Wiener Neustadt

Synagogue built in: 1902
Earliest record of community: Beginning of the Sixties of the 19th century
Last rabbi: Dr. Heinrich Weiss
Community members: 1869 - 173, 1900 - 492, 1938 - 1059
Pogrom Night: Devastated; later city administration offices
After 1945: Demolished 1953
Today: City administration offices
Summary: In the Middle Ages, the town of Wiener Neustadt was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Lower Austria. Many famous rabbis came from here. The town’s Jewish population lived in its own quarter, where the synagogue was also located. In the 15th century, the local yeshiva (school for religious studies) attracted many students from far and wide. Emperor Maximilian I issued an expulsion order against Jews in 1496, which put an end to the flourishing Jewish community of Wiener Neustadt.

Not until the 1860s would Jews be permitted to settle again in the town. Moses Rosenberger, one of the first modern-day Jews to take up residence in Wiener Neustadt, put his home at the disposal of the new Jewish community for use as a house of prayer. A while later, the community moved its prayer services to a hall in a restaurant. Later still, a coach house on the Baumkirchner Ring was acquired and rebuilt as a synagogue.

In 1871, the Wiener Neustadt Kultusgemeinde (Jewish congregation of Wiener Neustadt) was officially established. A chevra kadisha (burial society) and a Frauenhilfsverein (ladies’ aid association) were founded, as was an association for comforting the bereaved. In 1889, a Jewish cemetery was inaugurated on Wiener Straße. The community had its own mikvah (ritual bath).

In 1902, the congregation decided to build a larger synagogue next to the existing one on Baumkirchner Ring. The following rabbis officiated in Wiener Neustadt from 1902 onwards: Benjamin Weiss, Dr. Jakob Hofmann, Dr. Heinrich Klein, Dr. Joel Pollak, David Friedman, Dr. Hillel Weiss and Harry Schiff. The last rabbi to serve the community before its destruction in 1938 was Dr. Heinrich Weiss.

Following the construction of the new synagogue, the congregation’s board decided to adopt the so-called Mannheimer rite devised in the first half of the 19th century by Isaak Noa Mannheimer, preacher of the Viennese Stadttempel (city temple). A group of community members gathered in support of Rabbi Benjamin Weiss, who rejected these changes, and Eleasar Koppel, a Jew originally from Mattersdorf, established an orthodox prayer room in his house. This prayer room was officially approved by the secular authorities in 1916. After World War I, there was a general trend back toward tradition, therefore the original rite was reintroduced in the community’s great synagogue and only orthodox rabbis were appointed. The movement back to orthodoxy occurred under the influence of Jews who arrived in Wiener Neustadt from the Sheva Kehillot (Seven Holy Congregations).

On Pogrom Night, November 9/10, 1938, members of the SS and SA, accompanied by ordinary residents of Wiener Neustadt, assembled at the great synagogue. They then destroyed the building inside and out. Ritual objects were stolen and Torah scrolls were burned. The synagogue itself was not burned down because the mayor wanted to use the building for municipal purposes.

By that time, a large number of the town’s Jewish citizens were no longer residing there. Some had been forced to leave after the Anschluss, others left fearing – rightly – deterioration in their living conditions. During the pogrom itself, those Jews who remained in the town were locked in the synagogue, beaten and forced to stand for hours with their faces to the wall. Then they had to lie for two days on the floor before being incarcerated for a week in the town prison.

In 1945, the synagogue building was heavily damaged after being hit by an aerial bomb and going up in flames. The synagogue’s ruins were removed in 1953.