The first mention of Jews in Vienna is from the 12th century. By 1420 the Jews had comprised about 5% of the city's population, but soon they were expelled from the city, their property was confiscated, and many were brutally murdered in nearby Erdberg. Later in the 15th century they were allowed to return and establish their own colony in Leopoldstadt. Under the reign of Empress Maria Theresa laws were introduced that substantially worsened the condition of the Jews; these were later repealed, and Vienna became the center of Jewish culture in Central Europe.
Jewish Renaissance and the rise of anti-Semitism
The years following the Revolution of 1848 were quite stable and prosperous for the Jewish community. The presence of the Jews became obvious in the city's social, economic and political life. Anti-Semitic feelings were formented by many of Vienna's public officials and politicians, one of the most radical of them being Dr. Karl Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910. Early in the 20th century, twenty-one members of the extreme anti-Semitic All-Deutsche Partei were elected into parliament.
World War II and the Holocaust
On March 12, 1938, Hitler marched into Vienna and made a speech at the balcony of the Hofburg Palace. Almost immediately, Aryan-only laws were enacted, and Jews were deprived of civil rights, were not permitted to own land or hold public office. On November 9, 1938, the notorious Kristallnacht occurred, when angry residents, driven by the Nazi party, torched Jewish businesses and synagogues. About 6,000 Jews were apprehended and sent to Dachau camp that day. Following the Wannsee Conference of 1942, Jews were stripped of their citizenship and mass deportations to concentration camps ensued. The Jewish community, that had counted over 200 thousand people in 1938, was all but decimated. More than 130,000 were forced to leave the country, about 65,000 were murdered. Less than 1,000 managed to survive the catastrophe.
The Jewish Community Today
It took Austria almost fifty years to come to terms and accept its role in the holocaust. Traces of anti-Semitism continued through the 1980s and can still be felt to this day. Not until 1991 did the government finally issue a statement acknowledging their role in the Third Reich. The Jewish population has been growing since the 1950s, primarily due to immigration from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and Iran; today it stands at about 14,000 and there are fifteen synagogues.
The Jewish Museum of Vienna is one of the largest in Europe, with locations at Dorotheergasse and Judenplatz. The Dorotheergasse location uncovers the Jewish history of Vienna throughout the centuries, while at Judenplatz there are the archeological remains of a 500-year old synagogue, and a monument to the Austrian victims of the holocaust. The Stadttempel at Seitenstettengasse is the only synagogue to survive the war and is open for guided tours. Other Jewish sights include Theodore Herzl Stiege, the stairs named after the father of Zionism, and the monument to the victims of Gestapo at Morzinplatz. The Jewish Welcome Center at Stephansplatz has further information about Jewish life and culture in Vienna.