St. Poelten (Political districts St. Poelten, Hietzing, Lilienfeld, Melk)

Synagogue built in: 1913
Earliest record of community: 1850
Last rabbi: Prof. Dr. Arnold Frankfurter, Manfred Papo
Community members: 1934 - 310
Pogrom Night: Expropiated; later camp for russian forced laborer
After 1945: Renovated in 1984
Today: Cultural Center
Summary: Jews settled in St. Pölten in the second half of the 13th century. In 1306, the town’s Jewish community was accused of host desecration (profane treatment of the communion bread used in Christian religious services). Many members of the community were murdered and their property was confiscated. Nevertheless, Jews later returned to St. Pölten. Jewish settlement in the town is mentioned in documents from the 17th century.

A Jewish community was reestablished in 1850. Initially, religious services were held in a prayer hall on the premises of the Gasser factory. In 1863, the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde St. Pölten (Jewish Congregation of St. Pölten) was officially founded. This was the second-largest Jewish congregation in Lower Austria, and was very active within the Jewish community. A Jewish Ladies’ Committee and a charitable organization were founded, and the local chevra kadisha dedicated a Jewish burial ground inside the municipal cemetery. In or around 1903, a prayer hall was opened in nearby Wilhelmsburg.

A synagogue was built in St. Pölten next to the prayer house on the Schulpromenade (today Dr. Karl Renner-Promenade) but later became too small for the growing congregation. A new synagogue, inaugurated in 1913, seated 220 men and 150 women. This synagogue was one of the most impressive buildings in Lower Austria. Since it was forbidden to erect sculptures in the synagogue, a plaque in honor of Emperor Franz Joseph I was affixed in the building’s anteroom.

The following rabbis served the community in succession from 1863 onward: Dr. Moritz Tinter, Dr. Adolf Kurrein, Samuel Markus, Dr. Adolf Hahn, Dr. Jakob Reiss and Dr. Bernhard Zimmels. Dr. Leopold Weinsberg was appointed rabbi in 1891. A prominent St. Pölten rabbi between the wars was Dr. Adolf Schächter. Prof. Dr. Arnold Frankfurter and Manfred Papo were the last rabbis to serve in the town before the destruction of the community in 1938.

On Pogrom Night, November 9/10, 1938, ordinary citizens of St. Pölten, members of the SS and others assembled in front of the synagogue. They then destroyed everything inside and burned ritual objects and holy books. At a trial in 1952, it transpired that an SS officer from Krems had received instructions to gather the St. Pölten SS members and systematically destroy the synagogue. However, they were not to completely demolish the building, because the mayor of the town wanted to use it for other purposes.

Beginning in 1942, the former synagogue was used as a reception center for Russian slave laborers. Those Jews who had not managed to leave town in time were taken to concentration camps. In 1945, the roof and facade of the former synagogue were damaged in an aerial bombing raid. At the end of the 1970s, the synagogue building was renovated and has been used as a cultural center since 1984. In 1988, the Institute for the History of the Jews in Austria took up residence in the building.
Sources: - Genée, Pierre, Synagogen in Österreich, Wien 1992
- David, Jüdische Kulturzeitschrift in Österreich
- Kunst und Kultur des österreichischen Judentums, Ausstellungskatalog zur Renovierung der ehemaligen Synagoge St. Pölten 1984
- Lind, C., "Der letzte Jude hat den Tempel verlassen". Juden in Niederösterreich 1938-1945. Institut für die Geschichte der Juden in Österreich (Hg.) Wien 2004