The Jewish Community of Vienna in the Middle Ages
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 passing through Vienna in 1196 together with 15 members of his household.
Two privileges defining the legal status of Jews living in Vienna and Austria were issued by Emperor Friedrich II and Duke Friedrich II in 1238 and 1244, respectively. These privileges dealt mostly with pawnbroking.
One of the great medieval rabbis, Isaac bar Moshe also called Or Zarua after the title of his commentary, lived in Vienna in the 1260s. Jews moved in greater numbers to Vienna in the 1270s and 1280s mainly from Bohemia and Moravia. After 1340, David Steuss and his family held important positions in the community. The so-called Judenmeister (Representatives of the Jewish community, generally Jews who had some Halachic education) 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 Jews in Vienna increased in the 1360s, when the Duke Rudolf IV needed financial credit lenders. Jews from Oedenburg, (today Sopron, in Hungary) and from other 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 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, the social and economic status of the Jewish population became increasingly vulnerable. Forced baptism and the accusation of supporting the struggle of the Hussites eventually led to the expulsion of the Jews from 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 forced baptism - Kiddush HaShem - and some 200-300 Jews were burned on the stake. The events of 1420/21, known as the 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.