Jewish Vienna, Vienna
The Judenplatz which I discovered in the 1990s and which impressed me by its architecture changed in the year 2000 to become a unique place of remembrance in Wien by the opening of the Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Museum.
The Museum is located in the Misrachi-Haus built in1694 at Nr 8 on Judenplatz and concerns essentially the medieval Jewry in Vienna and excavations of a medieval synagogue found in 1995 under the square. Here is also the data base with the names and fates of the Austrian holocaust-victims.
The Holocaust Memorial in the square stands for the 65.000 Austrian Jewish victims of the Shoah, made by the English artist Rachel Whiteread. It consists of a 10 x 7 x 4 m block in concrete. The walls of the memorial show petrified books turned inwards. It is a "nameless" library which can not be entered.
On a plinth are written the names of the 41 concentration camps where Austrian Jews were exterminated. One of the main extermination camps was of course Auschwitz-Birkenau (ref. my reviews on this camp near Krakow).
The architectural contrast between this monument and the Judenplatz is certainly important and was not without controversy. Maybe it is done on purpose to remember what a terrible shock it was for the victims.
This monument is a great prove that Austrians love not only their nation, but others too. Jewish is one of them - this monument memorizing the times then millions of Jewish was killed then Second World War began.
What is more, one of the initiative people to kill Jewish was Adolph Hitler, and he was not German as it seems like, but he lived in Austria, some period lived in Vienna. Monument is a complex of a few sculptures showing scenes of Jewish people lifes.
Each time I visit Vienna I remember a girl I met when I was a teenager and became friend with.
She was born in Vienna. Her father and grandfather were exterminated by the Nazis because they were Jews. With her mother and grandmother she could flee to Belgium where they stayed hidden till the Liberation.
We would talk of French literature, read together poems of Rimbaud and more daring (for that time) the "sulfurous" Baudelaire. She would play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Not too well but she was playing for me and that was more important.
Strange enough, when I remember her, she never spoke about the Shoah nor did her mother who was a colleague and fried of mine. I don't know how they escaped Austria, where and how they got hidden and protected in Belgium.
We were young, alive and were just thinking of the future.
Right opposite of the famous Albertina you see this monument for the victims of fashism, made by Alfred Hridlicka.
When you click on my 2nd picture, you might understand the meaning more easily:
There are the 2 marble sculpture-towers and between them there is another sculpture and on the right a very small person on his knees - that sculpture has a sad meaning, dating back into the times, when the Nazi regime took over in Austria :
This sculpture shows one of the many jews, who had to brush the streets of Vienna after the take-over by the Nazis - Doctors, Professors from university and other formerly rich and famous citicens of Vienna on their knees, cleaning the streets, watched and jeered at by their neighbours...
Btw.: The sculptures were made by Alfred Hrdlicka, who still calls himself a communiste today.
in the beginning the sculpture of the jew on his knees did not have any thorns on top - they had to been added, because lots of tourists used that sculpture like a bench, taking a rest on the back of the sculpture, certainly not in a bad meaning, but simply not at all understanding what they were doing....
The memorial is a steel and concrete construction with a base measuring 10 x 7 meters and a height of 3.8 meters.
On the concrete floor before the locked double doors is a text in German, Hebrew, and English:
Zum Gedenken an die mehr als 65 000 österreichischen
Juden, die in der Zeit von 1938 bis 1945 von den
Nationalsozialisten ermordet wurden.
זכר למעלה מ-65.000 יהודים אוסטריים
שנרצחו בשנים 1945-1938
.ע''י הפושעים הנציונלסוציאליסטיים ימ''ש
In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews
who were killed by the Nazis between
1938 and 1945.
— Inscriptions below the doors.
Putting Judenplatz first on my 'To Do' list is a very conscious decision. In a week filled with pleasurable and interesting things to see and do this was the place that jolted my complacency and made me remember that Vienna wasn't always a home for everyone. For Jews it was never a secure place and long before Anschluss they had already been expelled twice, in 1420 and in 1670. When I arrived at Judenplatz, the centre of the old Jewish ghetto I got very taken up with admiring the proportions and buildings of this really pretty square. I knew the jewish Museum was here but was in no way prepared for the Rachel Whiteread Holocaust Memorial which by some oversight I had not read about. It's at the opposite end of the square from the statue of the playwright Ephraim Lessing and turning round I actually wondered what 'that shed' was doing obstructing my view. The 'Shed' was the memorial and going closer I felt a real physical shock quickly followed by emotional meltdown. It's described as a bunker but to me it was a gas chamber and nothing else. Bleak and uncompromising, it has no ornamentation apart from the bricks shaped like book spines, symbolising the thousands of burned books. It's a sickly greyish-white colour with a large locked door and no means of escape. On the raised kerb surrounding it are lists of the Nazi death camps.
Is this a fitting memorial to the 65,00 Austrian jews exterminated by the nazis ? Personally, I still find it hard to decide and it's a memorial that has caused huge controversey. The levels of loathing and revulsion that it aroused in me were quite hard to cope with but I suppose that could be seen as a measure of its success.
A most controversial work of art by a most controversial artist, this four part monument occupies a most significant site on a triangular space between the Sacher Hotel and the Albertina Museum right in the center of Touristville. Not only is it at the site of a wartime bunker where several hundred Austrians died during a bombing raid but it is also believed to be where 200 Jews were burned at the stake during the Viennese Geserah. Alfred Hrdlicka (1928-2009) was a noted atheist and communist violently opposed to Kurt Waldheim, the ex-Nazi Austrian president and many believe the symbolism in this work is a direct attack against him as well as a general anti-fascist statement. The Monument Against War and Fascism is his most famous work, particularly the sculpture of the old Jewish man scrubbing the street. It is this image which was felt disrespectful by many and led directly to the initiative for the Judenplatz complex.
The first sculpture ( image 1,2 ) is split, representing the gates to a concentration camp, and made from granite cut from the Mathausen Concentration camp. Named " The Gates of Violence ", it is a general statement against war and violence, with carved figures including chained slave laborers and a dying woman giving birth to a soldier.
The second ( image 3 ) and most controversial sculpture is the elderly Jewish man scrubbing anti-Nazi graffiti from the street surface with a toothbrush, an image taken from an identical photograph showing onlooking crowds.
The third (image 4 ) shows a half-sculpted figure with its head partially buried in the stone, Orpheus entering the Underworld, admonishing Austrians for not controlling the actions of their government. It recalls those who died in air raids and in resistance to the Nazis.
And fourth, far in back, is a strange and difficult to understand piece ( image 5 ) alleged to commemorate the founding of the Austrian Republic in 1945 with assorted human rights engraved on it. Named the "Stone of the Republic", the engravings include the names of the signatories to the founding of the republic and excerpts from the original declaration.
The northern end of Judenplatz is occupied by the Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Nameless Library, the most important Austrian site in remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust. The original idea of such a structure led from unhappiness with the memorial at Albertinaplatz ( see next tip ) and its unsympathetic depiction of the victims, and was championed by noted Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. As designed by British sculptor Rachel Whiteread, with inspiration from the bunkers of the Nazi Atlantic Wall, the memorial is a harsh concrete block 10 x 7 m and 3.8 m high.
It draws upon the frequent description of Jews as "People of the Book" and is a nameless library because all the identical books are inside out with the pages showing (image 3) and the titles turned inward. Like those who lost their lives, the contents cannot be accessed. There is no way to enter this library - the doors (image 5) have no hinges or handles. The knowledge lost in these inaccessible books invokes the loss of the memories as well as the contributions the victims may have made were their lives not so brutally terminated. Engraved around the base are the names of the 41 extermination camps where Viennese Jews were sent to their deaths. By design, this is a most unattractive structure - in stark contrast to the Baroque elegance of Vienna.
The original unveiling was scheduled for Nov 11, 1996, the 58th anniversary of Krystallnacht, but was delayed until October 2000 for several reasons including having to move the site so that it did not lie over the foundations of the Or-Sanua synagogue as well as local displeasure with the pedestrianized square and loss of parking spots. Political opposition was led by the powerful and popular neo-Nazi Freedom Party, incredibly a member of the majority coalition in Austria's government, and one of Austria's dominant political organizations. Some things never change.
The delayed unveiling was attended by Austria's president, Vienna's mayor, Wiesenthal, and Whiteread among others. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI with Vienna's chief rabbi.
On a grey misty day we noted several memorial candles at the base of the monument that had blown out and borrowed some matches from a kind passerby to relight one and place it as best we could on the leeward side. Keeping the flame alive.
The austere and elegant Judenplatz, located centrally in the Old City near Am Hof, provides an introduction to Jewish life and a review of the attendant atrocities suffered in Vienna. A Jewish presence in Austria has been documented to the 3rd C. The first documented Jews in Vienna were supervisors of the Babenberg mint in the late 12th C. Within a few years, the supervisor and 15 members of his family were murdered, according to one undocumented internet source with the connivence of the reigning Pope.
More Jews came and prospered, limited by law to trades involving banking, finance, and money lending. Their prosperity led to increasing persecution culminating in the notorious pogrom of 1421 led by Duke Albrecht V known as the Vienna Geserah. Stringent laws led to imprisonment, starvation and torture, and executions. Children were kidnapped, forced to break dietary laws, and often baptized against their will. Many Jews fled to the Or-Sanua synagogue where, after a three day siege on March 12, 1421, their rabbi Jonah set the building on fire martyring all the Jews within (Kiddush Hashem - meaning sanctification of the name of God - the final sacrifice to avoid breaking of religious faith). Duke Albrecht rounded up the surviving 200 Jews and burned them alive at the stake. Exactly 517 years to the day later, Nazi troops entered Vienna.
It would only be thirty years later that Jews were allowed to return to Vienna because the Habsburg rulers needed their financial capabilities and knowledge , but they did not return to Judenplatz.
The impressive buildings surrounding the pedestrianized Judenplatz house Austrian government offices today, including important judicial courts. At the southern end of the square is a statue of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-81), a foremost poet, critic, and philosopher and a leader in promoting tolerance for all peoples. He was a confidant and advisor to the liberal Habsburg ruler Joseph II. The placement of his statue on Judenplatz honors his efforts on behalf of the Jewish citizens of Vienna. The original statue was created by Siegfried Charoux in 1931 and unveiled in 1935 only to be destroyed by the Nazis in 1939. Charoux would return to recreate his original work in 1965 out of bronze. The replica would be placed in Judenplatz 16 years later.
The lower level contains a claustrophobic alcove with uncomfortable seating showing a looped movie (image 5) illustrating life in medieval Vienna, excellent and educational. A larger adjacent room contains a rather sparse display of artifacts (image 4) from medieval times ranging from household utensils to small religious objects and shards of gravestones.
The highlight of the museum is the reconstruction of the floor plan of the Or-Sanua synagogue destroyed in the Geserah, as constructed with the aid of the archaeologists. The large chamber is dimly lit and otherwise unadorned. Signs denote the use of the major rooms (images 1-3) including the men's prayer room ( shul ), a smaller and separate room for women's prayer, and the platform on which the rabbi read from the Torah ( bimah ). Walking in the tragic footsteps of history.
Unlike the Jewish Museum Vienna with its multicultural appeal for tolerance, cafe, and bookstore, the Museum Judenplatz is totally Judeocentric, emphasizing Jewish life in medieval times and the crimes committed against Jews over the centuries. It is located at the north end of the square in Mizrachi-Haus built in 1694. During construction of a parking lot in 1995, the foundations of the Or-Sanua synagogue were discovered and around them this museum was built, opened in 2000. The opening of the museum and the placement of the Holocaust Memorial in a pedestrianized Judenplatz were not welcomed by unsympathetic locals -- they were far more concerned with loss of their parkings slots (and the closing of a popular teddy bear museum ). Some things never change.
Small and austere, the museum has a distinctly "cold" feeling, perhaps by purpose. The undecorated walls are painted a harsh white and either brightly lit by flourescent bulbs or very dimly lit. Almost like being in a cement tomb. No stores, no food, no nothing.
The ground floor features a room filled with water colors depicting life in the ghettoes of World War II, a remarkable and touching series of images each worth looking at. The depictions of the horrors of the Jewish existence are heart-wrenching. After finishing the remainder of the museum, we came back and went through these drawings all over again. Here is the site of a database recording names and details of 65000 Viennese Jews exterminated by the Nazis as well.
The Jewish Museum Vienna was founded in 1988 and occupies the Eskeles Palais in the upscale Dorotheergasse at city center. Less a Holocaust Museum than an broad-based chronicle of Jewish tradition, historical contribution, and life in Austria, it offers travelling exhibitions and a fixed catalogue on four floors in which all photography is forbidden. The travelling shows typically focus on a person or event significant to Jewish history in Austria. The highlight of the permanent collection is a floor devoted to holographic representations of people and events in the past. Many items of "judaica" fill the remaining halls with explanations of their significance in Jewish life. Combined tickets for the Judenplatz museum are available.
The principle aim of the museum, by my estimation following a long visit, is to demonstrate and emphasize the similarities of all peoples, rather than the dissimilarities. One floor offers multiple movie clips emphasizing this point with subjects ranging from Josephine Baker dancing with her bananas to Monty Python searching for the Holy Grail, a relatively fun-filled exhibit. Another debunks the concept of the classic "jewish nose" offering models of about 50 widely different noses minus their faces from famous Jews around the world, another lighthearted exhibit with a point to make.
We are not entirely certain of how successful this museum is in reaching its goal. We were disappointed by poor signage and a general feeling of disorganization and lack of continuity in the arrangement and presentation of the exhibits, even though individually many were of pretty high quality. Museum staff were invisible. The Berlin Jewish Museum this is not.
Since the erection of the Shoah Memorial and the establishment of a museum about medieval Jewry, Judenplatz has become a singular place of remembrance. There are also excavations of the medieval synagogue here, which can be accessed through the museum in the Misrachi House (Judenplatz 8). It contains documentation of the first Jewish settlements in the Middle Ages, which date back as far as the eleventh century, and of the first major expulsion of Jews in the years 1420-21, the so-called "Vienna Geserah." The Jewish community was completely annihilated at that time - an anti-Jewish relief on the building at Judenplatz 2 ("Zum großen Jordan") serves as a reminder of this event. Austria's Catholic cardinal Schönborn arranged for a memorial tablet to be placed on the house at Judenplatz 6, as a reminder of the anti-Jewish role of the Catholic church; in April 2001, the Jewish Community placed another memorial tablet, this one devoted to those who helped Jews during the Nazi era on the so-called Misrachi House at Judenplatz 8.
Mozart also lived in a house on this square (Judenplatz 3-4) in 1789, and this is where he composed the clarinet quintet (K.581) and the opera Così fan tutte. The square also has a statue of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, who was an outstanding representative of the Germany Enlightment.
The square also holds Der Österreichische Verfassungsgerichtshof and Der Verwaltungsgerichtshof, 2 major courts for the Austrian law system.
The Judenplatz is the jewish quarter in the heart of Vienna city and was the site of one of the largest synagogues in Europe. It is the main centre of the Jewish community in the city for nearly 500 years. It also has the Judenplatz Museum which contains the the remains of the synagogue that was destroyed more than 500 years ago by by Duke Albrecht V. Mozart also lived in this quarter in House no. 3-4 during 1789 and it was during his stay here that he composed the clarinet quintet. The square also has the Holocaust Memorial to Austrian Holocaust Victims created by British artist Rachel Witeread. It was unveiled in 2000. It resembles a library of 7,000 books with their faces turned inwards and the doors to the library closed. The books that cannot be read represents tha loss of people who cannot be brought alive again. The base platform has inscribed in it, the names of the places where around 65,000 Austrian Jews were murdered by the Nazis.
We made our way to Judenplatz and were surprised to see the reinforced concrete cube which is the tribute to the halocaust vistims . The doors are locked and the books face inwards. The base of the memorial has the names of the places where 65,000 Austrian Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Created by British artist Rachel Witeread, the memorial's barred room and books that cannot be read represent the loss of those who were murdered. I guess no memorial could ever be enough but this one falls short .