Local survivors established Jewish communities in Austria immediately after World War II. They have a centralized community structure at the local level, the Einheitsgemeinde (unity community), which accommodates members of all streams in Judaism from Orthodox to Reform under one roof. This structure was adopted in 1945 and is based on the Einheitsgemeinde model that had existed in Austria before the Shoah. That model stipulated the existence of only one Einheitsgemeinde – a single official community1 – in each locality. Its main characteristics are: (a) only halachic Jews can be members, and membership is upon application and can be canceled; (b) democratic elections for the community board; (c) sole responsibility for the external representation of the entire Jewish population; and (d) umbrella for different religious groups that act autonomously in making internal political and religious decisions.
In 1960, the Austrian Jewish communities entered into a formal financial relationship with the Austrian state, attaining the same status as the two other major religious organizations at the time, the Catholic and the Protestant churches, who by law receive state funding annually.
The Einheitsgemeinde structure has remained unchanged until today. The biggest community by far is the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (Jewish community Vienna, IKG), in Vienna, whose judicial district includes five out of the nine Austrian provinces. All four – Wien, Salzburg, Linz, and “Tirol und Vorarlberg” – are local (provincial) organizational units of the Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft (Jewish religion association, IRG), the legal entity representing the Austrian Jews to the Republic of Austria. Due to the overwhelming size of the Viennese community in Austria’s Jewry, the IKG political leadership heads the IRG.
The Einheitsgemeinde structure was imposed on the Jewish communities in the 19th century in order to make state supervision easy. After World War II, it was in the communities’ best interest to maintain this political unity structure. All IKG leaders regarded it as mandatory for strengthening Jewish life in an already small Jewish community and for attaining political and social standing in Austria.