Jewish Families of Vienna

To any student of Viennese 19th Century history, it quickly becomes evident that, beside the old Austro-Hungarian aristocracy and the smaller, predominantly Catholic Viennese "Bürger", the Jews of Vienna were one of the city's most dominant groups. During the 19th Century Viennese Jews became members of the major economic and social elite: they became famous doctors and scientists, lawyers and bankers, musicians and art collectors and not insignificant numbers were ennobled for their achievements.

Unravelling the strands which make up the complex weave of Viennese society in the 19th Century is a task beset with difficulties for historians and genealogists alike, but to understand many aspects of the this history it is crucial to know the genealogical relationships between the leading figures and families.

There are, for instance, several distinct families with the names Kohn, Pollak and Taussig but to begin to make sense it is necessary to determine where each originated, whether they were related to each other, and if so, how? This is the major target of the Handbook of important Jewish Families in Vienna between 1800 and 1938.

What seems at first glance to be an ordinary reference book goes far beyond that. Over 500 families, for the most part permanently resident in Vienna, will be documented, but, in contrast to many biographical handbooks, the major focus is not on the lives of several individuals; it is the relationship between them, in one word – the family.

Who were the members of these families? Where did they come from? Whom did they marry and where were their marriage partners from? Whom did they work for and what was the focus of their activities? These and many other questions the author has attempted to answer, but the sources for the answers are often inaccessible, difficult to interpret, or, initially, simply illegible.
Most of these families have been completely forgotten by history, their tombs overgrown with ivy, even though from the end of the 18th Century to the 1930s they played a vital role in the economic and social development of Central Europe and especially of Vienna. They built factories for cloth, sugar, coal, steel and leather and gave labour to ten thousands of people. They served the community as lawyers and doctors, university professors, court counsellors and ministers. The second half of the 19th Century marked the high point of this flourishing of Jewish achievement – an achievement that was eradicated in 1938.

Many different sources were used for the present book: Parish and commercial registers, newspaper obituaries, wills, legal records, family archives, old historical literature and, of course, cemeteries – a vast unfailing archive chiselled in stone between Romania and Paris. Every available source has been examined, analysed, sorted and carefully checked.

But there is one important question to be answered first: on which criteria was the selection of the families based? During the years of work on this book, one of the most discussed questions was how to define the word "Jewish". From an Orthodox Jewish point of view, someone born of a Jewish mother is automatically Jewish. Even if he or she later decides to change religion, there is always an easy way back. The situation gets complicated if somebody has a non-practising Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. For Jews this person will be not a Jew, but bears the name of a Jewish family. Interestingly enough in the public eyes of the 19th Century, someone with a "Jewish" name was Jewish, no matter what he believed in. So it became quite clear that religion alone is not a reliable criterion to describe the "Jewish" community in Vienna. An obvious example for this dilemma is the family of the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929). He was considered Jewish, although the poet's grandfather, August, was baptised on marrying a Christian. Hugo von Hofmannsthal's father was also married to a Christian. The poet therefore had of four grandparents a single Jewish one, and his Jewish-born wife was baptised in order to marry him. Moreover the poet's personal relationship to Judaism was distinctly reserved. Other examples of this problem are the families Mautner von Markhof or Wittgenstein. Their names are Jewish, but genealogically as well as socially, these families had established themselves in a different milieu to their original Jewish one. For the purposes of this work, a family must originally have been fully practising Jewish.

So how to select the "important" Jewish families in Vienna? Ten years ago, when the work on this book began, the possibilities for researching available sources were much more limited than today. The most easily accessible material was on those Jewish families which had been ennobled in Austria or Hungary. That determined the initial criterion for inclusion and, as a result, the chapters on these families, such as Wertheimstein, Goldberger de Buda, Baiersdorf, May, Gutmann and Inwald, were the first to be compiled. But soon it became obvious that within these families there were other names which turned out to be equally important in their time. So the second criterion was created: The Network.

On closer examination it became clear that the genealogical environment of, for example, the ennobled Baiersdorf family was not comprehensible without reference to further connections between the families Biach, Bunzl and Duschnitz, which were never ennobled. Likewise, to understand the importance of the family Goldberger de Buda, it is crucial to study families like the Hellmanns, Auspitzers or Breuers. So during the years of work a network was revealed and, subsequently, the image of the Jewish "milieu" developed.

This comprises the third criterion: the circle – friends, acquaintances, colleagues – in which a particular family moved can be as important as those families to which they are related by blood. While an individual can change his immediate milieu as his fortunes change, it is nevertheless hardly possible to leave it completely. You can change your religion, your name, your marriage partner, your address, with one word – everything – to obscure your past in the process of social advancement, but when a member of a milieu moves on, the milieu simply changes shape. To understand this maybe an analogy helps: Measuring the exact borders of a cloud by scientific methods will not work. Clouds are diffuse, ever-changing and always in movement.

To describe Viennese Jewry between 1800 and 1938 requires dealing with a constantly changing milieu, so the book will cover not only the "old" Viennese Jewish families, established in Vienna before 1848, like the Wertheimsteins, Biedermanns or Boschans, but also all the entrepreneur-dynasties, which came to Vienna later from throughout Central Europe, such as the Schwarzmanns from Jassy or the Krohns from Breslau, and it will cover many of the intellectual dynasties like the Schnitzlers or the Halbans.

Describing all these families and giving detailed genealogical information, this book will be a work of reference which simultaneously gives information on individual families as well on social, economical and political developments in Europe during the last 200 years.