02 January 2009

Austria: Eisenstadt's Jews

Jews lived in Eisenstadt, Austria - about a 40-mile day trip from Vienna - for hundreds of years under the protection of the noble Esterházy family, and Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent offered a recent article on the community by Aaron Dalton here.

Eisenstadt's other claim to fame is that famed composer Joseph Hayden worked there as the Esterházy court composer for some 40 years. His home can be visited and concerts are today performed where they were originally heard.

The story mentions Wertheimer's private synagogue in his mansion, which was then owned - until the 1930s - by the Wolf family, the largest Austrian Empire wholesale wine dealers. Following Kristallnacht, the community and its main synagogue were destroyed, but the private synagogue was saved (see below). Today it is used for services and as a museum.

In 1972, the building was opened by the government as the first Jewish museum in Austria. Hidden in the synagogue walls were Torah scrolls and other sacred objects. A collection of Judaica and photographs today educate local children about Jewish life.

There is more information on the Jewish Museum here: Österreichisches Jüdisches Museum. Non-German speaking visitors may borrow an English guidebook while seeing the displays.

The article details the fact that until 1938, the community was an oddity, surviving as the one of the last independent Jewish communities in the region, with its own mayor and bailiff.

On Shabbat, a thick chain would be strung across the lane where most Jews lived, to symbolically separate the community from its neighbors. Indeed, the post and chain still survive down the street from the synagogue -- relics of a vanished time.

A short stroll from the shul and the museum stands the old Jewish cemetery, which contains the grave of the great Talmudic scholar Meïr ben Isaac Eisenstadt (1670-1744). The pebbles on his gravestone attest to the Jews who visit and pray there. Jews have reason enough to come to Eisenstadt, but all travelers who visit the city in 2009 will have the great pleasure of experiencing the festivities of "Haydn Year" (www.haydn2009. net), a celebration of the work of Joseph Haydn on the 200th anniversary of the legendary composer's death.

Originally buried in Vienna, his exhumed remains were later reburied in Eisenstadt's Bergkirche.

Other Jewish interest sites are the Landesmuseum Burgenland which displays Roman mosaics from the time of the Roman Amber Road, as well as a third century CE tiny gold amulet with the Greek version of the Sh'ma on it.

Find more information here.

Read the complete article at the link above.

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