in Seitenstettengasse Barbara continued with her story of repression, death, expulsion and finally Josef II’s Edict of Tolerance. I wish my history teacher had been as passionate. The Synagogue itself opened a bag of insight into Jewish community life in Vienna then and now: from cantor schools and Yeshivas to weddings and socialite events. Why was that synagogue the only one to survive Nazi Kristallnacht?
Morzinplatz: Nothing but a commemorative stone on a patch of grass that said: “Never Forget: Here was the Gestapo house. It was hell for Austrian loyalists. For many of those, it was the forecourt to Death. It sank into ruins, like the Thousand Year Reich. Austria, however, has resurrected, and with it our Dead, the immortal victims.” Where was notorious Hotel Metropole? And why is there such a small number of houses left along the Danube canal?
We headed towards Marc Aurel Strasse. On a simple plywood board at no.5, it hosted the story of Aron Menczer. The charismatic and courageous teacher was just 26 years when he died in 1943 – why together with 1,200 orphans?
The area we walked through was one of the oldest and least explored by tourists. At Salvatorgasse no 7 we dived into a historic passageway and resurface in a romantic courtyard. This was the address of DÖW, the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance. The three memorial rooms collected memories of the Nazi Secret Police (Gestapo) in Austria and its victims between 1933 and 1945. Nazi propaganda posters and photographs of courageous people alongside their stories…. not all of them were Jews, but many. “To tell you the truth, even if Hitler hadn’t existed, Austria would still have headed for war”, Barbara concluded. The antecedents for conflict had turned obvious, in hindsight.
Jewish Vienna Walk. A few dozen metres from the Documentation Centre we stopped at a large cuboid with a stone door and thousands of what seems like books decorating the walls. The Holocaust Memorial on Judenplatz has its own symbolism. Why the books, and why had the door no handles?
Judenplatz hosted the Medieval Jewish ghetto. You can visit some remains and Medieval artefacts, and learn about the Medieval Jewish Vienna a few metres underneath the ground. The site was part of the local Jewish Museum.
Jewish Vienna Walk: How To Book
The Jewish Vienna walk usually takes place once a week, every Monday. The tour is conducted in English, and sometimes in both English and German. Find out about availabilities and prices during your stay.
Note: I was invited by the tour operator. All opinions expressed are explicitly my own.