Sep 2008 Journal

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The Jews of Linz (review)

by Verena Wagner
Linz: Wagner Verlag, 2008, 2 vols. 1,476 pp.

The Jewish community in Linz was never very large, numbering just under 1,000 members at its peak in 1923 and now down to about 50. It may be surprising therefore that it can provide sufficiently fascinating and well-researched material to cover two volumes and almost 1,500 pages. The author is an Evangelical teacher who took an early interest in Judaism and the Church’s role in the antisemitism which eventually led to the Shoah.

The first volume covers the early history and various institutions which made up the small, but very active, community in Linz. These ranged from the religious, predominantly Liberal, synagogal organisations to B’nai B’rith, sport clubs and Zionist parties of left and right. The results of elections to the community council are quoted and show the diversity of views represented. The community was not without its internal conflicts and these were evident from the mid-nineteenth century to its post-war revival. It is encouraging, however, to note that there is again a synagogue in the city. For the benefit of non-Jewish readers and researchers, the author has also included an overview of the Jewish religion, including its life-cycle events and festivals.

Subsequent chapters describe the varying relationship between the Church and Judaism and discuss the growth of pre-war antisemitism, which eventually facilitated the actions of the Nazis. The last chapter of this volume covers in considerable detail the fate of the Linz community after the Anschluss, the forced sales, Kristallnacht, emigration and deportation. Sadly, the last page discusses antisemitism even after the war.

The second volume deals in greater detail with the histories of many individual families, from the beginning of the community up to its destruction during the Nazi period and its difficult post-war revival. One of the most interesting stories is that of the Bloch family. Dr Eduard Bloch was one of several Jewish doctors in Linz. Among his patients in 1907 was Klara Hitler. Although she eventually died, her son Adolf expressed his appreciation to Dr Bloch, even giving him one of his paintings. An entire chapter is also devoted to the Taussig family, who were prominent in the community from its foundation. Among those mentioned is Viktor Taussig, who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, attended the Linz Realgymnasium. There is also a passing reference to a fellow pupil: Ludwig Wittgenstein. Surprisingly, this is the only mention of the future philosopher, although elsewhere a rather controversial book has been written about him (Kimberley Cornish, The Jew of Linz (1998)).

The text is supported by numerous impressive and evocative photographs as well as reproductions of documents, posters and letters which bring the pre-war community to life. Both volumes are well referenced and indexed and there is a list of victims of the Shoah giving dates of birth and deportation, including final destination. Although the books are in German, the introductory chapters of both volumes are also translated into English.

These attractively produced volumes are clearly intended for libraries, universities and research organisations rather than private homes, but would undoubtedly also be of great interest to anyone having connections to Linz.

George Vulkan

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