08 November 2007

Austria: Vienna's abandoned Jewish cemetery

Everywhere we look, genealogy-related articles are big news. Yesterday, Bloomberg.com carried "Vienna's Jewish cemetery goes to ruin as politicians babble," by Manuela Hoelterhoff, who interviewed Tina Walzer, the Austrian historian who has kept the cemetery in the public eye for more than a decade.

Another thick layer of leaves is dropping on Vienna's abandoned Jewish cemetery.

A year ago, I wrote about this disturbing enclave in a high-end villa section a short drive from the center of the prosperous Austrian capital. Dating from the 18th century, the Wahringer cemetery reflected the prominence of Jewish thinkers, actors,
bankers and patrons.

Fanny von Arnstein, who knew Mozart and the potentates of the Congress of Vienna which reshaped Europe after Napoleon, was buried here with her husband. Another tombstone recalled banker and industrialist Gustav Ritter von Epstein.

When Austrians jubilantly joined the Reich in the 1938 Anschluss, Nazi thugs trashed the cemetery and dispatched skeletons to the Natural History Museum for study.

Who should care for the place now? Who should restore the ruined graves, cut the weeds and trim the ancient trees?

One woman, the Austrian historian Tina Walzer, has kept the Wahringer cemetery in the local news for the past 12 years. She wields both pruning shears and pen, castigating politicians who, with the exception of the Green Party, can't find the will and the money to fix the place up.

The covers storm damage, missing bodies, American volunteers, and the issue of who should be taking care of these sites.

Read the complete interview with Walzer here.

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