DESTROYED JEWISH COMMUNITY: Güssing

Development

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 regions.

Jewish Life:

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 Güssing:

“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 Forschungsgesellschaft
(Interviewer Gert Tschögl)

1938:

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 1992.

Returned after 1945:

The Latzer family
Nikolaus Latzer lived in Güssing until his death in the 1990’s.

Traces visible today:

* Cemetery
* Memorial plaque on the city hall

Synagogue

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 1992.
Foto: ÖNB, Inv.Nr.76824/B*R

Cemetery:

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 Güssing.

Fotos: Wolfgang R. Kubizek (2002)

 

by Johannes Scholem Graf, help in editing: Yohanan Loeffler

2011.07.05