- The Austrian republic was founded in November 1918 following the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I. The population of Austria numbered 6,725,000 inhabitants, including some 220,000 Jews. Austria’s Jewish population was proportionately three and a half times as numerous as Germany’s Jewish community. During the 1920s, over 200,000 Jews lived in Vienna, the sixth-largest Jewish city in the world, following New York, Warsaw, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Budapest.Jews made a significant contribution to Austria’s cultural and economic life, and included Sigmund Freud, Theodor Herzl, Karl Kraus, Gustav Mahler, Arthur Schnitzler, Arnold Schoenberg, and Ludwig Wittgenstein among the country’s more prominent personalities. Austria, however, also suffered from an endemic anti-Semitism that manifested itself politically. The three major political parties were hostile to either Jews or Judaism. The anticlerical Social Democratic Party viewed Judaism as a relic of the bourgeoisies. The clerical Christian Socialist Party expressed traditional Christian contempt for Jews and Judaism, and the Austrian pan-Germans espoused the racial forms of anti-Semitism. In fact, Adolf Hitler, in his autobiography Mein Kampf (My Struggle), writes that it was in Vienna that he became an anti-Semite. On the eve of the German annexation of Austria (Anschluss) on 13 March 1938, anti-Semitism was a widespread ideology in the First Austrian Republic. Although Austria would later claim that it was the first victim of Nazi aggression, the reality was that the Austrians welcomed annexation to the Greater Reich. Following the Anschluss, anti-Semitic rioting spread throughout Austria. The violence directed toward the Jews by Austrian Nazis exceeded the brutality shown by their counterparts in Germany. This was followed by the expulsion of Jews from the country’s economic and social life within weeks after the annexation. In March 1938, Germany set up Gestapo offices throughout Austria. One of the first actions taken by the Gestapo was to shut down the offices of the Jewish community organizations and the Zionist organizations in Vienna. Jewish leaders were subsequently arrested and placed in jail. This was followed by the looting of Jewish apartments and the confiscation of artworks and other valuables. Shortly thereafter, Jewish ritual slaughtering practices were forbidden and synagogues were desecrated. Torture was also used against Jews until they signed a document stating that they had voluntarily given up their property.The seizure of Jewish property was followed by the Aryanization of Jewish businesses. By the beginning of June 1938, about 26,000 Jewish-owned enterprises had been taken over by the Austrians. The confiscation of Jewish property and wealth was also joined by the German effort to force Austria’s Jews to emigrate. Toward that end, the Germans in August 1938 opened the Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration in Vienna. The office was headed by Adolf Eichmann, who was instrumental in forcing the emigration of Jews from Austria to Switzerland or Italy, before it became difficult for Jews to find a place of refuge. Prior to Kristallnacht, about 7,000 Jews emigrated from Austria.Following Kristallnacht on 9–10 November 1938, Jews were rounded up and placed in concentration camps and were not released until they had made arrangements to leave the country. On the eve of the German invasion of Poland, 126,445 Jews emigrated from Austria. Those who remained were eventually deported to the ghettos and the death camps. About 65,000 Austrian Jews died in either the ghettos or the death camps in Poland. Although Austria constituted only 8.5 percent of the population of the Greater Reich, half the crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust were committed by Austrians.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.