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In Vienna today there are four Synagogues, 3 kosher butchers and several Jewish schools. There is a Chief Rabbi whose father was also the Chief Rabbi.

In 1938 the Jewish population was 200,000.

At the turn of the century in 1900 Vienna was the Imperial Capital of an Empire that stretched across central and Eastern Europe. The Jews of Vienna were secular and integrated into the rich commercial and intellectual life of one of the most important cities in the world. The most famous doctor in the world practiced from 1896 to 1938 at Bergstrasse 19. Vienna was little damaged in the was and today the apartment of Doctor Sigmund Freud is a museum. There are no original contents. The apartment was looted when the family departed although the famous couch was brought to London where Sigmund Freud died the following year.

The Jews of the Austro-Hungarian Empire fought for their country in the Great War. A war memorial in the Vienna central Synagogue with hundreds of names on it was unveiled in 1935. Most of the professors at the University of Vienna left or were murdered after 1938 and the average IQ of the Austrian population has still not recovered to its pre-war levels.

I learned all of this on a short visit to a medical conference at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. I took a morning off to join a tour of Jewish Vienna. I visited the apartment of Sigmund Freud and also the central Synagogue, which is a beautiful oval theatre-like synagogue with a ceiling exactly the same colour of the ceiling in Norwich Synagogue but covered with hundreds of little golden stars. The synagogue survived the war since it is enclosed behind a façade of conventional Viennese street houses, which was originally intended to obscure its purpose at an earlier time in the history of Austria’s Jews. A few feet from the war memorial is the Congregation’s memorial to the murdered Austrian Jews. There were 65,000 names on it.

In recent years the city has constructed a public Holocaust Memorial to the people of the book. It is a hollow concrete building lined with hundreds of concrete books on shelves with the pages rather than the spines pointing out. It symbolizes the unwritten life stories of victims. There are doors without handles, which cannot be opened. The Jewish survivors of the holocaust did not return to Vienna after the war. Only recently, and of course much too late, have any serious attempts at war reparations been made.

There is spectacular architectural grandeur in Vienna but as I wandered the surprisingly quiet streets late one evening I had a disturbingly realistic feeling of being watched by ghosts.

Peter Prinsley

Reproduced from the Norwich Israel & Social Society, New Year Brochure, 2007/2008 – 5768