2016 Annual Assessment

Annual Assessment 2016

Dr. Shlomo Fischer

Avinoam Bar-Yosef, Susanne Cohen-Weisz, Rémi Daniel, Chaya Ekstein, Dan Feferman, Avi Gil, Inbal Hakman, Michael Herzog, Simon Luxemburg, David Landes, Dov Maimon, Steven Popper, Uzi Rebhun, Shmuel Rosner, John Ruskay, Noah Slepkov, Shalom Solomon Wald, Einat Wilf

Barry Geltman
Rami Tal

2016 Annual Assessment

Until the late 1970s, community leaders felt more at home in Austria than the Jewish population at large. The Alt-Wiener Jews in general, and the community leadership in particular, adopted a more conciliatory attitude toward Austria than did the DPs and refugees, and tended toward greater social integration, cultivated contacts with local politicians, and insisted that they were in Austria to stay.11

The DPs and refugees, who fled postwar anti-Semitism and pogroms in their home countries, came to Austria because they perceived it to be a safe haven; nevertheless they felt that they were “sitting on packed suitcases.” They saw their sojourn there as a “happenstance of war,” not as an intentional act. Indeed, they did not envision their future there but simply stayed in the meantime for a variety of personal reasons. The Austrian Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) enabled them to lead comfortable lives. But all Jewish life and celebrations took place behind closed doors. The Jews did not want to attract attention. They lived in two worlds: the outside world, which included the workplace, where they were obliged to maintain contact with people they either feared, despised, or did not trust; and the internal Jewish world, the world of family and friends. Yet nonetheless they stayed and went on with their daily lives. Indicative of their attitude toward Jewish life in Vienna was their general unwillingness to donate funds for the re-establishment of local Jewish community institutions, while contributing generously to the State of Israel. Similarly, most Jews sought to avoid occupations and lifestyles that entailed a long-term commitment to Austria.

The members of the postwar generation gradually felt more and more comfortable in their Viennese surrounding. Buoyed by Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, they developed self-confidence as Jews significantly stronger than that of their parents. They felt more secure and more accepted by their environment and displayed their Jewishness more openly. Moreover, having grown up in Vienna and been exposed to the local society and culture, they had formed friendly relations with gentiles and, after the 1970s, began to look ahead toward a possible future there.

Since the 1980s, it has become clear that the postwar Jews have actually “unpacked their suitcases.” They increasingly felt that “we are here to stay” and actively participated in Vienna’s economic and social life. The postwar generation also adopted a much more outspoken public stance. They vent their discontent openly rather than behind closed doors, stand up for their rights in public, bring their issues and concerns out onto the streets, and seek media publicity. They do not shy away from criticizing Austrian politicians and filing official complaints and lawsuits against individuals and groups in order to safeguard the Austrian Jews’ safety, interests, and religious freedom. Moreover, although they had difficulties defining it, they also began to envisage and discuss the adoption of an Austrian identity, an issue that had earlier been taboo and unthinkable. The second and third postwar generations have evinced even stronger Austrian identities and displayed their Jewishness more openly than their previous generations – including wearing kippot in public.

From the onset, the Soviet immigrants maintained a more positive attitude toward Austria than the local Jews. They came to stay. Those who arrived as small children and the post-immigration generation studied German-language literature and culture in school, and mastery of the language enabled them to integrate successfully into Viennese society.