After the Emancipation
Despite the new legal rights, anti-Semitism was widespread in the Austro-Hungarian Empire toward the end of the nineteenth century. Jews responded to anti-Semitic sentiment with their own feelings of nationalism. The first Jewish national students' society, Kadimah, was founded in Vienna in 1882. Zionism also began to become very popular during the late 1800's and into the early twentieth century. Theodore Herzl helped to start this student movement and dedication to Zionism during his time in Austria at the University of Vienna.
Jews became predominant in all spheres of life and contributed to Austrian cultural and scientific achievements; Jewish merchants, traders, entrepreneurs and businessmen contributed to the prosperity at the turn of the century. Some of the famous figures of the time included, Fanny Arstein, who hosted a salon attended by the major personalities of the time, including the Emperor and Mozart. Prominent Jewish physicians included Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Reich and Theodor Reik. In the field of Zionist politics, Theodore Herzl and Max Nordau reigned. A well-known theologian, Martin Buber lived in Vienna. During this period Jews were also active in music and theater, including Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schonberg, Oscar Straus, Emmerich Kalman, Max Reinhardt, Fritz Kortner, Lily Darvas and Elisabeth Berner. Writers Arthur Schnitzler, Franz Kafka, Stefan Zweig and Felix Salten also became world-renowned for their works.
In the field of medicine, three out of four Austrian Nobel Prize winners in Medicine were Jewish. Many of Austria’s physicians and dentists were Jews and so were lawyers and a substantial number of university teachers. Many Jews were leaders of the Social Democratic Party. The Treaty of St. Germain (1919) following World War I guaranteed the Jews minority rights, and Zionist Robert Stricker was elected to the Vienna city parliament. In the period of 1919-1934, Jewish schools and Hebrew classes opened their doors, and the Zionist organizations flourished.
Jewish religious life centered around the synagogues. Vienna’s two main synagogues were the Vienna Synagogue and the Leopoldster Temple. A number of Jewish institutions were established in Vienna, including a Rothschild hospital in 1872 and a Jewish Gymnasium and Jewish Pedagogium, founded by Zvi Perez Chayes, the Chief Rabbi of Vienna. The first Jewish museum in the world was founded in Vienna in 1895. The museum was closed in 1938 and its contents confiscated by the Nazis.
Because of the atmosphere of economic, religious and social freedom, the Jewish population grew from 6,200 in 1860 to 40,200 in 1870 and, by the turn of the century, it reached 147,000. By 1938, the Jewish population of Vienna peaked at 185,000 members.
In 1934 there were 191,458 Jews in thirty-three communities within Austria. Austria had a Jewish population second only to Russia. A number of Jewish communal institutions were established in those communities. There were synagogues, prayer rooms, cemeteries and a Mikvah (Jewish ritual bath. There were also cultural, and women’s organizations of the ‘Chevra kaddisha’ (burial society), ‘Frauenverein’ (women’s organization), and welfare institutions ‘Bikur Cholim’ (Visiting the Sick Society), ‘Nichum Avelim’ (comforting association), Talmud Torah (place of Torah study), primary school and Yeshivot.
The most important Jewish community outside Vienna was always that of the present-day province of Burgenland, which belonged to Hungary until 1921. It was here that the famous religious ‘Sheva Kehilot’ (Hebrew for "Seven Communities") were located. Unlike Viennese Jews, who were not allowed communal organization until the middle of the 19th century, the Jews in Burgenland had their own communal establishment as early as the 17th century. This communal life was epitomized both by formal communal institutions, and by voluntary scholarship and charity organizations. The ‘Seven Communities’ became a center of Jewish religious scholarship and creativity. Many prominent rabbis served in those communities.
With the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria to Nazi Germany on 13 March, 1938, the fate of Austrian Jews changed dramatically. Austrian Jews were immediately subjected to a straightforward and systematic policy of forced emigration and even to expulsions. Shortly after the annexation, a reign of terror began, which included handing over of Jewish businesses to Nazi officials. Jews' freedom of travel and their sources of livelihood were restricted; Jews were arrested, tortured and beaten. By the end of November 1939, over 120,000 Jews had left Austria. 66,260 Jews remained in Austria along with about 30,000 "racial" Jews according to Nuremberg Laws. The deportation of Austrian Jews to camps began in October 1939. In addition to the approximately 50,912 Jews deported from Austria to Ghettos and extermination camps, another 17,050 were caught in other European countries after the Germans occupied them. An estimated number of 800 Jews survived in Austria by the end of the war by working for the Jewish Council, protected by a marriage with a non-Jew or by hiding underground after the dissolution of the Jewish community in November 1942.