HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN BURGENLAND

Development

Jews were first mentioned in records on the territory of today’s Burgenland in the 13th century. Especially in 1496, after the banishment of Jews from Styria and Carinthia in the time of Emperor Maximilian I., and in 1526, when Jews were displaced from Sopron and other Hungarian towns after the battle of Mohács, many displaced persons settled in then-Western Hungary, today’s Burgenland.

However, the large increase in Jewish settlements and the start of a continuous populating of the territory of today’s Burgenland did not take place until the expulsion of Jews from Vienna, Lower and Upper Austria (1670/71) by Emperor Leopold I. in the second third of the 17th century. In that way, some of Vienna’s displaced Jews were among the founders of the Jewish community of Eisenstadt. Also at that time, the Jewish communities of Kittsee, Frauenkirchen and Deutschkreutz were formed. Other Jewish villages – as Mattersdorf, Lackenbach and Kobersdorf – were reerected in 1671. In today’s northern and middle Burgenland were developed, under the protection of the Esterházy family, the so-called “Seven communities” (Hebrew: “Sheva Kehillot”): Kittsee, Frauenkirchen, Eisenstadt, Mattersdorf (Mattersburg since 1924), Kobersdorf, Lackenbach, and Deutschkreutz. Around the mid-18th century, alongside these baronial Esterházy communities and the comital Esterházy community of Gattendorf, five other Jewish communities, under protection of the barons and counts Batthyány, existed. In today’s southern Burgenland, these were the communities of Rechnitz, Güssing and Stadtschlaining (since 1929, due to emigration of Jews, only the subsidiary community of the newly established community of Oberwart remained) and today, lying on Hungarian soil, are the communities of Körmend and Nagykanisza.

The settlement of Jews in the respective areas was for economic reasons. So-called „charters of protection“, which were consistently renewed, regulated under contract, explicitly, the rights and duties of the subjects. The Jews had to pay protection fees regularly and gained in return the protection from the lordship in times of crises.

With Joseph II’s Edict of Toleration in the second half of the 18th century, which acknowledged more rights for Jews (professional licenses, lease permit of agricultural goods, etc.), began the time of gradual equality. The revolution of 1848 ended the dependent relationship of Jews with the landlords and thus the “Schutzjudenschaft” (“Protective Jewry”). However, Jews still were not equal citizens. The process of social and legal approximation the of Jews to the non-Jewish population was not completed on a legal level until 1867, with the political and civil equality of Jews through the so-called “Compromise” (on March 15th, 1867, a new constitution adjusted the relationship between Austria and Hungary in the Dual Monarchy). From 1871, the Jews in Western Hungary could found politically autonomous communities, but only the Jews of Eisenstadt were able to keep this political autonomy until 1938. The restrictive regulations for Jews regarding residence, settlement and land acquisition were abolished simultaneously with the legal changes. This led in the mid-19th century to migration and emigration from the western Hungarian region to small towns, and also to Vienna, Graz and Budapest.

In the middle of the 19th century, more than 8,000 Jews lived on the territory of today’s Burgenland. In some municipalities (e.g. Lackenbach) the percentage of Jewish population was over 50%. In 1934, more than 4,000 Jews lived in this region.

1938

The Jews of Burgenland were struck much faster and stronger by the consequences of the so-called “Anschluss”, the annexation of Austria into Greater Germany in March 1938, than the Jews of other provinces. Through the Nazi laws’ coming into effect, the Jews of Austria were without rights, homeless, and unpropertied. In Burgenland, they were banished and deported literally overnight. Initiator of these changes particularly was the National Socialist governor and later vice-Gauleiter of Styria, Dr. Tobias Portschy, who wanted to solve the Gypsy question as well as the Jewish question with National Socialist consistency. But countless party supporters and followers also contributed to the banishment of the Jews and Aryanization of Austria.

The Jewish property was confiscated by the Nazi authorities and in many cases sold to non-Jews well below its value. In the first days after March 12th, 1938, it was also neighbors and local Nazi groups who seized the furniture and stores of Jewish houses and shops. A few weeks later, the systematic expropriation of Jewish property was put under control of the Gestapo and the Property Registration Office in Vienna and Graz.

The Jewish population had to leave Burgenland within a short time. Some fled to Vienna. Efforts were made to try to take others abroad. It came to tragedies at border stations because entry was often denied. Many were destitute and without a passport. These incidents at the border led to international criticism, but the deportations continued, however, not abroad any more but to Vienna.

According to statistics of the Jewish Community, 799 Burgenland Jews were in Vienna on June 17th, 1938. They had mainly come from the communities of Deutschkreutz, Lackenbach, and Rechnitz. In July and August, 1938 began the great migration from Frauenkirchen and Kobersdorf to Vienna. The Jews of Mattersburg followed in September, 1938 and the last Jews left Eisenstadt in October, 1938. On November 30th, 1938, 1700 Burgenland Jews were counted in Vienna. In early November, 1938, the Jewish Community’s weekly report announced that there were no Jewish communities left in Burgenland. Those Jews from Burgenland who could not flee from Vienna were deported to Poland in October 1939, in the spring and autumn of 1941 in the concentration camps of Lodz, Riga, Minsk, and Ljublik, where they were murdered.

1945

After 1945 only a few Jewish families returned to their former home. The legislation allowed the former owners to retrieve their property by the “compensation laws”. The procedure, however, was slow and it took years and decades. Austria’s Jewish organizations consistently lodged complaints with the government because the processing of these laws was only half-hearted.

Today barely a dozen Jews live in Burgenland, scattered over the whole area.

The former Jewish culture only remains in construction debris, cemeteries, and some memorial plaques.

by Johannes Scholem Graf

2010.09.01