Jewish Life in Austria and Germany since 1945: Identity and Communal Reconstruction

Jewish Life in Austria and Germany since 1945: Identity and Communal Reconstruction

Jewish Life in Austria and Germany since 1945: Identity and Communal Reconstruction

Jewish Life in Austria and Germany since 1945: Identity and Communal Reconstruction

Synopsis

Based on published primary and secondary materials and oral interviews with some eighty communal and organizational leaders, experts and scholars, this book provides a comparative account of the reconstruction of Jewish communal life in both Germany and in Austria (where 98% live in the capital, Vienna) after 1945. The author explains the process of reconstruction over the next six decades, and its results in each country. The monograph focuses on the variety of prevailing perceptions about topics such as: the state of Israel, one’s relationship to the country of residence, the Jewish religion, the aftermath of the Holocaust, and the influx of post-soviet immigrants. Cohen-Weisz examines the changes in Jewish group identity and its impact on the development of communities. The study analyzes the similarities and differences in regard to the political, social, institutional and identity developments within the two countries, and their changing attitudes and relationships with surrounding societies; it seeks to show the evolution of these two country’s Jewish communities in diverse national political circumstances and varying post-war governmental policies.

Excerpt

Since World War II, the Jewish communities in Austria and Germany have undergone unique social and political developments. Despite coming close to annihilation, they have regained a religious, cultural, and economic strength unimaginable in 1945. From being con sidered Liquidationsgemeinden (communities to be liquidated) without any future, whose members even tried to conceal their Jewishness from their gentile neighbors, they have become, especially since the mid1980s, thriving religious, cultural, and economic entities that act self-confidently and forthrightly in the political and cultural arenas, are firmly ensconced in the surrounding society, and are actively involved in the affairs of European and world Jewry. Moreover, in both countries the communities also engaged in a massive drive to expand Jewish infrastructure. Nevertheless, in Vienna, although its Jewish community is one-fifteenth the size of Germany’s, Jewish infrastructure is manifestly more developed, and religious life is more vital.

The opening-up to the surrounding society, marked changes in individual and communal self-perceptions, and the final “unpacking of the suitcases” in both communities happened simultaneously although government policies toward the Jewish minority in the two countries differed markedly. They were significantly more favorable in Germany than in Austria, especially concerning the countries’ dealing with their role in the Shoah, their financial support of the communities, and their policies toward the immigration of Jews. Despite less support from the local authorities, the Vienna community experienced even a disproportionately higher institutional development. Thus national politics and government policies, although they undoubtedly influenced Jewish communal reconstruction, were not the decisive factors in it.

The purpose of the book is to shed light on how these developments came about and why—what factors actually shaped community reconstruction. Based on published primary and secondary materials and oral interviews with some 80 communal and organizational leaders, experts, and scholars, this book provides a comparative systematic . . .

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