Becoming Austrians: Jews and Culture between the World Wars

By Lisa Silverman | Go to book overview

3 VIENNA’S JEWISH GEOGRAPHY
THE LEOPOLDSTADT IN INTERWAR
LITERATURE

The city is not a spatial entity with sociological consequences, but a
sociological entity that is formed spatially.1

— CEORC SIMMEL, The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903)

Vienna had more prestigious addresses, but growing up in the interwar period on the border between the Neubau and Ottakring districts suited Helen Blank just fine. As she told an interviewer in March 2001, “It was a very nice area, just across the street from Ottakring. I liked it. In front of the house there was an allee with benches—we played there all the time.”2 Although her father ran a delicatessen on Klosterneuburger Strasse on the other side of the city, he was one of a growing number of Jews who, in the decades before 1900, had chosen to raise their families outside the bounds of the Leopoldstadt, the district that had once served as the Jewish ghetto, where the highest population of Jews of all classes continued to reside.3 For the first ten years of her life, Helen enjoyed a middle-class childhood typical of Vienna’s acculturated Jews. Encouraged by her parents, she excelled at school, spent summers in the country, and enjoyed learning to play her violin, a treasured gift from her father.

But Helens life changed dramatically in 1927, when her father ran off to Bulgaria with another woman, leaving her mother struggling to support Helen and her younger sister. As the family’s financial situation declined, so did her mother’s mental health. Helen began to identify with her working-class friends in Ottakring, although she maintained some middle-class cultural practices like playing the violin. By the time she received a scholarship to the Bundeserziehungsanstalt, a state-sponsored Gymnasium (high school) attended mostly by the daughters of high-ranking civil servants, she was accustomed to being the only Jew among her peers.4 Meanwhile, she became increasingly

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