Digging Up the Past – in Austria
Tomb desecrators – in Austria
Vienna is a city that celebrates its past. It’s a splendid heritage largely created during the 18th and 19th centuries, but there’s a sense of collective amnesia over one era, a legacy that historian, Tina Walzer, is determined to reveal.
פּאָרטרעט פון פאַני וואָן אַרנסטין
Portrait of Fanny von Arnstein.
Tina Walzer is a historian and author, specialising in 19th and 20th century Austrian Jewish history, and lecturing at the University of Vienna. For the past ten years she has been tracing back six generations of Austrian Jewish families and building up a database on the Viennese Jewish population in the 19th century, to be published this year. She recently published with Stephan Templ, the journalist and architectural historian, the book Unser Wien: ‘Arisierung auf Österreichisch’. Berlin: Aufbau Verlag 2001 (Our Vienna: Aryanization Austrian style ) arising from her extensive research on the expropriation of Austrian Jews, with special focus on Nazi looted art. A new version including the whole of Austria is forthcoming. In 2002 Tina Walzer completed the first extensive report on the 62 Jewish cemeteries of Austria and their cultural, artistic and historical characteristics, and she now acts as a consultant for their restoration. She also works as a consultant for Jewish families and Jewish communities in restitution matters, especially art restitution.
About thirty thousand people are buried at the Wahring Jewish cemetery, a twenty thousand square metre, here but what you can see actually is about eight thousand tombstones. It’s the most important Jewish cemetery in Vienna for the 19th century and it’s the place where all the important people, the key figures of the industrial revolution in Austria are buried. Wahring closed in the 1880’s. Two hundred thousand Jews lived in Vienna when the Nazis came to power in the 1930’s. Those who didn’t flee, were sent off to the death camps. Only seven hundred survived in the city at the end of the war.
That’s part of the reason why the cemetery’s looking like this today, because you have to keep in mind that most of the families whose ancestors are buried here have been killed during the Holocaust so they don’t live anymore.
Ten years ago, Tina Walzer arrived – a Jewish historian on a field trip. She’s never left, and now guides tour groups through her domain.
Tina routinely finds human bones, dug up by foxes that scavenge through the broken tombs. She put it aside so nobody would step on it. Constant vandalism prompted the construction of a wall, topped with wire and broken glass.
Wahring may be forgotten but in Vienna’s Judenplatz, the memory of the Holocaust is very much alive. On this memorial, only the death camps are listed. The dead remain anonymous.
Not only did the Nazis persecute the living, they pursued the dead. To prove their master race theories, Nazi anthropologists from the Vienna Museum of Natural History, exhumed between two and three hundred Jewish graves from Wahring.
Among the remains taken away for study were those of Fanny von Arnstein. It is likely that the Vienna Museum of Natural History may still hold Fanny von Arnstein’s remains.
Fanny von Arnstein was Vienna’s first feminist. Fanny von Arnstein is best remembered as the hostess of back room deals, when Europe’s leaders gathered here in 1815 to redraw the continent’s borders. Fanny von Arnstein, the woman who had the first bourgeois saloon in Austria who invited diplomats, politicians, artists, writers, journalists to her house to form what later became political parties.
In the 1990’s, a newspaper investigation revealed that the Vienna Museum of Natural History still held the remains of Jewish concentration camp inmates and Polish resistance fighters.
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