The Beginning of Jewish Life in Austria
According to a legend dating back to the 14th century, Austria has been founded shortly after the Flood by a princess who resided in Tulln, Korneuburg, Stockerau and Vienna. The name of this legendary country was Judeis apta, meaning "suitable for the Jews", in Latin. The chronicler of this story not only tried to claim that the beginning of Austria can bet traced back to biblical times, but also that Jews felt at home in that country already in patriarchal times.
In fact, Jewish life in Central Europe can be traced back to the 9th and 10th centuries. The expanding Carolingian Empire offered business opportunities for merchants with international relations.
The first mention of a Jewish presence in Austria (798-821) refers to a physician. Another early reference of Jewish merchants is to be found in the Raffelstettner Zollordnung, a set of laws from 903-905 regulating the customs for trade on the Danube. The quick expansion of Jewish settlements in the Austrian lands in the High Middle Ages (12th-13th century) is related to the economic advance of the region. During the High Middle Ages there were Jewish settlements in Klosterneuburg (1187), Vienna (1194), Wiener Neustadt (1230) and Tulln (1237), apart from Wiener Neustadt, all of them next to Danube river.
Jews first settled in Vienna towards the end of the 12th century, when Duke Leopold V (1157-1194) invited Shlom, an expert for the mint. From the times of Duke Rudolf IV (1271-1290) the Jewish community of Vienna was the largest one in the realm of the Habsburgs due to immigration, mostly from Hungary. At its peak there were about 800-900 Jews living in Vienna. Within seven generations from a single household it turned into a flourishing community. At the close of the 13th and during the 14th centuries the Jewish community of Vienna was recognized as the leading community of German Jewry. The Jews mentioned in documents dating from the 1340's to the 1370's, lived mostly in Vienna and Krems, but Laa, Tulln, St. Poelten and Wiener Neustadt too were inhabited permanently by Jewish families.
During medieval times the Jews of Austria were engaged mainly in trade. From the 12th and 13th century they participated in the mint trade, were engaged in financial administration, especially as leaseholders of toll stations, but also as permanent masters of the toll and the mint in the service of the Dukes of Austria and Tirol or the Archbishop of Salzburg.