Die “Polnische Schul”: "Beth Israel" (Synagogue association) - 2nd District Leopoldstadt

Synagogue built in: 1892/93
Earliest record of community: 1828
Last rabbi: Meir Meirson
Community members: 450
Pogrom Night: Destroyed
Today: Apartment building
Summary: Already before the March [1848] revolution, Polish immigrants had established a synagogue in the old Lazenhof near the Judengasse. When this structure was pulled down in 1848 it moved to Leopoldstadt and from 1854 they met for prayer at 65 [now no. 79] Obere Donaustrasse

Before and after the First World War, the pre-revolutionary community was joined by wave after wave of refugees from Galicia. Compared to the immigrants from Hungary, the Galicians found it more difficult to adapt to the Viennese community. Their extreme poverty, traditional mode of dress, and Yiddish language made them appear outlandish in the extreme to the general population. The Viennese Jews in particular saw in them a substantial obstacle in the way of their own acceptance into the predominant culture of the city. The Beth Yisrael (House of Israel) congregation, in providing the newcomers with services in which their own religious customs and distinctive style of prayer were followed, bridged the gap between the Galician newcomers and the established community.

In 1892 the Viennese architect Wilhelm Stiassny was commissioned to design a new synagogue for Polish Jews at 29 Leopoldstrasse . A magnificent three-storied building, including both Moorish and Russian elements, contained seats for 420 men and in the gallery, 217 women. The bima (platform for Torah reading) was situated in the centre of the building according to the orthodox tradition.

The rabbi of the Polish Shul from 1895 was Meir Meirson, who from 1899 until 1930 also held the position of Av Beth Din (president of the rabbinical court) of the general community (Kultusgemeinde). The cantor was the world-famous Mayer Schorr, who pioneered the presentation of traditional Eastern European melodies in a modern Western European setting. His successor was Emanuel Fraenkel, whose chief achievement lay in the development of choral services, ably assisted by the choirmaster Josef Millet.

At 7 AM on November 10,,1938 the synagogue at 29 Leopoldgasse was already in flames, and by the afternoon it had been completely destroyed. Today, in its place stands a block of residential flats. The memorial tablet, commemorating the previous existence of the synagogue, was not allowed by the residents of the flats to be affixed to the building and is therefore displayed as a separate signboard in front of the building.
Sources: - Genée, Pierre, Wiener Synagogen 1825-1938, Wien 1987
- Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes (Hg.), Gedenken und Mahnen in Wien 1934-1945. Gedenkstätten zu Widerstand und Verfolgung, Exil, Befreiung, Wien 1998
- Hödl, Klaus, Als Bettler in die Leopoldstadt. Galizische und Bukowinische Juden auf dem Weg nach Wien, Wien 1994
Located in: Vienna