York. Granada. Vienna. The list of Jewish persecutions in Western Europe is long and revolting. The massacre of those living around the Judenplatz during the early 15th century – when Viennese Jews were burned alive on a pyre at the Gänseweide (“Goose Pasture”) in Erdberg – is one example. The expulsion of Jews from Vienna in A.D. 1670 – when the Spanish wife of Leopold I blamed them for her miscarriages – is another.
It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that Jews could find safe ground in Austria. Gradual changes in Imperial policy resulted in a surge of Jewish immigration to the capital city. As Gordon Brook-Shepherd points out,* by 1900 more than 60% of Viennese doctors and 50% of lawyers were Jewish. Jews owned almost all of the city’s major newspapers.
But the time of Freud, Zweig, Mahler, Adler, and Reinhardt only lasted for a few decades. After Adolf Hitler declared the Anschluss in A.D. 1938, Jews were ruthlessly hunted down.
“University professors were obliged to scrub the streets with their naked hands, pious white-bearer Jews were dragged into the synagogue by hooting youths and forced to do knee-exercises and to shout ‘Heil Hitler’ in chorus. Innocent people in the streets were trapped like rabbits and herded off to clean the latrines in the S.A. barracks.”**
Jews and “expendables” at the Mauthausen labor camp, the scene of the Stairs of Death, were forced to quarry granite to pave Vienna’s streets. Others were slaughtered in concentration camps. By the end of World War II, the Austrian Jewish population had been virtually wiped out.
You’ll find the names of the places where these men and women were murdered on the Holocaust Memorial in Vienna’s Judenplatz. Designed by Rachel Whiteread, a British artist, the memorial is intended to look like a library with the books turned inside out – the titles on the spines cannot be read.
** See Stefan Zweig’s memoir, The World of Yesterday.