My Vienna: how centuries pass at Judenplatz (Jewish square)
Above/featured: Judenplatz at night. The Holocaust memorial is in the foreground at centre. In the background are “To the little trinity” at centre and Misrachi House (Museum Judenplatz) at right. Photo, 10 Jun 2022.
At Judenplatz are clear visual reminders of the city’s first Jewish community in medieval times.
The first Jewish community in Vienna settled around present-day Judenplatz in the Middle Ages with mention in written documents dated mid- to late-13th century AD/CE. Daily Jewish life thrived around the Or-Sarua Synagogue, the Jewish School, and the Mikveh ritual bath. The community along with the surrounding Jewish neighbourhood came to an end with the Pogrom of 1421. Catholic Habsburg Duke Albrecht II rolled out a decree (Wiener Geserah, Vienna Gesera) which legitimatized the expulsion, incarceration, torture, and murder of some 800 Jewish residents; accompanied by destruction and forced takeover of buildings and property.
Below I highlight remnants and traces to the medieval Jewish community at this square in central Vienna.
Around the square
- Bimah, Old Synagogue
- Bohemian Chancellery, Judenplatz 11
- Holocaust Memorial
- Jordan House, Judenplatz 2
- Kiddush Hashem, Judenplatz 6
- Lessing monument
- Misrachi House (Museum Judenplatz), Judenplatz 8
- Mozart House, Judenplatz 3–4
- To the little Trinity, Judenplatz 7
- Sources (references)
Judenplatz is located in the area inscribed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site (since 2001).
Bimah, Old Synagogue
Bima, Alte Synagoge.
Next to the Holocaust memorial is a hexagon in the pavement, indicating the position of the Bimah in the ruins of the Old Synagogue below. The Bimah is a hexagonal podium from which readings of the Torah are made. The medieval synagogue whose first written mention goes back to 1204 AD/CE was destroyed during the Pogrom of 1421. After destruction of the synagogue, its stones became a part of the construction for the “Nova Structura” (New School) at the University of Vienna. To view the remnants of the medieval syngagoue below the square, visitors must enter (with paid entry) through Museum Judenplatz.
Böhmische Hofkanzlei: Judenplatz 11.
Designed and constructed by Johann Fischer von Erlach from 1708 to 1714, the Bohemian Court Chancellery building suffered bomb damage during the 2nd World War (Kriegssachschäden, c. 1946). Post-war reconstruction took place under the original style, and the pink-frosted Baroque-style building is now home to the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court (Österreichischer Verwaltungsgerichtshof). It’s no accident one of the nation’s highest courts “which safeguards the right of its citizens to legal certainty” and the adjacent Lessing statue are located in a place which has witnessed great injustice over centuries of human history.
Mahnmal für die österreichischen jüdischen Opfer der Schoah.
Standing directly above the ruins of the medieval synagogue, the prominent library-like sculpture in the square is the Holocaust Memorial to Murdered Austrian Jews, designed by British artist Rachel Whiteread. The memorial is accessible 24 hours to the public in the open square. Details of Whiteread’s memorial sculpture in words and images are found here.
Jordan-Haus, Zum grossen Jordan: Judenplatz 2.
At one of the oldest buildings of the square is a medieval inscription acknowledging the murder and expulsion of Jews from Vienna in the 1421 pogrom, after which the house was no longer under Jewish ownership. By the early 16th-century, the Jordan family owned the house with the relief installed on the building wall soon after, although the artistic relief may be mid-16th century. Even before the relief was an earlier inscription: “Ao 1421 wurden die Juden hie verbrendt.” (“Here were Jews burned to death in 1421.”) To reflect the Jordan family name, the mounted relief showed Christ baptized by his cousin John at the river Jordan; however, the lurking anti-semitism was demonstrated in an insidious and offensive dedication. (See also Harrer source.)
German translation (WZ, 26.03.2021):
Durch die Fluten des Jordan wurden die Leiber von Schmutz und Übel gereinigt. Alles weicht, was verborgen ist und sündhaft. So erhob sich 1421 die Flamme des Hasses, wütete durch die ganze Stadt und sühnte die furchtbaren Verbrechen der Hebräerhunde. Wie damals die Welt durch die Sintflut gereinigt wurde, so sind durch das Wüten des Feuers alle Strafen verbüßt
English translation (Duncan Smith, Bookword):
“By baptism in the River Jordan bodies are cleansed from disease and evil; so all secret sins take flight. Thus, the rising flames sweeping furiously through the entire city in 1421 purged the terrible crimes of the Hebrew dogs. As the world was once purged by flood, so this time it was by fire.”
Memorial plaque highlighting Christian anti-semitism (Gedenktafel christlicher Antisemitismus) at Judenplatz 6.
The Catholic Church produced “Kiddush Hashem” (“sanctification of God”) in recognition of historically Christian-sanctioned anti-semitism, an example of which is portrayed with the relief on the Jordan House. The Archdiocese of Vienna provided and installed memorial plaques in late-1998; that’s 577 years after the pogrom in 1421.
Provided description, in English:
“The ‘Kiddush HaSchem’ means ‘sanctification of God’. With this awareness, Jews of Vienna in the synagogue here at Judenplatz – the center of a significant Jewish community – chose a voluntary death at the time of the persecution of 1420/21 in order to escape the forced baptism they feared. Others, about 200, were burned alive at a stake in Erdberg.
Christian preachers of that time spread superstitious anti-Jewish ideas and agitated against Jews and their faith. Under this influence, Christians in Vienna accepted the crime without resistance, they approved it and became perpetrators. In this way, the destruction of the Viennese “Jewish City” in 1421 was already a threatening omen for the events that took place in all of Europe at the time of the National Socialist tyranny. Medieval popes turned without success against this anti-Jewish superstition, and individual believers fought in vain against the racial hatred of the National Socialists. They were too few.
Today, Christianity regrets its share in responsibility for the persecution of Jews and realizes its failure. For Christians today, “Sanctification of God” can only mean asking for forgiveness and hoping in God’s saving action.”
At the southeast end of Judenplatz, a monument is dedicated to German author and literary critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) who criticized dogmatic practice in religion and advocated for equal treatment for all, regardless of religion. In the German-speaking world, Lessing is known for his 1799 play “Nathan der Weise” (Nathan the Wise). The Lessing monument was designed by artist Siegfried Charoux and initially unveiled to the public in 1935. The Nazis really had it in for Lessing’s tolerance and humanism, and had the statue destroyed in 1939. After the war, Charoux created a second monument for its inauguration at Ruprechtskirche in 1968; the statue was moved finally to Judenplatz in 1981.
Das Blut allein macht lange noch den Vater nicht.
(Blood alone does not make a father.)
Daja: Die Menschen sind nicht immer, was sie scheinen.
Tempelherr: Doch selten etwas Besser.
(Daja: People aren’t always what they seem.
Templar: But rarely are they something better.)
Nicht die Kinder bloß, speist man mit Märchen ab.
(Fairy tales aren’t fed only to children.)
– “Nathan der Weise” (Nathan the Wise): Gotthold Lessing, 1779.
Misrachi-Haus (Museum Judenplatz): Judenplatz 8.
Existing in part since the late 17th-century, the Misrachi house is now the home of Museum Judenplatz, a part of the Jewish Museum Vienna. Access to the remnants of the medieval synagogue below the square is through (paid entry into) Museum Judenplatz. In 2001, Austria’s Jewish communities funded and installed a memorial plaque dedicated to those who helped Jews during Nazi rule.
Mozart-Haus: Judenplatz 3–4.
From 1783 to 1784, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his family lived in an apartment on the third floor in the building at Judenplatz 3. After the Genossenschaft der Gastwirte (Restaurateurs’ Collective) purchased and demolished the two separate buildings, a single building by architect Ludwig Schöne was erected in 1895 at Judenplatz 3–4. The building is now home to Vereinigung der Wiener Gastwirte (Vienna Restaurateur Association) and the Gastgewerbefachschule (GAFA) hospitality and culinary vocational school.
To the little Trinity
Zur kleinen Dreifaltigkeit: Judenplatz 7.
The 5-level apartment block town house (Bürgerhaus) was constructed in late-baroque style around 1785. The corner nook contains a small sculpture of the iconic Holy Trinity.
• Brownlow, M., Visiting Vienna, <https://www.visitingvienna.com/sights/judenplatz/> [accessed 2023].
• Harrer (-Lucienfeld), P., Wien, seine Häuser, Menschen und Kultur, 2. Band, 2. Teil, S. 394–396 (Wien: selbstverl., 1952). Manuscript digitized by Vienna City and State Archives (Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv) and available from online library WienBibliothek <https://www.digital.wienbibliothek.at/wbrobv/content/titleinfo/2278312>) [accessed 2023].
• Smith, D.J.D., Only in Vienna: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners, and Unusual Objects (The Urban Explorer, 2015).
• Wehdorn, M., Vienna: A Guide to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Wien: Springer-Verlag, 2004).
• Weiss, A., “Jüdisch Leben: Als die Scheiterhaufen brannten“, Wiener Zeitung, 26.03.2021.
• Wien Kulturgut (Cultural Properties), <https://www.wien.gv.at/kulturportal/public/> [accessed 2023].
Public transport with Wiener Linien:
• U-Bahn U1 or U3 to station Stephansplatz, followed by a 7-minute walk.
• At the northwest corner of St. Stephen’s (cathedral) square and in front of the shop Trachtensalon Witzky is the “Stephansplatz U” stop for bus 3A to Schottenring. Alternatively, across the intersection is the World of Souvenirs shop; in front is the stop “Stephansplatz U” for bus 1A to Schottentor.
• From “Stephansplatz U”, it’s 2 stops for either bus 1A or 3A to stop “Schwertgasse”, from which the walk is 1 minute to Judenplatz. Bus 1A and 3A operate every 7 to 10 minutes Monday to Saturday from 7am to about 7pm.
( View map location at OpenStreetMap )
I made all photos above with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime in 2018 and 2022. Alle Fotoaufnahmen sind von Wasserzeichen versehen worden. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-cPg.
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