The Holocaust in Austria

Jewish shops in Vienna

The Jews In Austria

Jews in Austria had enjoyed relative prosperity and freedom since the mid-1800’s under the Habsburg monarchy.  There was an especially dense pocket of Jews living in Vienna, and they contributed greatly to its rise in prestige.  Many Jews in this time intermarried and they were also free to convert.  In fact, at the time, it was considered distasteful to be anti-Semitic and, though certain limiting laws existed, Jews were generally very prosperous during this time.  

After the First World War an independent Austria emerged as a nation of 6.5 million people carved out of the German-speaking areas of the former empire. This new country granted civil liberties to all and it came to be dominated by the bourgeoisie, many of whom were Jews.  This all came to an end when ultra-conservative Kurt von Schuschnigg came to power.  He didn’t directly attack the Jews, and he did fight the growing power of the Nazi party, but by 1936 he had released some Nazis from prison and many had taken up key positions in his government.  On March 12, 1938 the German troops crossed the Austrian border and the next day it was declared a province of Germany.  The German Reich had absorbed Austria into its kingdom in what is known as “The Anschluss.”    

(Image: Jewish Shops in Vienna, Austria, on  Pre-war Leopoldstadt street.)

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

On Wednesday March 9, 1938, Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite in order to determine the future of Austria and whether or not it should be part of Germany.  Within days the Nazis had whipped up a frenzy amongst the Austrian civilians and the plebiscite was called off.  Hitler had given Schuschnigg an ultimatum that stipulated that Austria not hold the plebiscite or else Germany would march over the border and occupy it. Schuschnigg was ordered to appoint a Nazi head of state, Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and he stepped down.  Soon after that on March 12, 1938, Nazi troops were welcomed into Austria with flowers and cheers.  Hitler paraded across the nation from his hometown all the way through Linz, a major Austrian city. The enthusiastic pro-Nazi sympathies of the people surprised everyone, including the incredulous Nazis.
The coming weeks proved to be extremely hard for the Jews of Austria, most of whom lived in Vienna. Stories of men being made to scrub the streets; clean the latrines of Nazis; and property stolen were just preludes to the mass arrests and deportations to Dachau that would follow in November during Kristallnacht.  Many Jews killed themselves, many more emigrated after losing everything by way of extortion through unfair taxes.  France and Britain accepted the Anschluss and Austria was incorporated into Greater Germany.  The Jews of Vienna and greater Austria would be defined, isolated, and exploited until they are either trapped and destitute or they have emigrated. In Austria up to two thirds of the population of Jews was able to emigrate before the beginning of the war, Adolf Eichmann helped facilitate this through his sinister Office for Jewish Emigration.

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

Austrian Jews Wait For Passports to Emigrate

Mass Emigration and Population Shift

By the time the war started on September 1, 1939, there were only about 65,000 Jews left in Austria (the population was concentrated almost entirely in Vienna.)  Of these Jews over half of them were women and only 19% were under the age of 40 – all younger people; middle-aged men; and wealthy Jews had generally had the opportunity to emigrate during the previous year.  All that was left were the weak who were unable to find a place in a foreign country.  In the waning days of Austrian Jewry the community was left in shambles: homeless, jobless, and most of them on welfare. They were all concentrated into certain districts with dilapidated housing where they would await their deportation. 

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

 

On Wednesday March 9, 1938, Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite in order to determine the future of Austria and whether or not it should be part of Germany.  Within days the Nazis had whipped up a frenzy amongst the Austrian civilians and the plebiscite was called off.  Hitler had given Schuschnigg an ultimatum that stipulated that Austria not hold the plebiscite or else Germany would march over the border and occupy it. Schuschnigg was ordered to appoint a Nazi head of state, Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and he stepped down.  Soon after that on March 12, 1938, Nazi troops were welcomed into Austria with flowers and cheers.  Hitler paraded across the nation from his hometown all the way through Linz, a major Austrian city. The enthusiastic pro-Nazi sympathies of the people surprised everyone, including the incredulous Nazis.

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

The coming weeks proved to be extremely hard for the Jews of Austria, most of whom lived in Vienna. Stories of men being made to scrub the streets; clean the latrines of Nazis; and property stolen were just preludes to the mass arrests and deportations to Dachau that would follow in November during Kristallnacht.  Many Jews killed themselves, many more emigrated after losing everything by way of extortion through unfair taxes.  France and Britain accepted the Anschluss and Austria was incorporated into Greater Germany.  The Jews of Vienna and greater Austria would be defined, isolated, and exploited until they are either trapped and destitute or they have emigrated. In Austria up to two thirds of the population of Jews was able to emigrate before the beginning of the war, Adolf Eichmann helped facilitate this through his sinister Office for Jewish Emigration.
Austrian Jews Wait For Passports to Emigrate

Mass Emigration and Population Shift

By the time the war started on September 1, 1939, there were only about 65,000 Jews left in Austria (the population was concentrated almost entirely in Vienna.)  Of these Jews over half of them were women and only 19% were under the age of 40 – all younger people; middle-aged men; and wealthy Jews had generally had the opportunity to emigrate during the previous year.  All that was left were the weak who were unable to find a place in a foreign country.  In the waning days of Austrian Jewry the community was left in shambles: homeless, jobless, and most of them on welfare. They were all concentrated into certain districts with dilapidated housing where they would await their deportation. 

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

 

The Annihilation of Austrian Jewry

In the winter of 1941, the Nazis expelled about 4,500 Austrian Jews to their near-certain deaths in occupied Poland. Jews were deported to cities all over the occupied USSR (Riga; Lodz, Minsk etc.) all through the winter of 1941-1942. Most were shot upon arrival and few ever returned home. There were, however, a group of Jews who were deported to Terezin (German: Theresienstadt,) but even they did not have a very high rate of survival. In the end, by November 1942, there were fewer than 7,000 – out of an initial population of over 200,000 – Jews left in Vienna. Most of them were in mixed marriages and there were a small amount in hiding.