“I decide who is a Jew”
Karl Lueger, Mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910
The Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism rapidly increased in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century. The sudden rise of political anti-Semitism after 1882 was a result of an electoral reform that gave the vote to more men and allowed more artisans to participate in the elections.
One of the politicians to benefit from this electoral potential was Georg von Schoenerer who propagated anti-Catholic tendencies, expressed strong views against the Habsburgs and called for a break-up of the monarchy and an annexation of the German-speaking areas to the German Reich. Schenerer denounced political censorship, demanded democracy and advocated racial anti-Semitism.
A much more popular politician was the Christian-Social Karl Lueger. Like Schoenerer he used anti-Semitism to appeal to the same elements of the population: artisans and students. Lueger, however, was pro-Catholic and pro-Habsburg and he lacked the bitterness and consistency of Schoenerer. Although Lueger wanted to unite all Christians and all nationalities of the monarchy against the common Jewish enemy, his anti-Semitism was rather opportunistic and not racially, but economically, religiously and culturally motivated. "Lueger's old-fashioned brand of religious, cultural, and economic anti-Semitism remained for half a century the integrating force of political Catholicism because it was more in accord with Viennese traditions than Schoenerer's more modern racial anti-Semitism. The Viennese also loved Lueger's vulgar jokes, his Viennese dialect, elegant appearance, humble bourgeois origins and general Gemütlichkeit." (Bruce Pauley, From Prejudice to Persecution. A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism. Chapel Hill-London, 1992).
Lueger's political party, the Christian Social Party, was strongly influenced by Catholic anti-Semitism that attributed secularization and modernization of society to Jewish influence. Sebastian Brunner, a priest who published the official organ of the Viennese Church, was known as the 'father of Austrian anti-Semitism'. Baron Karl von Vogelsang and his newspaper Vaterland ("Fatherland") expressed a coherent critique of modern society, especially liberalism, materialism and atheism. He regarded capitalism as a "Jewish invention" and advocated the restoration of medieval Christian economic order. Like most Catholics, however, von Vogelsang was not a racial anti-Semite and he did not attack the Jewish religion.
The common adversary of all Semites in the 1880s and 1890s, especially in Vienna, was the Liberal Party. Dominating both the government and the municipal government of Vienna in 1897, it was on the verge of collapse 20 years later. The Christian Social Party and its pan-German allies had won an absolute majority in the Vienna municipal elections of April 1895. Viennese Jews expressed major concerns and Emperor Franz Joseph assured them that he would protect all his subjects. Four times within two years, Lueger won the elections and four times the Emperor refused to appoint him Mayor of Vienna. Finally, after a fifth electoral victory, the Emperor relented and Lueger became the first mayor in the Western half of Europe elected to the office on an anti-Semitic platform. He was now the leader of the most successful anti-Semitic movement in 19th century Europe.
"I can remember the "Lueger March", which used to be played in all the streets and courtyards of Vienna. I do not remember the official words, but the people would sing: "Lueger will live, and the Jews will croak." My late father, who was a brave, defiant man, obtained the consent of the majority of the tenants, and put up a plaque banning the playing of the "Lueger March" in the building we lived in. Nevertheless, a man with a barrel organ came along and played it, and when he refused to desist, despite several warnings, my father poured a bucket of cold water over him. 'Cold Douche on Lueger March' was the headline over the Arbeiterzeitung's report of the court proceedings that followed. My father was ten florins poorer after them, but he considered the money well spent."
(Tur-Sinai, Viennese Jewry, in: Fraenkel, Jews of Austria, 316)
The appointment of Lueger as Mayor of Vienna in 1897 marked surprisingly the beginning of a "new if all-too brief Golden Age" (B. Pauley, From Prejudice to Persecution. A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism. Chapel Hill-London, 1992) and middle and upper class Viennese Jews thrived not only economically but also in the arts and sciences.
The political and economic crisis of the early post-war years fostered a series of sometimes violent demonstrations and rallies which lasted until the Austrian economy slowly began to recover in 1923. Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe were blamed for the shortage of housing and Jewish citizens for not fighting in the war. An international anti-Semitic congress with participants from Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary and organized by the Austrian Antisemitenbund, was attended by about 40,000 people. The universities were prone to anti-Semitic violence as well and classes taught by Jewish professors were frequently interrupted by members of student fraternities.
While Nazi Germany introduced severe anti-Jewish measures and banned Jews from the civil service, sponsored the boycott of shops owned by Jews and burned books by Jewish authors in 1933 and codified the racial definition of Jews in 1935, Austrian Jews were guaranteed equality of legal rights and the Austrian chancellors never supported Jew-baiting. However, popular pressure from Austrian anti-Semites and economic pressure from Nazi Germany after 1936 made the Austrian government choose a middle position of tolerating the political and economic anti-Semitism of middle- and lower level officials while not promoting it at the highest level.
The annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany was marked by outbursts of violent anti-Semitism when Austrians all over the country publicly humiliated, attacked, robbed and even murdered Jewish Austrians.
The Jewish response to Austrian Anti-Semitism
Several anti-Semitic attacks on Judaism in the late 19th century provoked strong reactions by Jewish leaders. When Sebastian Brunner, the editor of the official organ of the diocese of Vienna, claimed in 1860 that Judaism permitted Jews to disregard their oaths and required them to use Christian blood for religious purposes, Ignaz Kuranda, who would later become a liberal politician, successfully defended himself against a libel suit.
August Rohling, who occupied a position in Bible Studies at the German University of Prague, published in 1882 a series of articles in a Viennese newspaper in which he accused rabbis Adolf Jellinek and Moritz Godemann of denying that the Talmud teaches Jews to hate Christians. A reprint of the articles was sold in 200,000 copies. The previously unknown Galician-born Rabbi Josef Samuel Bloch wrote a detailed refutation of Rohling's accusations and it became an overnight sensation. Three editions of 100,000 copies were sold in one day and subsequently translated into foreign languages. When Rohling tried to make a rebuttal, Bloch offered to pay him a sum of money if he could correctly translate a single page from the Talmud. Rohling declined this challenge, but maintained at a ritual murder trial that Jews needed Christian blood. Bloch called Rohling publicly an "ignorant plagiarist" and Rohling filed a lawsuit against Bloch. During the year long preparations for the lawsuit Rohling withdrew his charge. This was considered an admission of guilt and he was dismissed from his professorship.
This confrontation marked the beginning of Bloch's career as a highly respected and influential leader of Austrian Jewry. In 1883 he was elected to the Reichsrat and for a time was the only one of 12 Jewish deputies to engage in specifically Jewish issues. In January 1884 he founded the weekly Dr. Bloch's Oesterreichische Wochenschrift. Its subtitle Central Organs for the Collective Interests of Jewry revealed Bloch's wish for unity within the Jewish community and his desire to serve as a mediator of conflict and as a creator of consensus. The Wochenschrift became a discussion forum on questions of Jewish identity and an organ for the refutation of anti-Semitism.
Bloch, who was disgusted with the passivity of the Viennese Kultusgemeinde in the face of the virulent anti-Semitism of the 1880s, founded the Oesterreichische-Israelitische Union in 1886. It was determined to raise Jewish pride and self-consciousness and to expose anti-Semitism and fight the passage of any discriminatory religious or racial laws. One of its most successful actions was the Union's campaign against discrimination in summer resorts.
In 1891 the predominantly Christian Verein zur Abwehr des Antisemitismus ("Society to combat Anti-Semitism") was founded by members of the higher strata of Austrian society, among them pacifist Bertha von Suttner and the composer Johann Strauss.
In the early 1930s, when anti-Semitism revived more militant than before, three new Jewish defensive organisations were founded: the Jewish Armed Sporting and Defense Association Haganah, the Jewish Protection League (which also promoted Jewish sport and hiking clubs) and the Bund Juedischer Frontsoldaten ("League of Jewish Front Soldiers") which was by far the largest. Founded in Vienna in 1932 with the purpose "to protect the honour and respect of the Jews living in Austria" it had some 8,000 members in February 1934, including both Zionists and Assimilationists, making it the largest single Jewish organization in Austria apart from the Jewish community organization in Vienna. It was part of the Vaterlaendische Front("Fatherland Front").