It is not known when the first Jews came
to Güssing. The first reliable information concerning this Jewish community on
the Batthyány’s property is from the second half of the 17th century.
An introduction of a general levy on goods for Jews at the mid 1780s, suggests
that it was the time when the Jewish settlement reached a specific significant
population. Although in this time, only the Jewish communities of Rechnitz and
Schlaining existed in the region of Southern Burgenland, one can assume that
Jews would be encountered in all the Batthyány’s reigning courts. This is
particularly true of Güssing because the city was more important economically
than Rechnitz or Schlaining.
The Jewish community in Güssing originated as a sub - community of Rechnitz. It
is not clear if Güssing became an independent community in the year 1728 of
1732. The founding of the community caused intense controversy with the mother
community of Rechnitz; because it involved finance as well, it is reasonable
that the Güssing Jews’ separation from the Rechnitz community was mediated by
the noble family.
According to lordship’s rental documents, in 1750, 18 Jewish families lived in
Güssing. By 1800 there were 275 people and in 1847 already 427 people, 40.5% of
the entire population.
Thereafter the number decreased dramatically; in 1880 only 269 Jews lived in
Güssing, in 1920, 94 and in 1934, only 74 people were counted. The reason for
the decrease in population was also emigration to more economically interesting
In 1750, 18 Jewish families lived in
Güssing and rented the lordship’s Stadtmeierhof, today the Graf Draskovische
Kanzlei, for an annual interest rate of 20 Gulden. Here, besides apartments and
shops, were also the Synagogue, the Rabbi’s apartment, as well as the ‘Mikwa’
(ritual bath) in the basement. In 1814 the Jews were given a new building, which
originally had been planned as a cotton spinning mill. In 1829, 21 Jewish
families lived here, and even today the term ‘Judenhaus’ is still used.
In Güssing the Jews were mostly small tradesmen and craftsmen, as they were in
other South Burgenland communities. They traded wool and leather and ran
potassium carbonate and cart grease distilleries. For the year 1768, two Jewish
musicians are also known.
The economic collapse of the West Hungarian market towns began in the second
half of the 19th century. The industrial revolution took place in the large
cities and this led to Jewish families emigrating from Güssing to the new
centers. Thus the Jewish family name Gissing or Gissinger spread throughout the
entire monarchy and beyond. Today even in America and Israel there are many
Jewish families with this name.
Although the Jewish population in Güssing declined dramatically, Jews played an
important role in the time between the World Wars. Samuel Latzer ran a brick
kiln and the Jewish company ‘Schmergel and Cohn’ employed around 40 Jews in
their lumber mill. Additionally there was the dairy company Farkas, the butcher
Samuel Heuberger, a general store Weiss and the Inn ‘Jockel-Wirt’, which was
owned by the Latzer family.
Liesl Latzer, Güssing- New York, remembers her childhood in
“There were a few Jewish families. I was like all other
children. When the Nazis came, it was a terrible shock for me, because I didn’t
know that I was different than the others, and the children told me: ‘I’ll
play with you anyway.’
I was in elementary school and the only Jew. I was in the third grade. I was a
head taller than all the other children, was blonde and looked healthy, red
cheeks etc. And we got German teachers who didn’t know the children. And they
pointed to me as an example for their “Arian race”, the only Jewish child in
the whole school.
Of course someone then told the teacher and he was furious and during the break
all the children, I stood in the middle, had to sing the ‘Horst-Wessel-song’
(the anthem of the Nazi party): ‘and when the blood sprays from the knives, I
still feel so good’. And the Director of the school, who was a good friend of
my father, said he should take me out of the school. So I was out of school for
over a year. I lost almost two years of my school days.”
Source: Interview at 2002.10.2, Burgenländische
(Interviewer Gert Tschögl)
In March of 1938, 75 Jews still called
Güssing home: the Latzers, Mayers, Laendlers, Adlers, Engels, Alexanders,
Endrenyis, Faludys, Farkas, Freunds, Fertoes, Gruenfelds, Heubergers, Kleins,
Moskovits, Pinters, Pollaks, Rechnitzers, Rothbergs, Rotsteins, Steiners,
Weilers, Schmidts and Laglers. After the Nazis took over power in Austria in
March 1938, the Güssing Jews were mistreated and harassed. They were forced to
sell their property for a fraction of its worth or taken away, while furniture
and personal belongings were auctioned off. Part of the Jewish population was
loaded onto a truck and brought to Hungary or Yugoslavia. Some were able to make
it to Vienna, others fled the country, and the rest were taken to concentration
camps, where they were probably murdered.
In June of 1938 there were no Jews left in Güssing.
The Güssing Synagogue was converted into a gymnasium and
banquet hall for the Nazis.
Picture credits: Genée Pierre, Synagogen in Österreich, Wien
Returned after 1945:
The Latzer family
Nikolaus Latzer lived in Güssing until his death in the 1990’s.
Traces visible today:
* Memorial plaque on the city hall
The first Güssing Synagogue was located on Stadtmeierhof, in the building
which leased to the Jews. In 1837 and 1838 the Batthyány family had a new
Synagogue built in the center of the village. In 1840 the Jewish community
bought the Synagogue for 6,540 Gulden. The building was made of brick and had
six high windows which faced the street. An attached building on the Westside
served as the Rabbi’s apartment. During the November Pogroms of 1938, all
moveable and flammable objects, books, furniture, ritual objects, were burnt on
the square in front of the Synagogue. The most precious objects had already been
stolen before. There were two attempts to burn the Synagogue, but both times the
fires were extinguished. The Nazis turned the building into a gymnasium and
banquet hall. The building stood until 1953, when the city hall was built in its
place. Today a memorial plaque commemorates the former Synagogue.
Picture credits: Genée Pierre, Synagogen in Österreich, Wien
Foto: ÖNB, Inv.Nr.76824/B*R
Until the end of the 18th century the
Jewish cemetery was in the city moat. In 1799, or according to other sources
1811, the Batthyánys gave the Jewish community space for a cemetery in
Mühlwinkel on the edge of town. In 1938 the cemetery was desecrated by the
Nazis and the gravestones were removed.
There is little left of what was once the large cemetery. Two-thirds of the area
were sold and partially obstructed. What remained is now owned by the Israelite
Cultural Community of Graz. Symbolic gravestones and a memorial were erected by
the Schalom society with support from the government. In June 2001 gravestones
from the Güssing Jewish cemetery were discovered in Graz and brought back to