Bro­ken Glass, 80 Years Later

Aus­tria Con­fronts the His­tory o¡ Kristall­nacht

Forward Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Liam Hoare

2018 is Aus­tria’s Ge­denk­jahr,

‡ months of land­marks, an­niver­saries and com­mem­o­ra­tions that reach their zenith and nadir in Novem­ber. The

th and ‡th of the month ‡ mark ‹‹ years since the ab­di­ca­tion of the last em­peror, Charles I, and the dec­la­ra­tion of the Re­pub­lic of Ger­man-Aus­tria. Novem­ber Š and ‹, how­ever, will be ˜‹ years since the Novem­ber­pogrom or Kristall­nacht, when all but one of Vi­enna’s syn­a­gogues and houses of prayer were de­stroyed. Over two days of blaz­ing de­struc­tion, ‡ž Jews were mur­dered, ˜˜ se­verely in­jured, more than ,ˆ‹‹ ar­rested. Jew­ish-owned stores were smashed up and looted. The pogrom spurred the forced ex­o­dus of Jews from Aus­tria, which had be­gun after the An­schluss in March Š™˜.

“Pro­jekt OT,” a new ini­tia­tive pro­moted by the Vi­enna Jew­ish Mu­seum, will see Kristall­nacht com­mem­o­rated by a se­ries of light in­stal­la­tions at the sites of de­stroyed syn­a­gogues. A thin, cylin­dri­cal steel mast, a lit­tle over feet in height, de­signed by lo­cal artist Lukas Maria Kauf­mann, will sup­port a -footwide LED-light sculp­ture made of acrylic glass. Viewed from the side, it ap­pears de­formed and shape­less, though seen from be­neath, the il­lu­mi­nated tube forms a Star of David. Each in­stal­la­tion comes axed with a QR Code that, when scanned, links to a vir­tual re­con­struc­tion of the for­mer syn­a­gogue. The project will, mu­seum di­rec­tor Danielle Spera says, make passersby “aware of what has been lost for­ever.”

The lights are to be in­stalled at ‡ˆ sites across of Vi­enna’s dis­tricts, in­dica­tive of the wave of syn­a­gogue con­struc­tion that took place in the Šth and early-‡‹th cen­tury, as mi­gra­tion re­sulted in a Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion boom not only in his­tor­i­cally Jew­ish neigh­bor­hoods like Leopold­stadt and Brigit­te­nau, but also across the Aus­trian cap­i­tal. Wedged into the ex­ist­ing cityscape, these new syn­a­gogues were ar­chi­tec­turally am­bi­tious, em­brac­ing icon­o­clas­tic styles from the Moor­ish Türkische Tem­pel, with its pointed arches, ar­cades and cap­i­tals copied from the Al­ham­bra. to the neo-Gothic Neudeg­gertem­pel, whose de­signer, Max Fleis­cher, be­lieved Jew­ish syn­a­gogues should more closely re­sem­ble Chris­tian churches.

These plots of land where the de­stroyed syn­a­gogues once stood, hav­ing been stolen by the Nazis after Kristall­nacht through a se­ries of forced sales at in­sult­ing prices, were re­turned to IKG, the Jew­ish Com­mu­nity of Aus­tria, fol­low­ing World War II. No syn­a­gogues were re­built, how­ever, since forced de­por­ta­tion and mass mur­der had re­duced Aus­tria’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion to ‹,‹‹‹ in Š—ˆ from ˜‹,‹‹‹ in Š™˜. Ešorts were fo­cused on restor­ing the one re­main­ing syn­a­gogue on the cen­trally lo­cated Seit­en­stet­ten­gasse, which had been ran­sacked in Š™˜ but not lev­eled and is to­day the spir­i­tual cen­ter of Jew­ish Vi­enna.

In­stead, be­gin­ning in the Šˆ‹s, the IKG — then dom­i­nated by the So­cial Demo­cratic League of Work­ing Jews —

sold the sites of for­mer syn­a­gogues to the City of Vi­enna, un­der the con­trol of the SPÖ, the So­cial Demo­cratic Party. As the ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­ri­ans Bob Martens and Her­bert Peter note in their con­tri­bu­tions to the ‡„€— col­lec­tion “Vi­en­nese Syn­a­gogue: A Mem­ory,” this process was crit­i­cized at the time by, among oth­ers, the Nazi hunter Si­mon Wiesen­thal. He warned that the sites were be­ing given away due to the close re­la­tion­ship be­tween the BJW and SPÖ.

Some sites of de­stroyed syn­a­gogues con­tinue to be used by Jew­ish in­sti­tu­tions. The site of the mag­nif­i­cent ro­man­tic neo­clas­si­cal Leopold­städter Tem­pel (marked by its in­cor­po­ra­tion of de­sign fea­tures said to have been used in Solomon’s Tem­ple in Jerusalem) houses ESRA, which pro­vides psy­chother­a­peu­tic ser­vices to the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially Holo­caust sur­vivors and mi­grants. Four enor­mous white columns on the side­walk, de­not­ing the build­ing’s for­mer grandeur, memo­ri­al­ize the for­mer syn­a­gogue.

But the main con­se­quence of the IKG’s land sale pol­icy is that Ge­mein­de­bauten, so­cial hous­ing built be­tween the early €‚ƒ„s and late €‚ž„s and owned by the City of Vi­enna, mostly re­placed the de­stroyed syn­a­gogues. On many but not all of these hous­ing blocks, plaques have been erected that ex­plain the site’s for­mer des­ig­na­tion. Writ­ten in a stan­dard for­mat, they note the syn­a­gogue’s ar­chi­tect as well as the dates of the build­ing’s con­struc­tion and de­struc­tion (though the signs have faded some­what and are per­fectly ig­nor­able to some­one ca­su­ally walk­ing down the street).

These ex­plana­tory pan­els con­sti­tute a kind of post facto com­mem­o­ra­tion: some­thing stuck onto the new build­ing at a later date, as op­posed to a form of memo­ri­al­iza­tion that was ac­tively in­te­grated into the de­sign of the re­place­ment struc­ture at the time it was built. Ex­am­ples of the lat­ter are few and far be­tween, though the site of the for­mer Turn­ertem­pel in the city’s im­mi­grant Ru­dolf­sheim-Funfhaus dis­trict, where the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion has built a memo­rial park, stands out in that sense.

The park is a rec­ti­fi­ca­tion of an ear­lier er­ror. In the €‚ƒ„s the Turn­ertem­pel’s ru­ins were re­placed by an auto re­pair shop and gas sta­tion, con­structed us­ing the bricks of the de­stroyed syn­a­gogue. Its owner sold the site to the city in €‚ †, and in ‡„€€ the park was opened. Ex­ist­ing lin­den trees were wo­ven into a de­sign that used black con­crete beams to de­note the blown-apart roof truss of the syn­a­gogue, while mo­saics re­call the build­ing’s de­struc­tion and the fate of the dis­trict’s Jew­ish res­i­dents. Among its qual­i­ties, the memo­rial is also won­der­fully prac­ti­cal, an im­prove­ment to the ur­ban land­scape and an in­ser­tion of green recre­ational space into a ne­glected res­i­den­tial dis­trict.

What be­gan with the burn­ing of syn­a­gogues and shops, books and places of prayer and learn­ing ended with the burn­ing of bod­ies. The Holo­caust was the at­tempted de­struc­tion of a civ­i­liza­tion and also the to­tal de­struc­tion of an idea. It con­cluded a hope­ful yet failed chap­ter of Eu­ro­pean his­tory, in which the dream of Jews and non-Jews liv­ing to­gether as cit­i­zens and equal part­ners clashed with anti-Semitism. For Vi­enna, as is the case in other Eu­ro­pean me­trop­o­lises, the legacy of

The Vi­enna-based project will, the mu­seum di­rec­tor says, make passersby aware of ‘what has been lost for­ever.’

Kristall­nacht is that, out­side of spe­cific neigh­bor­hoods and en­claves, Jews are no longer a re­al­ity of daily life. Gone are not only the in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, but also the phys­i­cal re­minders of that Jew­ish pres­ence.

This is not to say that Vi­enna’s syn­a­gogues should have been re­con­structed, only to stand empty week after week as mau­soleums for a de­stroyed com­mu­nity. As the fi­nan­cial needs and de­mo­graphic bal­ance of the city’s Jew­ish com­mu­nity changed due to mi­gra­tion from Hun­gary, Poland and the for­mer Soviet Union, what was re­quired be­fore ‰Š‹Œ was no longer nec­es­sary there­after. Though Vi­enna’s new syn­a­gogues lack the ar­chi­tec­tural splen­dor of those built dur­ing the com­mu­nity’s golden age in the ‰Šth cen­tury, the city is to­day home to them, cater­ing to the Geor­gian and Bukharin sub­com­mu­ni­ties, lib­eral Ju­daism and Chabad-Lubav­itch.

But cer­tainly an op­por­tu­nity was missed, due to the crit­i­cal na­ture of Vi­enna’s post­war re­con­struc­tion (“”% of its hous­ing stock was de­stroyed dur­ing WWII) and to the lies Aus­tria told it­self for decades about its own sta­tus as vic­tims as op­posed to per­pe­tra­tors, for an on­go­ing con­fronta­tion with its own his­tory through more pro­nounced forms of memo­ri­al­iza­tion.

If there is a hope for “Pro­jekt OT,” it is that its ob­vi­ous vis­i­bil­ity, its height and lu­mi­nes­cence, as­serts and rein­serts the his­toric Jew­ish pres­ence into dis­tricts where the of­ten mag­nif­i­cent in­fras­truc­ture of Jew­ish life was, in one almighty con­fla­gra­tion, lost to the city for all time.


HID­DEN IN PLAIN SITE: The plots of land where de­stroyed syn­a­gogues once stood were re­turned to the Jew­ish Com­mu­nity of Aus­tria after World War II.


SIX POINTS OF LIGHT: De­signed by Lukas Maria Kauf­mann, each of the LED light in­stal­la­tions forms a Star of David.

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