Vienna Jewish Tour. Have you got Jewish family roots in the city, too? I was curious about the history of the local Jewish community, for that reason. Where did people live, work, pray, shop, go to school? How do the Viennese commemorate (do they)? How does Jewish life look like today? Here are highlights of a private Jewish Vienna tour.
Granite From Mauthausen
Vienna Jewish Tour. Standing in the narrow gap between two seven-metre-high blocks of granite made me feel uneasy. It is the ‘gate of violence’ of the Monument Against War And Fascism. The granite is from former concentration camp Mauthausen, two hours West of Vienna. The stone incorporates the sculptures of victims of concentration camps on one side, and Austrian soldiers killed during World War II on the other side. I walked through, facing a Jewish Austrian in bronze, scrubbing the street with a brush, while hearing his story from tour guide Gertrude.
What’s In Your Name?
Vienna Jewish Tour. Did you ever wonder who was responsible for your ancestors’ German last names? It may have been Emperor Josef II. ‘Josef decreed for all Jews of the Austrian Empire to carry German names, actually to foster integration: Adler, Biermann, Goldmann, Hirsch, and so on. People had to pay for these name changes but not all had the money for it. And quite a few Imperial officials took revenge by providing them with offensive names, such as Trinker (drinker), Maulwurf (mole), and Bettelarm (destitute)’, explained Gertrude. I guess the Jewish part of my family, called after planet of luck ‘Jupiter’, must have been able to pay.
Vienna Jewish Tour. Places like Ringstrasse boulevard are lined with elegant town palaces by affluent Jewish families of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, Jewish Viennese Goldmann and Salatsch demonstrated incredible vision with the construction of a building in the centre that has become an icon of Viennese Modernism (can you guess?). Jewish culture and intellect were shaping Vienna’s golden era in 1900. Recreating Jewish Vienna through the centuries is vital as you tour between monuments of Emperors with different dispositions towards Jews, beautiful Jewish palaces and sites of World War II atrocities.
The Jewish Museum Vienna manages to retrace Jewish living in Vienna from the Middle Ages to nowadays in a liberating and open minded way. Visit it separately or as part of a private tour. I did the latter, which helped me to pull the stories from my tour together with the museum’s many references.
…And So Many Dark Spots
Vienna Jewish Tour. The other tour highlight was seeing the main synagogue in Seitenstettengasse, along with Gertrude’s insights into the Nazi Pogrom night in 1938. The beautifully renovated building has now moved back into the centre of Jewish religious life. (Separate tours of the interior are recommended, as they only take place at certain times. Don’t forget your passport.)
Getting to know local Jewish history means visiting its darkest spots: Heldenplatz, Judenplatz and Morzinplatz. At Heldenplatz, in front of the Imperial Palace, Adolf Hitler famously announced Austria’s annexion to the Third Reich, cheered by tens of thousands of Austrians. It was the start of systematic atrocities against Jews. Judenplatz (‘Jewish Square’) and surroundings hosted the first Jewish town-in-town in the Middle Ages, which was destroyed through the Pogroms of 1420/1421. You will also come across a huge concrete cube, featuring a façade of 65,000 books in stone: the Holocaust Memorial.
‘I’d rather show you a thriving Hotel Metropol than the Memorial at Morzinplatz‘, said Gertrude, standing in front of a pile of granite blocks carrying the headline ‘Niemals Vergessen’ (never forget) and a shocking inscription. During the Nazi regime, the hotel was the headquarters of the Gestapo, Hitler’s secret police. I listened to the incidents with Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna and with former Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky, and other stories about what visiting the Metropol meant to Jews at that time.
‘Quite a few travellers who take the tour have Jewish ancestors in Vienna. Many stories I tell, many insights I give have a personal touch for them. I’m candid but always sensitive’, said my tour guide as we parted.
Book Private Vienna Jewish Tour
from EUR 140: up to 5 participants;
from EUR 170: 6 to 20 participants;
Other great private tours reviewed by Vienna Unwrapped: Imperial Vienna Tour, Sigmund Freud Museum and Tour, Secret Vienna Tour, Otto Wagner Church (Art Nouveau Tour), Music Tour Vienna
back to Vienna Tours Private Sightseeing
back to Vienna Tours
back to Vienna Unwrapped homepage