Jews were expelled from Styria in 1496/97. The edict claimed that Jews are to be excluded from Styria for “eternity”. Apart from a very few privileged individuals, Jews could not even pass through Styria in the 17th century. A Court decree of 1783 permitted foreign Jews to participate in markets and fairs in Linz, Graz, Klagenfurt and Laibach, but did not grant any right of permanent settlement. A change came in 1848 when Jews were permitted to stay in Graz, officially “travelling through”. Only from 1861 were Jews allowed to stay overnight. A city law of 1867 eventually granted personal freedom and equal rights to the Jews of Austria.
Already in 1863 an “Israelite corporation” was formed to enable the establishment of communal institutions such as a school, a prayer house and a cemetery. In 1869 the Jewish community was officially founded.
After the “Jewish law” of 1890, providing religious autonomy to the Jewish religion, Jews living in other parts of Styria, Carinthia and Krain came under the authority of the Jewish community of Graz. From 1894 autonomous institutions were established in Leoben und Judenburg-Knittelfeld, but they belonged legally to Graz. Krain and southern Styria were incorporated into Yugosolavia at the end of the First World War; in 1923 Jewish community was established in Klagenfurt.
The number of members of the Jewish community in Graz rose from 250 in 1869 to 1,200 in 1880. In 1932 there were about 2,450 Jews living in Styria.
The community maintained several communal institutions: a synagogue built in 1892, an orthodox prayer house, and prayer houses in Leoben, Judenburg, and Knittelfeld. Temporary prayer houses were set up in Bad Aussee and Gleichenberg during the holiday season. A mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) was built in 1869; cemeteries in Graz, Gleichenberg, Judenburg and Knittelfeld, and Jewish sections in the cemeteries in Leoben and Bad Aussee. There were also several Jewish cultural and welfare organizations active in Graz: a Chevra Kadischa (1871), Matnot Aniyim founded in 1882, and a women’s organization Grazer Juedische Frauenverein.
Immediately after the annexation of Austria in March 1938, the windows of shops owned by Jews were smashed. Jews living in Graz were arrested. 417 Jews from Graz had managed to escape to Palestine by 4 November 1938. On Kristallnacht the synagogue at the Grieskai, the offices of the community and the ceremonial hall at the cemetery in Graz-Wetzelsdorf were set on fire. 350 Jews were arrested; most of them were deported to Dachaun on November 12. The persecutions continued and 305 Jewish citizens were expelled from their homes on April 17, 1939. In the spring of 1940 the City of Graz announced itself to be “free of Jews”.
Very little is known of what happened to the Jews who lived in Leoben and Judenburg-Knittelfeld. Even the small ceremonial hall at the cemetery in Leoben was destroyed in the November Pogrom of 1938.
In the years following the Second World War, thousands of DPs (homeless survivors of the Holocaust) stayed in camps in Admont and Kapfenberg, some of them also in Graz. Few of the members from the former community of Graz returned. At the beginning of 1946 about 30 Jews discussed the reestablishment of a community. A new community was established, covering in the beginning only Styria, and of 1955 also the regions of South Burgenland, Carinthia and Eastern Tyrol.
A temporary prayer room was established in 1946 in the community building at Grieskai 58. The building was renovated in 1969 and a new prayer room was established. A new ceremonial hall at the cemetery was built in 1989/91 by architects Ingrid and Jörg Mayr. The same architects built the new synagogue of Graz which was consecrated on November 9, 2000, exactly 68 years after its destruction in the November Pogrom.