The medieval Jewish Community in Vienna dates back to the end of the 12th century and lasted until the persecution in 1420/21.
Shlom, a mint master for Duke Leopold V, is the first known Jew who settled in Vienna. He provided silver for the production of coins, owned land and a vineyard in and around Vienna and built a synagogue (in today’s Seitenstettengasse 2). He was murdered by Crusaders travelling through Vienna in 1196 together with fifteen other members of his household.
Two privileges were issued by Emperor Friedrich II and Duke Friedrich II defining the legal status of Jews living in Vienna and Austria in 1238 and 1244. These privileges dealt mostly with pawnbroking.
One of the great medieval rabbis, Isaac bar Moshe “Or Zarua”, lived in Vienna in the 1260s. Jews moved in greater numbers to Vienna in the 1270s and 1280s mainly from Bohemia or Moravia. After 1340 David Steuss and his family held important positions in the community. The so-called Judenmeister (Representatives of the Jewish community, members with some Halachic knowledge) served as liaison officers to the Duke, and the community filled the necessary positions. They had a synagogue, several ritual baths and a regular bath, a cemetery and a hospital. Various associations took over the social and ritual obligations.
The number of Viennese Jews increased in the 1360s when the Duke Rudolf IV needed financial credit lenders. Jews from Hungary (Odenburg, today Sopron) and from smaller surrounding towns, moved to Vienna. The community had some 800 to 900 members, which represented about 5% of the city’s population. From 1360 to 1400 the community not only experienced material and economic success, but also became a centre for Jewish learning which attracted scholars, such as Abraham Klausner and Meir of Fulda.
A fire in 1406, in whose aftermath the houses owned by Jews were plundered by students, signaled a first sign that the prosperous situation would not last forever. As more Christian citizens engaged in money lending and noble families refrained more and more from borrowing money from Jews, Jews became more vulnerable. Forced baptism and the accusation of supporting the struggle of the Hussites led to the expulsion of the Jews of Vienna to Moravia and Hungary and to the brutal murder of those remaining in Vienna. Many Jews died under torture, others committed suicide in the synagogue to avoid baptism (Kiddush HaShem) and some 200-300 Jews were burned at the stake. The events of 1420/41, the so-called “Vienna Gezerah”, meant the end of an organized Jewish community in Vienna for centuries and led to the reputation of Vienna as a “town of blood” in Jewish tradition.