These are both in the Innere Stadt, Vienna’s celebrated Old Town that is encircled by the Ringstrasse on three sides and the Donaukanal ("Danube Canal") on the fourth side. Leopoldstadt is outside the Innere Stadt, about a kilometre away over the canal. The Innere Stadt contains the majority of the city’s attractions, and lately we have eschewed these in favour of a look at the exterior of Stumpergasse 31, where Adolf Hitler had a cheap room in 1908, and we slept for three nights at the majestic Imperial Hotel, where Hitler stayed when he returned to the city in triumph after the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria, in 1938.

Another Hitler site for us is the Academy of Fine Arts, which rejected Hitler as a student, an action that was likely one of the triggers in forming the twisted vision of the man who precipitated the Holocaust, with its devastating effect on Europe’s Jews, including Vienna, where almost the entire Jewish population was deported and murdered in the Holocaust.

# A former Hitler home, Stumpfergasse Strasse 31.

The Budapest Times does not contain a nest of neo-Nazis – just an understandable fascination, to some extent, with this historical figure. (Similarly, we are to be seen haunting the Viennese filming locations of "The Third Man”, filmed in the bombed city in 1948.) Not surprisingly, the name Hitler is rarely seen anywhere these days in Vienna or all Austria, the country where he was born in Braunau am Inn in 1889. And, as the two Jewish museums show, Austria’s relationship with its Jews was murky way before Hitler came on the scene.

The smaller of the two is actually in the better location, being in the Misrachi-Haus, built in 1694, in Judenplatz (Jewish Square), which was the centre of Jewish life in Vienna in the Middle Ages. At that time, the city’s thriving Jewish community was one of the largest and most important in Europe. Famous rabbis taught and worked there, making Vienna an influential centre of Jewish knowledge.

It was a lively and creative environment that came to an abrupt and violent end in 1420-21, with the expulsion and murder of the Viennese Jews due to hatred and misconceptions. Their synagogue was destroyed and its ruins, excavated under the Judenplatz in 1995, bear witness to the life and fate of the community.

In 2000, the museum at Judenplatz was opened as a branch of the Jewish Museum Vienna. On the pedestrianised square itself, the city unveiled the solemn Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial: a reinforced concrete cube resembling a library with its volumes turned inside out, designed by British artist Rachel Whiteread. The monument sits over the synagogue’s ruins, which are viewable underground in the museum.

# The Holocaust memorial in Judenplatz

As part of its permanent exhibition, the Judenplatz museum presents an animated virtual tour that reconstructs Jewish life in the 14th century: from the development of Jewish communities to their everyday routines, including festivals and customs of the time, making for a lively depiction of life in this medieval Jewish community.

The Judenplatz museum is showing a temporary exhibition called “Persecuted. Engaged. Married. Marriages of Convenience in Exile”. March 1938 marked the start of a race against time for Austrian Jews. Some Viennese Jewish women sought to escape through marriages of convenience with foreign citizens. The marriages were concluded on paper, be it out of solidarity or for payment, to enable these women to reach a country where Jews were not (yet) persecuted.

Women who had already left Austria entered into marriages of convenience so as to avoid being stateless or in order to acquire a work permit. The different stories of 13 women are told in the exhibition and describe the risks and opportunities offered by such a marriage as a survival strategy – with varying results. Stella Kadmon, for instance, who was a theatre director, found refuge in Palestine, while Alma Rosé, a violinist, was eventually killed in Auschwitz.

The displays include such items as wedding photos, Hilde Zalocser’s Egyptian passport from Alexandria in 1957, Anita Bild’s dancing shoes, a 1920s dress that belonged to Kadmon, a portrait of Anna Friedler who entered a marriage of convenience in 1938, and marriage advertisements and certificates. There is a poster for a performance by Rosé in Copenhagen in 1936. Not surprisingly, perhaps, some of the men who were willing to help then wanted marital “favours”. Very few of the women talked about their marriages afterwards.

The main Jewish Museum at Dorotheergasse has another temporary exhibition, this one “The Place to Be. Salons – Spaces of Emancipation”, which shows how the Viennese salons, mostly shaped by their Jewish hostesses, were the places to be, socially, between 1780 and 1938.

These opportunities for communication were also spaces of emancipation and empowerment in two respects: for women who were still excluded from public life, and for the development of a critical, middle-class civic society. The exhibition introduces the salons of Fanny Arnstein and Josephine Wertheimstein, right up to the reform salons of Berta Zuckerkandl and Eugenie Schwarzwald, as cultured spaces of politics and political spaces of culture.

The exhibition makes tangible the accomplishments of salonnières for the Viennese cultural, economic and political scene. And it ultimately shows what importance Viennese salon culture gained for the expelled Viennese Jewish women and men in exile, and that it wasn’t coincidentally Hilde Spiel, returning home from English exile, who made this culture “salonfähig” (socially acceptable) once again in the post-war years in Vienna.

# Remains of Vienna's oldest synagogue, destroyed in 1421

The permanent exhibition tells the history of Viennese Judaism from the Middle Ages to the Shoah, looking at the “tolerance” of Emperor Joseph II and showing the creative strategies of a community that did not officially exist before 1852 but then went on to become the third-largest such community in Europe.

The museum also demonstrates how at the turn of the 20th century the Jews of VIenna – some of whom remain world-famous today – were already feeling the pressure of rabid anti-Semitism, long before the community was almost totally destroyed by Austrian and German Nazis after 1938. Then came the rebuilding, accomplished despite the unhelpfulness of post-war Austrian politicians, and with the assistance of immigration, initially from Central and Eastern Europe and then from the former Soviet republics.

Jewish Museum Vienna, Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna
Sunday to Friday 10am-6pm. Closed on Saturdays.
Jewish Museum Judenplatz, Judenplatz 8, 1010 Vienna
Sunday to Thursday 10am-6pm and Friday 10am-5pm. Closed on Saturdays.

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