Vienna Jewish Tour. Have you got Jewish family roots in the city, too? Did your relatives talk much about their lives in Vienna? In fact, this private tour through Jewish Vienna doesn’t just line up sites and attractions. It reveals the stories many Jewish families chose never to talk about.
More than historic facts, this tour is about the history of the local Jewish community. Where did people live, work, pray, shop, go to school? What did really happen from Kristallnacht onwards? How do the Viennese commemorate (do they)? How does Jewish life look like today? Unlike any other tour in Wien, this one highlighted pivotal moments in local history.
Granite From Mauthausen
Vienna Jewish Tour. Just before our tour started I stood in this narrow gap between two seven-metre-high blocks of granite in the photo. Definitely made me feel uneasy. It was the ‘gate of violence’ of the Monument Against War And Fascism. What few people know: the granite is from former concentration camp Mauthausen, two hours West of Vienna.
While the stone incorporates the sculptures of victims of concentration camps on one side, it holds Austrian soldiers killed during World War II on the other side. As I walked through, I faced a Jewish Austrian in bronze. While he kept scrubbing the street with a brush, I heard his story from tour guide Gertrude.
What’s In Your Name?
Vienna Jewish Tour. Have you ever wondered who was responsible for your ancestors’ German last names? If you have Austrian roots, it may have been Emperor Josef II. In the 18th century, Josef decreed for all Jews of the Austrian Empire to carry German names to facilitate integration: Adler, Biermann, Goldmann, Hirsch, and so on. However, immigrants had to pay for these name changes but not all had the money to do it.
Hence, a few Imperial officials took revenge by providing them with offensive names, such as Trinker (drinker), Maulwurf (mole), and Bettelarm (destitute)’, explained Gertrude. When I think of it, the Jewish part of my own family, called after planet of luck ‘Jupiter’, must have been able to pay.
Vienna Jewish Tour. At its most elegant, boulevards like Ringstrasse line up sumptuous town palaces that affluent Jewish families built in the 19th century. However, Jewish citizens also boldly contributed to Modern Vienna: For example, merchants Goldmann and Salatsch demonstrated incredible vision when allowing Adolf Loos to build a townhouse that has now become an icon of Viennese Modernism.
Throughout 1900, Jewish culture and intellect were shaping Vienna’s golden era. In fact, as you tour between Jewish palaces and World War II atrocities, you need to recreate Jewish Vienna through the centuries: so much of it disappeared.
When recreating stories, the Jewish Museum Vienna is an excellent place to help. There, you can retrace Jewish living in Vienna from the Middle Ages to nowadays.
…And So Many Dark Spots
Vienna Jewish Tour. Clearly, the other tour highlight was the main synagogue in Seitenstettengasse. While being the center of local Jewish life for more than 100 years, the Nazi Pogrom night in 1938 destroyed much of the building. Luckily, in recent years the synagogue has moved back into the centre of Jewish religious life.
By the way, to visit the synagogue from inside, take an inhouse guided tour before or after your private guided walk.
Getting to know Jewish Vienna 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. Interestingly, tens of thousands of Austrians cheered him. While Jews never had an easy life in Vienna, the Anschluss kicked off systematic atrocities against Jews.
Back in the Middle Ages, Judenplatz (‘Jewish Square’) and surroundings hosted the first Jewish town-in-town. However, as early as 1420/1421 the Pogroms completely destroyed the square.
While on Judenplatz, you can’t miss a huge rippled concrete cube related to the Holocaust. In fact, the memorial makes up a façade of 65,000 books in stone, each one for a murdered Jew.
As we arrived at the Danube Canal, Gertrud remarked: ‘Actually, I’d rather show you a thriving Hotel Metropol than the Memorial at Morzinplatz’. We were 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.
While I tried to visually reconstruct the hotel, Gertrude told me about Gestapo incidents: from Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna to former Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky. What visiting the Metropol meant to Jews at that time was beyond imagination.
Jewish Neighborhood Living
Just on the other side of the Danube Canal, Vienna’s Jewish quarter Leopoldstadt spreads across the stretch between the canal and the Danube river further north. As you enter the former ‘Matzoth Island’ (Mazzesinsel), a street sign proudly presents iconic Taborstrasse in Hebrew.
Since long before the Middle Ages, the local Jewish community lived there. It was never easy to be a Jew in Vienna, and many criminal incidents and catastrophes were routinely attributed to the Jews. Just after World War I the emerging Nazi movement started to systematically incite the public against the Jews. Famously, that public anger blew up hundreds of Jewish buildings, such as the magnificent temple of Leopoldstadt on this plaque, during Kristallnacht in 1938.
Forming part of the Path of Remembrance, this plaque filled just one of so many voids: the Belczer Schul and Bet Jakob orthodox girls’ school, for example. There, the Gestapo held 40,000 Jews in the course of two years before deporting them. Not to speak of the voids every single member left who was deported: Egon Aufrichtig, Max Edelstein, Anna Gefner, Schloime and Deborah Schechner, Betty and Regina Kohut, to name just a few.
One of the later placed plaques was to commemorate Viennese Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist state of Israel.
Still standing tall and beautiful, the Nestroyhof theater (photo) told the tale of Leopoldstadt’s buzzing culture. For years, the Art Nouveau ‘Etablissement Nestroy Saele’ entertained and educated thousands of Viennese of all confessions until shut down in 1938. Since 2009, the theater has re-opened as a hamakom, staging literary performances and topical socio political talks.
As we parted, Gertrude confessed: ‘You know, quite a few travellers who take the tour have Jewish ancestors in Vienna. Therefore many stories I tell, many insights I give have a personal touch for them. Overall, I’m always candid but sensitive’.
Book Private Vienna Jewish Tour
To inquire about a private tour during your visit of Vienna just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The 2-hour city walk with a specialised Jewish Vienna guide is EUR 230, the complete 3-hour walk including Leopoldstadt is EUR 330 (up to 5 participants).
In fact, I took another private tour through the Jewish Museum Vienna, but you can combine the visit with your walk. By doing them together the museum’s many references will perfectly complement the stories along your outside walk.
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
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