Jewish life exhibit opens in Vienna Nazis destroyed original museum

November 19, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

VIENNA, Austria -- Reminders of the beauty and sophistication of old Vienna's Jewish community, obliterated by Nazi rule, have gone on display in a new museum that has come to stand for strength and renewal even as it symbolizes terror and loss.

The new Jewish Museum is the spiritual heir to Europe's oldest collection of Judaica, established here in 1897 but destroyed by Nazis in 1938. Its debut includes a stroll through a lost Jewish Vienna.

An enlarged antique map of the city center was stamped onto the floor of an exhibition hall that includes an illustrated marriage contract, ceremonial items crafted of silver and a bowl of calling cards from a Jewish elite that was welcomed in Austria's best salons.

The exhibition is called "Teitelbaum Lived Here," the name representing a Jewish Everyman who had successfully assimilated into Austrian science and culture and business before the nation became part of the Nazi empire in 1938. The title tells all: In the three-volume telephone directory for Vienna's 1.7 million residents, there is not a single Teitelbaum.

From 1939 to 1945, the Nazis murdered 65,459 Austrian Jews; in fact, only 320 Austrian Jews survived the terror of deportation and the brutality of concentration camps. The rest of the nation's more than 200,000 Jews had fled abroad.

Today, about 8,000 people have registered with Vienna's Jewish community, although several thousand additional members of the faith also live in the Austrian capital, most of them recent emigres fleeing troubles in two "former" nations -- the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

At gala dedication ceremonies last night, Vienna Mayor Helmut Zilk said the city's history required "a Jewish museum be restored in this place."

"Without Jewish life, the city of Vienna would not be what it is today," he said. "This museum should be a place of memory, but also a place of education and discussion."

The restoration of a massive Jewish museum in Vienna was first discussed in the mid-1980s, but the issue became entangled in a painful period of Austrian politics as the nation began to grapple with its ambiguous relationship with the Jewish people.

Kurt Waldheim had been elected president even though

archives indicated that he was a senior officer at a Nazi prison camp in northern Yugoslavia where atrocities were committed. Skinhead gangs marched in the land. Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate, made a landmark visit and challenged Austrians to face up to their history.

"This is an important day, a historic day," said Paul Grosz, chairman of Vienna's Jewish community. But he lamented that "where Jewish communities disappear, Jewish museums arise."

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