The Judenplatz in Vienna is a very important place in the history of the Jewish Community in Vienna. The square testifies to the distressful experiences of the Jewish Community in its Christian environment. In the last few years, Judenplatz has been pointing out the dramatic and unprecedented shift in Jewish-Christian relations. The first Jewish Community in Vienna dates back to 1200. In 1421, the first Jewish Community met a terrible end when 200 believers who had resisted forced baptisms were burnt at the stakes. Under the influence of the Age of Enlightenment and especially under the rule of Joseph II. the situation gradually relieved. In 1867, Jews in Austria were legally granted the status of citizens and equal rights in the constitution. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi-Germany, anti-Jewish aggression reached its high point. Today, more than 7000 people are registered as members of the Vienna Jewish Community. Judenplatz is a place where the diversity of Judaism becomes visible. At Judenplatz, the lively Jewish Community organizes a Chanukka-market and a Jewish Street Festival every year. There is a synagogue located in the House Misrachi at Judenplatz 8. In 2000, the British artist Rachel Whiteread designed the Shoah memorial, which was built on the remnants of the foundation walls of the former synagogue. For 50 years, Christians of various denominations and members of the Jewish Community have been working together in the "Koordinationsausschuss für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit." The various activities of the committee can be found on the website http://www.christenundjuden.org/.
Judenplatz is a Place of Changeful history - a Testimony about a Shift in Jewish-Christian Relations
Throughout history, Judenplatz has been an important place for the Jewish Community living in Vienna. The place gives testimony about the distressing experiences of Jews in a Christian environment. In the last few years, Judenplatz has been pointing out a renewal of the relations between Judaism and Christianity.
The Shoah Memorial was built on the remnants of the foundation walls of the former medieval synagogue. In 1421, the first Jewish Community met a terrible end when 200 believers who had resisted forced baptisms were burnt at the stakes. A relief at House Jordan at Judenplatz 2 dating back to the 15th century abuses the death of the 200 Jews and calls it a just punishment for their sins. In 1998, Cardinal Franz König unveiled a plaque on the walls of the elementary school of the archdiocese of Vienna, Judenplatz 6, which sets history straight and rejects this malicious interpretation. The text commemorates the pogrom and confesses the guilt of the Christians involved.
The Shoah Memorial was unveiled in 2002. The Memorial was designed by the British artist Rachel Whiteread and has been designed as the walls of a library or book shelves turned inside out symbolizing the loss of lives in the Shoah.
In House Misrachi at Judenplatz, the synagogue has been rebuilt. An inscription of the Jewish Community carved into one of the walls reminds of the "righteous among the peoples." The memorial of the poet Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, a statue of the builder Siegfried Charoux dating back to 1965, reminds of "The Parable of the Three Rings," in Nathan the Wise. Judenplatz is a place where the diversity of Judaism becomes visible. At Judenplatz, the lively Jewish Community organizes a Chanukka-market and Jewish Street Festival every year. A lively Jewish Community after the horrors of history is a source of joy for the Christian Churches. "We are grateful, that [...] the number of Jewish Communities in many European countries are increasing," said the final document of the Second European Ecumenical Council in Graz in 1997.
The first Jewish Community in Vienna dates back to 1200. In 1421, the first Jewish Community met a terrible end when 200 believers who had resisted forced baptisms were burnt at the stakes. Others locked themselves up in the synagogue, set the building on fire, and went willingly to "Kiddusch Haschem" - they died for the higher glory of God.
In 1670, all Jews in Vienna were expelled from "Unteren Werd," their synagogue was destroyed and the parish church St. Leopold was built on the synagogue's former foundations. In the 18th century, only wealthy Jews with special privileges, so-called "Hofjuden," were allowed to stay in the city. Under the influence of the Age of Enlightenment and especially under the rule of Joseph II., the situation gradually relieved. In 1867, Jews in Austria were legally granted the status of citizens with equal rights in the constitution.
After 100 years of Jewish emancipation, the number of anti-Jewish attacks increased in the interwar years, stoked by the Nazis and German Nationals. Anti-Semitism was common, even among church members and church representatives. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi-Germany, anti-Jewish aggression reached its high point on November 9 and 10, 1938: the synagogues were destroyed, the majority of Jewish shops were raided, and more than 60.000 Jews were arrested. By the end of 1941, 130.000 people had fled from Austria. After the "Wannseekonferenz" in 1942, most Jews in Vienna died in the concentration camps of the Nazi-Regime: out of 65.000 Jews who had been transferred from Vienna to the concentration camps only 2.000 survived.
In 1938, the Jewish Community in Vienna had 185.000 members and was thus one of the biggest in the world. At the end of the 1990ies, a little more than 7.000 Jews were registered in Vienna.
During the interwar years, only a few celebrities warned against the danger of anti-Semitism. The Lutheran Swedish Mission offered series of lectures on Jewish and Christian topics.
After the annexation, the Swedish Mission and the Anglican Church helped many Jews to emigrate. Cardinal Innitzer founded the "Hilfsstelle für nicht arische Katholiken," a help organization for non-Aryan Catholics, which existed until the end of World War II.
Kurt Schubert, an expert on Jewish Studies who died in 2007, founded the "Koordinationsausschuss für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit" in 1956, and thus anticipated the topics of the renewal of Jewish-Christian relations of the Second Vatican Council. At the same time, Felix Propper, pastor of the Swedish Mission in Vienna, laid the foundation for today's theological principles for Jewish-Christian relations, which refrain from targeting Jews for conversion.
In their roles as leading members of the "Katholischer Akademikerverband Österreichs," Prof. Schubert, the historic Erika Weinzierl, and Msgr. Otto Mauer advocated Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Jewish-Christian Dialogue is a vital task for the organization "Katholische Aktion Österreich (KAÖ)" and inside the Church, where the topic was discussed at the "Wiener Diözesansynode" already in 1971.
Prompted by the anti-Semitic occurrences during the Waldheim affair, the KAÖ tried to push the dialogue between Jews and Christians forward by launching initiatives, such as a series of meetings of celebrities called "Schalom für Österreich" from 1986 to 1988. A special KAÖ working group worked on brochures and flyers to reduce the prejudices and ignorance of ordinary people. Due to these initiatives, Jewish-Christian meetings could be established also in the various dioceses on a regular basis.
In 2006, the "Koordinationsausschuss für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit" celebrated its 50th anniversary. Christians of different denominations work together having equal rights and duties. The brochure "Dialog - Dialogue - Du Siach," published four times a year, and the website www.christenundjuden.org presents the committee's activities. The committee's efforts' aim is to make people understand that engaging in Jewish-Christian Dialogue does not only mean looking outwards. Instead, Jewish-Christian Dialogue is concerned with the most important values and principles of Christian identity: the Jewish heritage constitutes a vital part of Christian identity.
The two events "January 17 - Day of Judaism," organized by the Ecumenical Council of the Churches, and "Mechaje Hametim - Who Resurrects from the Dead," the memorial service in commemoration of the Night of Broken Glass in 1938, are fixtures in this year's calendar. The renovation of Christian graves in the Jewish section of the Vienna central cemetery is among the activities of the "Koordinationsausschuss für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit."
Dr. Markus Himmelbauer
Managing Director of the "Koordinationsausschuss für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit"
In Cooperation with Dr Paul Schulmeister
Freelance Journalist and President of the Catholic Graduate Students' Association