I had travelled to the enchanting and beautiful city of Salzburg Austria, a two hour train ride from Munich, and was just about to leave its old town when I went into a store to buy a postcard. On my way out I noticed that the street the store was on was named Judengasse–The alley of the Jews.
I realized that I had accidentally come across the old medieval Jewish ghetto of Salzburg (I seem to have a rather unusual knack of finding old Jewish ghettos in European cities within hours of my arrival and meanderings).
Salzburg promotes itself as the city of Mozart (his music wafts through a loud speaker in the centre of the old town) and the City of “The Sound of Music”, which enables it to draw close to 7 million visitors each year. But Salzburg’s anti-Semitic past is lesser known and not one which most tourists will encounter unless they specifically look for it.
Salzburg’s Jew alley is an extension of its world-famous Getreidegasse with its high end tourist stores, and also near the Salzburg cathedral. I noticed the irony of seeing a store dedicated to selling fancy decorated Easter eggs on the former Jewish ghetto.
Although I had come across Jew Alley, it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t come across any Jews of Salzburg, since the community never recovered after the Holocaust and now only numbers 100 or so. Outside of the Old Town across the Salzburg River, I did manage to find the synagogue that was built in 1893 in Lasserstraße 8, which is still in use, but was closed when I arrived.
Although Jews were first reported to arrive in Salzburg in the days of the Roman Empire, in medieval times, Salzburg was ruled by a Catholic Prince-Archbishop who was not overly pleased about non-Catholic residents of any kind. As Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism has explained, “Jews were the target of Christian anti-Semitism in medieval times, which originated from the fact that according to the Christian gospels, Jews killed Jesus.”
In the late 1340’s, when Salzburgers died suddenly of the Black Plague, the Christian population believed that it was because the Jews had poisoned the wells of the Christians. The response was a severe persecution of the Jews of Salzburg, with many killed and eventually, by 1404, all the remaining Jews were expelled. Several years later the Jews were allowed to return but had to wear pointed Jew hats for easy identification. In 1492, the same year Spain expelled the Jews, Archbishop Sigismund II decreed that no Jew would ever again be allowed to live in Salzburg, and thus in that year the Jews of Salzburg were either burnt or expelled. Jews were not allowed to return to the city until 1868.
As Dr. Chatterley notes, “The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was established in 1867, and during that year the Jews of the Empire were formally emancipated. Emperor Franz Joseph I proclaimed that civil rights were no longer dependent on being a Christian and this allowed Jews in Austria and Hungary to eventually have access to university education, new occupations and the professions, and to live where they liked.”
Not far from Judengasse I came across Hotel Goldener Hirsch, with a restaurant named Herzl. The name of the hotel sounded Jewish and I began to think of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. In 1885 Herzl, a lawyer and journalist, was a trainee at Salzburg’s province court, following his graduation from Vienna law school in 1884.
There was a big controversy that erupted in the 1990’s when the city of Salzburg put up a plaque commemorating Theodore Herzl which hid the city’s anti-Semitic past, and in effect could be read as suggesting that Herzl found Salzburg as a refuge from the anti-Semitism he experienced in Austria. ( http://www.beliefnet.com/News/2002/06/Salzburg-Edits-Its-Anti-Semitic-Past.aspx )
“I experienced some of the happiest hours of my life in Salzburg,” read a quotation from Herzl on the plaque. Conveniently, the city of Salzburg had omitted the remainder of what Herzl had written in his diary:
“I would have been happy to stay in this city. But as a Jew, I never would have been promoted to judge.”
I didn’t notice the Herzl plaque when I wandered around the old town so I do not know what it says today. What I do know is that a strong current of anti-Semitism remained in Salzburg even after Jews were allowed to live there in 1868 and this current was fully evident when Adolph Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.
In the Residenzplatz of the old town, I got a whiff of Salzburg’s Nazi past when I came across a plaque commemorating where the Nazis staged a massive book burning in 1938, after Hitler annexed Austria. The sign doesn’t mention that Salzburg was the only city outside of Germany where such a book burning took place, or that Hitler was welcomed by many here, unlike what Austrians long claimed after the war, which was that they were victims of Hitler, not complicit in his crimes. A film by British filmmaker Tony Palmer points out, that 97 percent of the population of Salzburg supported Hitler, according to a plebiscite at the time. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/15/arts/music/15palm.html?_r=0
Had I had another day to explore Salzburg (where the scenery really is gorgeous), I might have tried to find the Holocaust memorial, which I have read isn’t that well marked and is also a place where pigeons congregate and leave pigeon droppings. I also might have tried to find Cornelius Gurlitt’s home in Salzburg, where he has stashed lots of Nazi looted art, in addition to that stashed in his Munich apartment. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26746697.
On March 31, 2014 after I had visited Salzburg, I did notice that Austrian President Heinz Fischer at a Holocaust memorial service in Vienna said that “Today, Austria accepts its joint responsibility with the Nazi criminals.”
He added that Austria only relatively recently began the difficult, but important, process of acknowledging its part in the Holocaust and commemorating the country’s Jewish victims.