DESTROYED JEWISH COMMUNITY:
EISENSTADT / ASCH / KISMARTON

The Hebrew name for Eisenstadt is ASCH - the two Hebrew letters A(lef) and S(chin) are an abbreviation for E(A)isen Stadt.

Development

In pre WW1 Burgenland, that was part of West Hungary, only the town of Eisenstadt had a Jewish community dating back to the Middle Ages, with a Synagogue, Mikveh (a ritual bath) and Rabbinate.
The first document mentioning Jews in Eisenstadt is from 1296. There is countless evidence of the Eisenstadt Jews from the 14th and 15th century. “It is presumable that Eisenstadt was often seen as a haven for countless displaced persons” (Gold). The Jewish community reached its highest population under mortgager Johann von Weißpriach (1547-1571). They lived within the city walls on the castle grounds between Schlossplatz, today Haydngasse, Weiglgasse and Hauptstraße.

At the beginning of the 17th century Eisenstadt was taken by the Esterházys, who from then on were the Jews’ protectorates. In April of 1671 the Eisenstadt Jews were affected by Leopold I.' s general banishment decree, which extended not only to Vienna and Upper Austria, but also to Hungary. However, after a few months, the Jews were allowed to return. ‘Newcomers’ from Moravian Nikolsburg, where the exiled Vienna Jews had settled, were granted royal permission to relocate to the new dairy farm outside of the city walls. “One can justifiably name the newcomers from Nikolsburg the founding fathers of the newly erected Jewish quarter of Eisenstadt” (Reiss).

The years after 1675 can be seen as the founding date of the Jewish community in Eisenstadt. Although since this time the center of the settlement and community life gradually shifted to the part of the city outside the city walls. From 1732 one can speak about the independent community Unterberg-Eisenstadt, which had more than 30 houses, a synagogue, almshouse (and hospital), cemetery, schoolhouse, ritual bath, and a shochet.

After the destruction and pillaging during the Crusades (1704-1708), Samson Wertheimer (1658- 1724), who served in the court of three Kaisers as well as serving as honorary Rabbi of Eisenstadt and as Chief Rabbi of Hungary, was responsible for much of the reconstruction of the Eisenstadt Jewish community. “He had a ‘glorious house’ and ritual bath built in the community, next to the synagogue.” (Gold).

After the abolition of the manorial lords in 1848, the relationship of the Jews' dependency on the Esterházys also ended and the Jewish community became an independent village community whose citizens were free and had equal rights: “in 1871 the ‘Israelite-Community Eisenstadt’ founded the politically autonomous ‘large community’ Unterberg-Eisenstadt with its own judge (and mayor) and notary (and bailiff)” (Reiss). Unterberg-Eisenstadt was the only Jewish community that held its autonomy until 1938.

In 1836, with around 900 people, Eisenstadt had the highest number of Jewish residents. In 1934 only 462 Jews lived in the community and in 1938, just before the ‘Annexation’, only 446 Jews lived in Eisenstadt.

 

Jewish Life

The Esterházy‘s 1690 letter of protection of the Jews, regulated their lives to the smallest detail. Besides naming the allowed occupations, such as tailors, shoemakers, furriers, doctors and goldsmith, as well as the permission to trade in business, the letter also names all the facilities and agencies required for their religion, such as cemetery, synagogue, ritual bath, Rabbis, servers in the synagogue and Shochet.

In the 18th century there was already a Yeshiva (a Religious High School) in Unterberg-Eisenstadt, where a series of important Rabbis worked: Meir ben Isaak, whose work reached far beyond the borders of the city, as well as Isak Moses Perles and Esriel Hildesheimer, who were co-founders of the so-called Neo-orthodoxy, a movement founded in opposition to Reform Judaism. Famous pupils who attended the school were, among others, Isak Hirsch Weiss, one of the greatest Jewish scholars in 19th century Vienna; Leopold Löw and Samuel Bloch, who were vehement opponents of Anti-Semitism during their lifetime. In 1761 Rabbi Akiva Eger was born in Eisenstadt, he was known to gentiles as the ‘Pope of the Jews’.

Originally the Jewish community of Unterberg-Eisenstadt lived in ‘Judengasse’ (‘Jew Lane’). It consisted of the ‘upper lane’ (today Wertheimergasse) and the ‘lower Lane’ (today Unterbergstraße) and could be locked by closing a gate on one side and a chain on the other, as not to disturb the peace on the Shabbat. “The closing of the iron gate and the iron chain was considered the privilege of the Eisenstadt community since the old times” (Reiss).

Between 1924 and 1937 there were altogether 22 Jewish commercial and industrial enterprises in Unterberg-Eisenstadt. Apart from the important wine wholesaler ‘Leopold Wolf’s Sons’, “there were also stores for tailors and dry goods, glass and kitchenware, liquor, leather, furs, flour and grocery store; also dealers in flour, shoes, fruits and vegetables, as well as shoemakers, watchmakers, bakers, butchers, tailors, electricians, junk dealers, barbers, milk, fruit and sugar goods wholesaler, a milliner, as well as a kosher community guest house” (Reiss).
After the annexation of Burgenland to Austria in 1921 the shopping quarter gradually moved from Judengasse am Berg to Hauptstraße in Eisenstadt.

Among the many clubs in the Jewish community were the sport and social club ‘Hakoach’, the woodworkers club ‘Ez Chaim’, the ‘Israelite Women’s Club’, the ‘Savings Society Unterberg’, the Burial Society ‘Chevra Kadischa’, the youth club ‘Teheleth-Lawan’, and the ‘District Group Eisenstadt of the Federal Jewish Front Soldiers’.

1938

Soon after the annexation of Austria by the Nazi Germany in 1938, a Gestapo post was established, with the plans to liquidate the community as quickly as possible. On the night between March 11th and 12th many Jewish families left their homes. Many could not obey the command to leave the country because of a lack of emigration options. They were forced to go to Vienna. Most of their property was confiscated. According to a weekly report from the Israelite Culture Association of Vienna from May 17, 1938, the Culture Association of Eisenstadt counted 400 members and 3 employees; although since the ‘Upheaval’ 30 people had already left the city. The last remaining Jews left Eisenstadt in October. The only person to escape the banishment was Samuel Ungar. The last Rabbi, Jaffe Markus Schlesinger, immigrated to Palestine.
About 110 Eisenstadt Jews were murdered during the Holocaust in concentration camps.

After 1945 returned:

Few People

Traces of the Jewish community that is observable today:

* Entrance (with plaque) to the former Jewish Quarter in Eisenstadt

* Wolf House and garden:
The wine trade family Wolf was the most important and prominent family in the Jewish Quarter in Eisenstadt. Alexander (Sándor) Wolf not only traded wine, but also collected art, including Judaica. The Burgenland State Museum is now on the grounds where his private museum used to be, and the Wolf’s garden houses the family Wolf’s mausoleum.

* 'Shabbat-Chain':
It was used to lock the Jewish Quarter, as not to disturb the peace during the Shabbat.

* Wertheimer House with a private synagogue:
Today serves as the home to the Austrian Jewish Museum.

* Commemorative Plaque for the Jewish soldiers killed in World War I:
In 1934 the Culture Association and the ‘Band of Jewish Combatants’ fit the plaque commemorating the fallen Jewish soldiers, at the Association’s house next to the synagogue.
In 1982 a new commemorative plaque was affixed to the Austrian Jewish Museum.

* Commemorative plaque on the grounds of the former synagogue

* In some houses' entries, one can still see the ‘Levite-Vessels’:
These ‘Levite-Vessels’ indicate that in this house used to live a family who considered themselves as the progeny of Levite. Levite (Levy) is the house of Israel, which was responsible for maintaining religious services in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

* Streetnames remind us:
Wertheimergasse, Unterbergstraße

* The old and new Jewish cemetery

Synagoge:

The old synagogue was probably built in 1690. In the course of time numerous fires severely damaged the walls and the building itself was too small for the growing community. In 1832 the cornerstone for the new synagogue was laid, which was designed by Charles Moreau, court architect to the Esterházys.  “Because the synagogue did not stand alone, rather was part of a closed row of houses, in 1938, according to eyewitness reports, it was not set on fire” (Reiss). Although the Jewish community no longer technically existed, on "Kristallnacht", the night of November 9-10, 1938, “a mob armed with pickaxes” broke into the synagogue and “made firewood out of the furniture” (Gold). The underground treasury, with fifteen Torah drapes, a Torah crown and other cultural objects as well as a case of rabbinical books, were destroyed. The inner room of the synagogue was turned into a storage facility for the German armed forces.
In 1951-1952 the Israelite Cultural Association of Vienna sold the synagogue to the Austrian Labor Union, which tore the building down and erected a new building with a commemorative plaque. In the early 1980’s the building was sold again to an insurance company, which replaced the old plaque with a new one.

The Wertheimer House Synagogue:

The first mention of the ‘Wertheimer Freihaus’ is from the year 1696. After changing ownership numerous times, the building was purchased by the wine trading Wolf family in 1875. “The private synagogue of the house, the so-called ‘Wertheimer Shool (Synagogue)’, which until 1840 even had its own Rabbi, served as the Wolf family’s synagogue for private functions, and later as a prayer room for Jewish youth in the community” (Reiss). Because it survived the "Kristallnacht" as well as the wear and tear of time with relatively little damage, the house could be sold to the National Red Cross in 1945. In the 1970’s the Burgenland government bought the house and gave it to the Austrian Jewish Museum, which was founded in 1972 in Eisenstadt. On June 13, 1979, the former private synagogue, integrated as part of the museum, was inaugurated. In 1982 the museum opened for the first time.

 

The old and new Jewish cemeteries:

“Today there are two Jewish cemeteries in Eisenstadt, with around 1300 gravestones, the oldest dating back to 1679 (from the older Jewish cemetery)” (Reiss). The older Jewish cemetery, which is located next to the Hospital of the Merciful Brothers, in contrast to other older Jewish cemeteries, has no trees. It used to border the walls of the Jewish Quarter on the Northwest side and was thus directly in the residential area. The most important grave in the older Jewish cemetery is that of Rabbi Meir ben Isaak, who later took on the name of his work place and was known in Jewish literature as MaHaRaM Asch. He was called to Eisenstadt in 1717 to work as a Rabbi and died in 1744. Today his grave is visited by orthodox Jews from all corners of the world.

In 1875 the older Jewish cemetery was so full, that a new cemetery had to be constructed. It is located on Carl Moreau-Straße by the retirement home. The cemetery earned a sad fame in the fall of 1992, when around 80 gravestones were defiled with Nazi slogans.

Homepage of the "Austrian Jewish Museum" in Eisenstadt: http://www.ojm.at/

by Johannes Scholem Graf
Helped in editing: Yohanan Loeffler and Leah Kaminsky

2011.01.23