A History of Habsburg Jews, 1670–1918
Judentum in Wien: Sammlung Max Berger November 12, 1987–June 5, 1988
The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria
The Viennese: Splendor, Twilight and Exile
Vienna and the Jews, 1867–1938: A Cultural History
Our image of fin de siècle Vienna is encrusted with clichés. In the sediment of cultural residue left behind by the Viennese art shows at the Centre Pompidou and the Metropolitan Museum, films like Colonel Redl, and magazine article popularizations of the fine work by Carl Schorske and others, the image is endlessly reproduced of Vienna waltzing itself toward the abyss. In these clichés, only a few clairvoyant génies maudits—Karl Kraus, Freud, Mahler, Schnitzler—are exempt from the genial complacency of Viennese Gemütlichkeit, while in the underworld of rooming houses, taverns, and cafés lurks the odious paper-hanger and failed art student. The cliché is completed by dubious identifications between their fin de siècle neuroses and ours. E.M. Cioran has written that the disappearance of imperial Viennese culture prefigures the collapse of Western culture itself, and the Italian critic Claudio Magris has said that the civilization of Austria was modernism’s last adventure before its exhaustion in the postmodern.1 Thus modish 1980s angst vests itself in the decadent glamour of dubious historical antecedents.
These clichés, first coined in Hermann Broch’s description of the Viennese renaissance as a “joyous apocalypse” and Kraus’s phrase about Vienna being the “proving ground for the world’s destruction” have made Viennese cultural creativity synonymous with neurosis and decadence. Even in Robert Wistrich’s wise and sober book reference is made to “the fin de siècle mood of helplessness in the face of political irrationality: the uncanny sense of an approaching demise which threatened both the Austrian monarchy and one of its most important and vulnerable constituent parts—the Jewish community of Vienna.”
When the accent of cliché falls on political impasse, decadence, and self-delusion, the dynamism of Adolf Loos’s and Otto Wagner’s architectural modernism, the sheer adventurousness of Freud’s theories, the daring of Mahler’s symphonic explorations, Arthur Schnitzler’s lucidity and Egon Schiele’s pitiless eroticism are all reduced to symptoms of ambient cultural neurosis. What is forgotten is the defiant and liberating challenge they all offered to the embalmed art and science of the nineteenth century. The images of sickness and decadence have to be chipped away before Vienna can be seen as the birthplace of modernism rather than just the deathbed of empire.
Ridding the old empire of its barnacles of cliché is of some contemporary moment. If the cold war is truly ending then Europeans may wish to reclaim cultural identities in Central Europe that were last extant under the Austro-Hungarians. Since World War II, the idea of Mitteleuropa—of a common cultural spirit linking Eastern and Western Europe—has survived in the mind as a spiritual protest against the line Yalta drew across the European heartland. In the Gorbachev era, this idea of a common European cultural home has become a fashionable theme of colloquies and conferences. Yet if the idea of Mitteleuropa is to become something more than a nostalgic utopia it is important to understand the history of the defunct empire that bequeathed this common identity. The lessons of this history are not flattering toward pan European illusions, for it shows that the identity was built on two pillars both of which have collapsed into the dust. The first was a common allegiance to German culture and language, an allegiance disgraced forever by what the Nazis did in the name of the Volk. Hitler’s attempt to replace a German cultural imperium in Central Europe with a military one simultaneously destroyed the second pillar of a common culture. The one people who really believed in Mitteleuropa, and who actively created the transnational cultural identity it implied, were sent to the gas chambers. For this reason alone, Mitteleuropa died in 1945 and will never rise again.
The decisive role of the Jews in the creation of this vanished culture has only been recognized lately. Even in Carl Schorske’s pathbreaking work on fin de siècle Vienna, the cultural achievement of the empire is described as the work of “liberal bourgeoisie” which, seeing its emancipatory political project blocked by the anti-Semitic and nationalist irrationality of the late empire, turned its energies into art and culture. As Steven Beller’s admiring yet trenchant criticism of Schorske makes clear, this interpretation fails to give sufficient emphasis to the simple fact that “the liberal bourgeoisie” were mostly Jewish.
The entire cultural renaissance of Central Europe was made possible by the emancipation and urbanization of Central European Jewry. From a negligible presence in 1850, Jews migrated to the capital in such numbers that they accounted for 10 percent of the Vienna population by 1914 and occupied commanding positions throughout the arts, the liberal professions, commerce and banking. For the hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout the empire who flocked to the capital, Vienna was the city of their emancipation from the confines of provincial or stetl life: Freud, Kraus, Mahler, Herzl, Melanie Klein—Vienna’s characteristic geniuses—were all born outside, in Bohemia, in Hungary, and looked on Vienna as their Hauptstadt. Their cultural achievement expressed both their liberation from the conservatism of Jewish ancestry and their anguished realization that fully belonging in the Gentile world could never be taken for granted.
Yet for all the vile offhandedness of anti-Semitism in the Gentile world of Austro-Hungary before 1914, no national, racial, or religious minority did so well out of the empire as the Jews or was so attached to its monarch. Just as the cultural achievement of the empire is overshadowed by the empire’s collapse, so the achievement of Jewish emancipation within the empire is overshadowed by its infamous finale—the Anschluss of 1938 and the agony that followed. In no field of historical study does one wish more fervently that historians could write history blind to the future.
The history of the Austro-Hungarian Jews is being written, inevitably, as a slide into the abyss. Yet when history is written backward, it condescends to history’s victims. Because we know that the path for Vienna’s Jews led to Mauthausen and Theresienstadt concentration camps, it is easy to be ironic at the expense of those Jews who believed in assimilation into a milieu that was to expel them so brutally. The Torah scrolls and shields of Viennese synagogues that were inscribed with the Habsburg double eagle and displayed at a recent exhibition in Vienna’s city museum (the catalog is listed above) can seem to express a poignant delusion. We forget that at the time they were a proud assertion of allegiance and belonging. Only if the fall of the Habsburg empire is considered inevitable, does Jewish attachment to it—does Joseph Roth’s lifelong nostalgia for it, displayed in a dozen novels—become poignant, or pathetic. Likewise, as Beller remarks, the passion of Central European Jewry for German Bildung and their adoration of Wagner, for example, only seems blind or self-hating in morbid retrospect. At the time, to adore things German was to adore the universal, the liberating, and the uplifting against the hierarchical, hedonic, and bigoted cultural ambiance of Austrian Catholicism.
Just as those Jews who tied their fate to the Habsburgs can be made to seem like sleepwalkers, those who believed they must break with the empire can seem more prescient than they actually were. In 1945, Herzl’s conviction that Jews could never be safe except inside their own state seemed unanswerable. In 1897 it merely seemed defeatist. It is only in the lurid glow of 1945 that the apostate Jew Karl Kraus seems both self-hating and self-deluding to have argued in 1897 that Zionism and anti-Semitism were mirror images of each other, since both accepted the impossibility of Jewish assimilation into the Gentile world. Yet Kraus was only the most mordant of the many anti-Zionist reactions to Herzl’s plan within the Viennese Jewish community. Given the weight of prescience that history itself has vested in Zionism, it is a central merit of Robert Wistrich’s book that he rescues the logic and coherence of anti-Zionist positions from the condescension of posterity, particularly the position of the Austrian Social Democrats who argued, in Otto Bauer’s words, that the Jew must unite “his special Jewish misery” with the “common proletarian misery” and fight side by side with his “Aryan [sic]” colleagues. In an age when socialism was still on the march, the idea that the Jews must align themselves with history’s vanguard class seemed to be both prudent and wise. Only after the sickening defeats of Austrian and German social democracy thirty years later did such a position seem a delusion.
The same ironies of evaluation emerge when a historian looks at the anti-Semitic politicians who prefigure Hitler. When Georg Ritter von Schönerer, father of Austrian anti-Semitism, invaded a Jewish-owned newspaper in 1888 and smashed the editorial offices with the help of a gang of thugs, is the historian to emphasize the anticipatory echo of the 1930s? Or should the emphasis be placed on the fact that Schönerer was arrested, convicted, stripped of his title and his seat as a deputy, and sent to prison for four months? In doctrine, Schönerer prefigures Hitler and in fact inspired him; in practice, the two lived in different historical worlds, one in which legal protections still applied to Jews and another in which they no longer did.
George Berkley does not seem to have pondered the ironies of hindsight. His book, besides being inadequately footnoted and marred by misprints (the French socialist Jaurès, for example, is turned into Juarez), evaluates victims by the degree of prescience with which they anticipate their victimhood. Yet as Berkley also knows, even in hindsight, many Jews of Vienna looked on their life before 1938 as close to a paradise. Harry Zohn, a Viennese exile, who contributes a foreword to Berkley’s book, observes that Berkley “paints such an unrelievedly cheerless picture that the Paradiso is barely visible through the Inferno.” Even Berkley admits that the Jewish tragedy was a tragedy of success, of an achievement that awakened envy and hatred in the other national minorities of the empire, and crucially among the German-Austrian lower middle classes from which Hitler emerged.
Given the extent of Jewish success and the rapidity of their assimilation, Berkley has to emphasize their self-deceptions and self-delusions. If it was a paradise for Jews, he says more than once, it was a fool’s paradise. The chief self-deception lay in assimilation. “The less Jewish a Jew becomes, the more may his very Jewishness imperil him [Berkley’s italics].” Yet this supposed lesson from the Viennese experience is not easy to reconcile with the fact that the new racial anti-Semites of the 1890s hated the assimilated and non-assimilated alike, the caftan-wearing Orthodox of Vienna’s Leopoldstadt ghetto and the converted cosmopolitans who flocked to the Burgtheater. Many Viennese Jews knew this and bitterly understood that they could never vanish into the Gentile world. Mahler was not fooled. Despite his own conversion, he remained acutely conscious that he was “thrice homeless: as a Bohemian among Austrians; as an Austrian among Germans; and as a Jew; everywhere.” Schnitzler was not fooled. No amount of theatrical success ever lowered his guard to the perfidy lurking behind the acclaim. He was scathing, for example, about Jews who trusted, first to the Austro-Hungarian liberals, and then to the socialists to protect them. He wrote bitterly,
Who created the liberal movement in Austria? The Jews. Who betrayed and abandoned the Jews? The liberals. Who created the German Nationalist Movement in Austria? The Jews. Who left the Jews in the lurch and indeed despised them as dogs? The German nationals. And just the same thing will happen with the socialists and the communists. Once the dinner is ready to be served, they will chase you from the table.
Wistrich, unlike Berkley, reveals how clearly the Viennese Jewish leadership understood the anti-Semitic enemy. In this connection, Freud’s analysis of anti-Semitic hatred as castration anxiety directed by the uncircumcised at the circumcised seems vulgar and heavyhanded, compared to Rabbi Bloch’s account, in a speech made to the Reichsrat in 1890, of the shameless, polymorphous opportunism of anti-Semitic discourse:
Nothing can help the Jew. He will never give satisfaction no matter what he does. If he spends too much, he is ostentatious, a spendthrift; if he spends too little, he is called stingy, a miser. If he keeps aloof from public life, he is lacking in public spirit; if he takes part in political life, he is an impertinent intruder. (Laughter)
It was in Vienna, too, that the definitive analysis of anti-Semitism as a projection of feared elements of the self was made, by the wildly unbalanced but brilliantly perceptive author of Sex and Character, Otto Weininger:
Whosoever detests himself; that he should persecute it in others is merely his endeavor to separate himself in this way from Jewishness; he strives to shake it off and to localize it in his fellow creatures and so for a moment to free himself of it.
Weininger, a tortured Jew who committed suicide in 1903 at the age of twenty-three, also forced into the open the question of whether Jewish assimilation was motivated by racial self-hatred. This association of assimilation with Jewish self-hatred runs through both Berkley and McCagg’s book. McCagg writes that “the overriding tendency of European Jewish history in the nineteenth century was one of national ‘self-demolition.” No other national racial, or linguistic minority within the empire tried so hard to leave its past behind; no other minority was so thoroughly engaged in what McCagg calls both “self-denial,” and “self-hatred, as it is often too narrowly labeled.”
Doubtless there were assimilated Jews—Otto Weininger was an example—who were, in Max Nordau’s cruel characterization, “a cripple within and a counterfeit without.” But assimilation need not entail self-hatred. Who was more assimilated than Herzl prior to 1897, and didn’t his version of Zionism derive largely from his assimilation of German romanticism? What about Freud? As Robert Wistrich shows in the wise and balanced chapter he devotes to the subject, Freud could not even read the Hebrew phrases his proud stetl-born father inscribed in the family Bible. The son dressed like any other Viennese professional; observed few if any Jewish religious or dietary customs; remained suspicious of Zionism and Jewish nationalism in all its forms; and yet as he wrote in 1928 he was always conscious of “an inner identity, the familiarity of the same psychological structure” that bound him to his own people. So that in an introduction to the Hebrew translation of Totem and Taboo, Freud wrote in December 1930:
If the question were put to him: since you have abandoned all these characteristics of your countryman, (language, religion, nationalism) what is there left of you that is Jewish? He would reply, “A very great deal, and probably its very essence.”
Doubtless with figures like Freud in mind, Beller argues that “assimilation came to be the continuation of Judaism by other means beyond the Jewish identity.” Again in hindsight, this may seem a particularly self-deluding attempt to have it both ways, yet at the time, Jews had reason to believe that Jewish stoicism, individualism, and passion for the word were not lost in assimilating into Gentile culture. Instead, Jews could feel they were both carrying the banner of Central European Enlightenment and preserving the core of Jewish values. Only at the end did they realize that they were carrying the banner alone. With this realization came the conviction that they had abandoned their heritage.
William McCagg rightly objects to the view—which George Berkley comes close to endorsing—that Jewish self-hatred, self-delusion, and division were contributing causes in their destruction. Jews must be considered, McCagg writes, as “absolute victims.” Any other position is “just too awful to discuss.” Indeed. But why can’t Jewish self-hatred be discussed? Why should Jews be asked to be less self-hating than other groups? A passion to blend in, to be accepted, even at the price of abandoning one’s past are not necessarily unhealthy psychological characteristics for minority groups. For the Ostjuden particularly, assimilation and migration to Vienna offered a ticket to modern life, an escape from what McCagg calls “the vicious circle of Orthodoxy, destitution, and lack of education.”
In any case what’s wrong with a little self-hatred, even among Jews? A capacity for self-contempt is a useful attribute in a realistic personality and this need not exclude dislike of aspects of one’s race or religion. Why, in addition to all the other burdens Jews are required to assume for their terrible history, should they be asked to be monochromatically proud of themselves and united in the face of fate?
Yet Berkley insists that the Viennese Jews should have been prouder of their Jewishness and more united in its defense, behind Jewish institutions. “Had the Viennese Jews been cohesively organized before the Anschluss, they might well have been able to conciliate or at least moderate the hostility of some of their enemies,” particularly the Catholic Church. Possibly. But just as there is no reason to suppose that secular assimilation must mean self-hatred or self-disavowal, so there is no reason to suppose that Jews could or should have united in the face of the common enemy. Unlike Berkley, McCagg manages to avoid the cruelty of hindsight:
Nowhere, moreover, was a clearly “correct” Jewish policy possible. All too often, indeed, what had seemed perfectly reasonable from a “Jewish” point of view in 1848 or 1858 was proven by a ground-swell change in 1900 to be the opposite.
Only in the light of 1945 does Jewish factionalism in Vienna seem foolish, divisive, or self-deluding. Before the First World War, such debate and division were a sign of the community’s vitality and confidence. If the history of Vienna’s Jews says anything it is that debate about what it means to be a Jew is intrinsic to Judaism. Jews will always be debating what forms of assimilation to the Gentile world are possible or desirable, whether a Jewish state is or is not desirable, what form of accommodation, if any, Jewish faith should make to the secular world. These debates are inextinguishable—even in the face of mortal danger—because they raise conflicts of principle which admit of no definitive resolution. Robert Wistrich’s scholarly book is an exhaustive analysis of the debates that pitted the premodern Ostjuden against the assimilated, the religious against the secular. The excellence of his book lies not in a central thesis—since there isn’t one—but in the high quality of scholarship, the sensitivity to nuance, the desire to map the entire Jewish response to the crisis of the empire in all its complexity. He lays out these divisions, while also devoting chapters to the institutions—the Kultus Gemeinde, the Austrian Israelite Union, and the Kadimah—which brought Jews together in forms of cultural self-defense.
William McCagg brings out the extent to which Jews were divided not only as Jews, but also as citizens of Austro-Hungary, sometimes siding with the German minorities, sometimes with national majorities in the madhouse of Central European nationalism. Some of the extreme and fevered creativity of the Jews can be attributed to the anguish of being trapped between their traditional allegiances to Germanic culture and the emergent languages of Central European nationalism. McCagg writes perceptively of Kafka’s predicament as a German-speaking Jew in Prague, living through the Czech nationalist revival:
Kafka’s apparent slavery to words—the agony with which slowly, slowly he followed words first into aphoristic expression, later into stories and never-completed novels; his inability to decide; his failure to finish; his extraordinary sensitivity to double meanings—all this can be associated with the “inbetweenness” of the Jewish world in which he grew up.
Believing until the 1880s that their future lay in close identification with the dual monarchy, with the person of the sovereign, and with the German language, Jews ended their time under the monarchy by putting distance between themselves and the German element in it, and becoming more identified as Poles, Czechs, and Austrians, Germans or Hungarians. Nearly half the Hungarian Jews, for example, listed German as their mother tongue in the 1880s. By the eve of the First World War, only one fifth did so. They now spoke Hungarian, and it was a Hungarian Jew, Vilmos Vázsonyi, who was the most outspoken nationalist spokesman of the prewar era. For only a minority of Jews was Jewishness a primary identity; for most others, being Viennese or Hungarian or Czech counted for more—with the inevitable result that after the empire’s collapse into the post-Versailles nationalities, Jews were more divided than they had been prior to emancipation in the 1860s. Why should we expect anything else?
To regret that the debates and the divisions in Jewish life were not stilled in time is in fact to regret the intrinsic contestability of what it is to be Jewish. To lament that the Jews of Austro-Hungary did not see what was coming is to add to the heavy burden of Jewish messianic destiny, the absurd requirement that they be more prescient than other peoples.
In the light of the Waldheim affair, it was inevitable that someone would take up the argument as Berkley does, that Austrian anti-Semitism was more virulent than the German kind, and that “the Holocaust from Hitler on down was even more of an Austrian phenomenon than a German one.” Since the German state engineered the Final Solution, this seems a ludicrous suggestion. The most influential anti-Semitic tradition in Austria, beginning with Georg von Schönerer, was pan-German, and the ideological roots of hatred of the Jews were from the anti-capitalist, völkisch, anti-feminist, anti-egalitarian political romanticism common to Central Europe. German-Austrians shared in it, but they had no monopoly on it. So did Polish peasants, as Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah unforgettably reminds us. To think that the Holocaust had its roots in the “disinterested meanness” of the Austrian psyche, that it was Austrian because Hitler was an Austrian, and because the most successful anti-Semitic party in Europe before 1914 was located in Vienna, is to make the Holocaust incomprehensible.
The death machine enlisted Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, French, in short people from most of the nations of Europe, including on a few terrible occasions, Jews themselves. To single out the Austrians for a special distinction is meaningless. It was the Anschluss, made possible in large measure by the craven acquiescence of the Soviet, French, and British governments, that licensed the appalling ferocity of the Viennese crowd toward their Jewish neighbors in March 1938. It is uninteresting, in a climate of general barbarism within Central Europe toward Jews, to debate whether the Viennese were more or less ferocious than the synagogue burners of northern Germany. Like most epigrams, the saying, the Germans make good Nazis but lousy anti-Semites, the Austrians make lousy Nazis but first-class anti-Semites, does not illuminate the question’s real complexity. Both participated—sometimes as lousy Nazis, sometimes as good anti-Semites.
Most of the roots of Austrian and German anti-Semitism were identical: petty bourgeois anxiety at the pace and violence of capitalist modernization in Central Europe, projected onto Jews as scapegoats; traditional Christian anti-Semitism mixing explosively with post-Darwinian, high imperial doctrines of racial inferiority and with the higher nonsense of German völkisch romanticism; European-wide anxieties about the cultural decadence of the great empires, for which Jews were blamed; and geopolitical fears about Germany’s place at the frontier between Europe and Asia. Both German and Austrian anti-Semitism have their roots in fear of the German Volk being overwhelmed by the Slavs and Ostjuden of eastern and southern Europe. This German fear is classically evoked in the historian Treitschke’s articles published in Berlin in 1880, in which he speaks of “year after year there pours over our Eastern frontier…trouser-selling youths, whose children and children’s children are one day to dominate Germany’s stock exchanges and newspapers.”
Yet there are differences between the Austrian and German cases, and here Peter Pulzer’s classic study of political anti-Semitism in Austria and Germany, recently republished with a new introduction, is a far better guide than Berkley’s book. North German anti-Semitism festered in a climate of imperial triumphalism, following on Bismarck’s unification of the Reich, while Habsburg anti-Semitism brooded on failure and on defeat at the hands of Bismarck’s Prussians at Königgrätz in 1866. It gained most, though by no means all, of its adherents among the German minority that felt threatened by the explosive nationalisms of a multi-national empire in decay. Hitler’s Anschluss was thus “retribution for Königgrätz,” the revenge of south German (note, not Austrian) “völkisch ideology over the classical nationalism and chauvinism of Prussia and the North.” But this revanchist ideology, cradled in Austria, only awakened strong German support after the peace of Versailles, when Germany tasted the humiliation already instilled in Austrian consciousness. “It was the self-appointed task of this ideology,” Pulzer goes on, “to destroy every vestige of the Liberal civilization painstakingly and uncertainly built in Central Europe in the previous hundred years.” Indeed, as both Pulzer and Beller make clear, by the late 1920s, the only remaining believers in liberal civilization in Central Europe were the Jews. In neither Germany nor Austria were the roots of this restraining culture of liberal universalism deep enough to withstand the nihilists and the street agitators.
The other vital contrast between the German and Austrian cases concerns differences in Allied approaches to their denazification after 1945. As the historian Robert Knight has argued,2 Allied occupation, the mass destruction of the cities, and the Nuremberg trials forced the German people into a degree of recognition of what they had done to their Jewish neighbors, friends, and colleagues. In Austria, on the other hand, the Allies, the Soviet Union included, licensed the fiction of Austria being the Nazi’s “first victim” and thus enabled a country to embark on the voyage into amnesia from which it was shaken awake, if only to indignant denial, by the international campaign against Kurt Waldheim. Austrian anti-Semitism cannot be understood unless the part played by Western complicity in Austrian amnesia is recognized.
Just as Austria cannot be understood in isolation, so too the fate of its Jews cannot be understood alone. All of the books under review help to redress the neglect of the decisive contribution of the Jews to the cultural achievement of the empire; but all of them fall prey to the tendency of Jewish studies to treat the Jews in isolation from the other objects of loathing in Hitlerite ideology. Anti-Semitism, as an ideology, never travels alone; on its own, hatred of the Jews is a relatively weak ideological component; for an ideology to mobilize people into groups it must offer a vehicle not only for hatred, but also for pride and positive identification. It must appeal—this is true even of anti-Semitism—to the best in people as well as the worst. Thus, as Pulzer argues, “hatred of the Jew was a result as much as a cause of the increased urge to völkisch solidarity.”
For anti-Semitism to work up the courage to pass from cruel words to vile deeds, it must find other enemies too: Marxism, liberalism, parliamentarism, and democracy must all be seen as destroyers of völkisch virtue in order for Jews to begin to be endangered. In this constellation of phobias, Jews are increasingly portrayed, along with homosexuals and emancipated women, as violators of Germanic sexual order. As Paul Hofmann rightly observes, “Hitler’s early memoirs contain visions of swarthy Jews taking advantage of blond Teutonic maidens and pulling the strings of prostitution and white slavery in Vienna.” As both Wistrich and Pulzer observe, Georg von Schönerer despised feminism and said it was supported only by “women who have failed in their calling as women or who have no wish to answer it—and Jewesses. They naturally get the support of all the old women of the male sex and of all feminists, that is those men who are no men.” Because of its homophobic and misogynistic penumbra, anti-Semitism should be seen not merely as the socialism of fools (i.e., anticapitalism directed at Jewish scapegoats) but also as the anti-modernism and anti-individualism of fools as well. And then, fear and disgust at Ostjuden were closely allied to geopolitical fears of the invasion of Slavs and Poles pouring over the eastern frontier.
Anti-Semitism became powerful only when it served as the carrier of other phobias, sexual, political, and social. Jews are always picked out by gunsights which range over other targets—Slavs, gypsies, mental defectives, and so on. I wished that all of the books under review had devoted somewhat more attention to Jewish attitudes toward the ambient cluster of racial and sexual phobias in Viennese culture. Were we to find, as might be reasonable if regrettable, that Jews held more or less the same gamut of opinions as other Viennese about homosexuals, Slavs, gypsies, and feminists, then Jews were entrapped, more than they knew, in a constellation of phobias that included themselves as targets. Was this one reason why none of the Nazi victims was ever able to make common cause? What must count as the most terrible, and also most puzzling, of the anti-Semites’ victories is that, despite the fact that Jews were not the only ones who were hated and despised, the Jews came to feel—and had reason to feel—that they stood alone.
Vienna’s contemporary Jewish population is small and aging. The town is very nearly the city without Jews that the journalist Hugo Bettauer imagined in a prescient satire written in 1922. Bettauer’s story is told in Paul Hofmann’s informal but informative book. In his satire, Bettauer imagined what would happen if the Jews were expelled from the city: it immediately declines into drab provincial somnolence, the people frozen in folkloric alpine dress and shabby south German complacency. The prescient satire has come to pass, but not as the author expected. He imagined a fairy tale, Pied Piper of Hamelin style. Reality decreed otherwise. Three years later Bettauer himself was shot and killed by a Nazi sympathizer; thirteen years after that, professors, doctors, and lawyers who happened to be Jewish were forced down on their knees by the same genial, complacent, and provincial neighbors to clean the streets with toothbrushes. Freud’s aging sisters were led off to die in Theresienstadt. Of the 300,000 Jews still in Vienna in 1936, only about two hundred were left when the Red Army entered the Austrian capital in 1945. Today in that city without Jews, the old Jewish cemeteries, a jumble of cracked and faded headstones, worn by the wind, canopied with leaves in summer and shrouded in snow in winter, are patrolled by guard dogs that howl and snarl on their rounds, to keep the desecrators at bay.
Vienne: 1880–1930, L'Apocalypse joyeuse (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1986), pp. 19, 28.↩
Times Literary Supplement, October 3, 1988.↩