Also known as Asch in Jewish sources, Eisenstadt had a Jewish community dating back to the 13th century. The so-called “first Jewish ghetto” with a house of prayer, a mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) and a cemetery, was established in the 16th century. This quarter was located within the city walls. Eisenstadt came under the rule of the House of Esterházy in the 17th century. The expulsion decree issued by Emperor Leopold affected the Jews of Eisenstadt as well and they had to leave the city temporarily in April 1671. The Esterházys permitted them to return in August and provided them the land for a new living quarter close to the Meierhof, a dairy farm, in the later Unterberg-Eisenstadt. This was the “second Jewish ghetto” with a synagogue, a yeshiva (Talmudic college) and cemetery. From its beginning, it was an independent Jewish community with autonomy, first due to a privilege granted by the Esterházys, and after 1848, as a result of the revolution, as an independent political council with the name Unterberg-Eisenstadt.
In 1871 the “Grossgemeinde Unterberg-Eisenstadt” (a municipality including several villages or districts) with its own mayor and local magistrate was founded. It kept this legal status after Burgenland became part of Austria in 1921.
In 1840 there were 876 Jews in Eisenstadt; in 1932 the number fell to 585 and in 1938 to 446 persons. The Jewish community maintained several communal institutions. The first synagogue was established in 1280, then re-erected in 1834. A private synagogue of the Wolf family was built in the 17th century by Samson Wertheimer. A mikvah, then the old cemetery were built in the 17th century; the new cemetery was opened in the 19th century.
The community also founded a welfare institution Bikur Cholim, Nichum Avelim (comforting association), a Talmud Tora, a hospital, and a primary school.
Among the prominent Jewish scholars in Eisenstadt in the beginning of the 18th century was Meir ben Isak (also know as “Asch”=Aisen-Schtatt), a rabbi and rabbinical judge. Rabbi “Asch” came in 1717 as rabbi to Eisenstadt, and was known for many of his halachic (Jewish law) decisions. His main work is Panim Me’irot, a collection of responsa. He attracted many students to the yeshiva in Eisenstadt. His grave in the old cemetery of Eisenstadt is to this day clearly marked and attracts a yearly pilgrimage. Rabbi Akiva Eger was born in Eisenstadt. in 1761. He left Eisenstadt as a child. After he became a famous rabbinical scholar, the Jewish community tried to invite him back to Eisenstadt.
Among the scholars of Eisenstadt in the second half of the 19th century was Dr. Esriel Hildesheimer (1820-1899), rabbi and head of the orthodox yeshiva (Talmudic college) in Eisenstadt, one of the founders of neo-orthodoxy (“Torah im derech eretz”) which strives to combine traditional law with the challenges of modern life. He came to Eisenstadt in 1851 as a rabbi. He wrote to a friend in Germany about Jewish life in Hungary: “…here one can still find true Jewish life”. For the community the “German doctor” was a blessing, especially the yeshiva which attracted students from far away. He was offered a rabbinical position in Berlin in 1869, where he founded the renowned academic rabbinical college in 1873.
The Jews of Burgenland were the first in Austria directly affected by the Nazi deportation; they had to leave their homes in April 1938, shortly after the Anschluss. In July 1938, only a few months later, Unterberg was officially unified with the city of Eisenstadt, the houses of the Jewish quarter “Aryanised” and the main synagogue entirely destroyed. After 1945 a few Jews came back to Burgenland. Today only two Jewish families live in Eisenstadt and about 12 families in the entire Burgenland region.