The Holocaust in Austria

The Holocaust in Austria

Austria is a land-locked nation in Central Europe, and in 1939 the population was 7,000,000 persons.  Although the population was a majority ethnically German, there were sizable populations of Slavs; Jews; Czechs; and Italians.  Until the end of World War I, Austria had been the ceneter of the prolific Austro-Hungarian Empire, but since the Treaty of Versailles it had been forbidden from uniting with Germany to the north.  As the war progressed the policy of Nazis towards Austrian Jews gradually shifted from forced emigration to extermination.  The Jewish population had already emigrated en masse and was down to about 70,000 from its original high of close to 200,000 in 1938.  Austria and its Jewish population were completely downgraded to miniscule proportions by the time Hitler fell in 1945.  The massive cultural and educational contributions that were made by the Austrian Jewish population would never be revived, even to this day.

The Holocaust In Austria

Vienna had been on the decline since the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the birth of the Austrian Republic.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a giant Babylon of 11 different ethnicities – a multinational state.  The population of Jews in Austria was 181,882 people, of them 167,249 lived in Vienna.  Prime Minister Kurt Schussnigg’s government was in power from 1934-1938, an Austro-fascist government that was by no means supportive of Jews.  However, Jews had enjoyed a comfortable existense until the Anschluss came on March 12, 1938.

Exhibition of “Der Eweige Jude” in Vienna after the Anschluss, March 1938


By March 18 the new government had shut down the offices of the Jewish community and Zionist organizations in Vienna.  About 6,000 people were initially arrested – mostly the prominent intelligentsia and businesspeople.  During the first weeks after the Anschluss, Jews were fired from their jobs in cinemas; community centers; public libraries; and public institutions.

 The events that transpired were so troubling that from February to March 1938, the number of Jewish suicides went up 20-fold.

Later that year, the Viennese Jews would suffer from the worst episode of Kristallnacht known.  Vienna on the nights of November 9-10, 1938 was a place of anti-Semitic destruction.  All Jewish shops were attacked and looted, and many Jews were forced to wash the street (image below.)

The Jews in Austrian History

Jews had enjoyed a time of relative prosperity from 1848 until the time of the Anschluss in 1938.  Their population had declined after World War I,  although there was a prominent Jewish presence in Austrian government during the First Republic.  There was also an increase in the status of Jews at the time in comparison to the profiles of their gentile countrymen: 25% of Viennese businesses were Jewish owned at the time of German annexation; 62% of lawyers in Vienna were Jewish; and nearly 30% of all professors at universities were Jews as well.  Great Austrian Jewish scholars and inventors include Dr. Sigmund Freud (who escaped, but whose sisters perished in Theresienstadt;) Dr. Viktor Frankl; Author Vicki Baum; Composer Gustav Mahler; and many more. 

This all came to an end in 1938.  Universities lost 40% of their combined population of the faculty and the student body.   

Anschluss and Early Excesses

Young NSDAP and SS men had already started terrorizing the Jewish population when the Nazis came in on March 12, 1938.  During the first days following the annexation, many Austrian Jews were robbed; beaten; arrested; or murdered. Regular people and SS men alike would go into Jewish homes and claim they needed to search the premises for guns and communist paraphernalia, but really they were just robbing the Jews.

At this point the goal of the Austrian Nazi regime was to facilitate the emigration of as many Jews as possible.

Jews forced to wash the streets in an attempt to humiliate them, Austria 1938

Austrian Jews Wait For Passports to Emigrate

Mass Emigration

On March 18, 1938, the office of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde was shut down and its leaders were arrested. At the same time, Adolf Eichmann, who was head of Jewish affairs for the Reich’s security Service, arrived in Vienna. Eichmann wanted to streamline the process by gathering all professionals in the emigration departments of the government be consolidated under one name. 

Unfortunately, western nations were not being forthcoming with allowing more Jews than their quotas allowed.  Lines would stretch around the block in front of the police station as people waited to get their passports in order to leave their hostile homeland.

(pictured above: Viennese Jews line up at the Polish consulate to secure papers for emigration)


Kristallnacht in Austria

The pogroms from November 9-11, 1938, were particularly brutal in Vienna and Austria.  42 synagogues were burnt and over 4,000 persons were sent to Dachau.  Jewish shops had been marked previously and it made it very easy to rob the Jewish store-owners during this chaos.  The local population was very anti-Semitic and it did not take much convincing from Germans before the Austrian populace was on board for robbing their Jewish neighbors.

Jewish-owned business marked by anti-Semitic grafitti.