Following is another of a series of twelve specially prepared articles reviewing the present status of Jewry in the world’s most important nations, with the coming of the New Year. Another one will appear tomorrow
A difficult and unwholesome year is now passing for Austrian Jewry. None among the oldest Jewish inhabitants of Vienna remembers such a bitterly hard and unspeakably perilous year as this has been. Perhaps hundreds of years ago, when the Jews suffered pogroms in Vienna and other Danube cities and were driven from their homes, they experienced the same degree of panic as they endured in this first wild year of Hitlerism’s struggle to coerce Austria.
True, there weren’t any pogroms against the Jews of Austria this year. There were no excesses, nor were Jewish homes or other Jewish property despoiled and destroyed. But Austrian Jewry lived with its heart in its throat: in pain and troubled by the events of the day. It feared the morrow, which threatened instigatory anti-Semitism accompanied by the systematic crowding-out of the Jews from all means of gaining a livelihood. It lived in paralyzing fear that Hitlerism might also be victorious in Vienna.
“SPARE US NAZI RULE”
Austrian Jewry entered so unfavorable a constellation that every Jew prays for mercy: Let what may occur, but spare us a Nazi government; may our Austrian anti-Semitism live and prosper, but we want no rule of Hitler’s representatives in Austria.
Jews who live in free and democratic countries can scarcely imagine a situation so catastrophic that it compels a great, proud, highly cultured and wonderful Jewish community in the very heart of Europe suddenly to descend into so deep an abyss. Even government newspapers shout in your ears several times a day:
“You, Austrian Jew, get out of all the vocations and public positions in which you have found your bread. Do it of your own free will, little Jew, and do it speedily, before the wrath of the people expels you forcefully and with bloodshed. …”
And things are so arranged that one does the warning and the other carries out the threat. During the World War, great battles began with drumfire. Before every offensive to break through the trenches of the enemy an attempt was made to bury him under a hail of fire, shrapnel, bombs and hand grenades. That was the “psychological preparations” for the coming storming of the enemy positions. Very often the tactics had the desired effect. There was no alternative but to desert the trenches voluntarily.
“DRUMFIRE” TACTICS USED
At the beginning of this year, this sort of drumfire was widely used in Austria. In every official and semi-official sphere threats were made and pressure was brought to bear upon the Jews of Austria, in the effort to make them voluntarily relinquish both their status and their means of earning a living.
At first Austrian Jewry firmly resisted this public drumfire. They rejected every official attempt to negotiate their voluntary withdrawal from public and economic positions. They even issued public warnings against certain Jewish communal leaders who might have been inclined to enter into agreements with the government or its representatives. This continued until the resistance broke down of itself. With dictatorship and civil war in the land and Hitlerite revolutions within heavily supported from without, and with a permanent anti-Semitic offensive in Austriaâ€”how long could even the strongest Jewish fortress in the Diaspora hold out against such a concentric storm on all sides? The rulers saw this well. They saw the psychological metamorphosis in the conduct of the Jews of the land. They gauged correctly the terror which expressed itself in the phrase “anything but the Nazis.” By now the Jews are being oustead from all positionsâ€”without any clamor, without negotiations and with no public protests.
Things have reached the bitter stage of “Take whatever you will but remain at your post in the fight against the Nazis. We shall even help you cover up and conceal from the rest of the world the terrible injustices and troubles you are inflicting upon us, in order that your fight be not weakened by foreign interventions in our behalf. We, the ousted and the oppressed, have entered into a holy friendly alliance with you, the ouster and oppressor. We are in a mutual fight against the common danger of a Hitlerite victory in Austria.”
It is this that the essence of the tragedy which has come upon the Jews of Austria is reflected. The February bloody days involving the Social Democrats threw tens of thousands of Jews out of their jobs and their social positions. No one dared utter a word in opposition, for it was ostensibly only the Socialists who were meant. And when all these vacated posts were filled again, this time with Catholics and members of the Heimwehr throughout, there was nothing to be done about it. That had to be done, otherwise they too would have gone over to the Nazis. Wherever an opening of any sort can be made, it is promptly filled by a Catholic government supporter. And the Jew has to be glad of this, for it prevents the extension of the Nazi front.
It is in a depressed and despondent mood that Austrian Jewry has entered upon the Fascist Catholic era of government. At the same time it is divided internally. As a result of the destruction of all parliamentary arrangements and of every vestige of democracy in the land, the Socialist and Zionist-Socialist elements of the Jewish population have been oustead from every decisive part in Jewish public life. Partly because of coercion, Jewish bodies have removed that sector of the Jewish population from all Jewish public institutions. Even elected representatives of the kehilla representation were removed. The disagreement between the Zionists and the half-assimilatory Union of Austrian Jews (Austrian sister-organization of the German Central Union of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith) has been greatly intensified.
OUT OF KEHILLA RULE
The Agudath Israel is not represented in the Kehilla management at all this year and a situation has been arrived at in which the whole responsibility for the fate of Austria’s Jews in these abnormal times rests solely upon the conservative Zionist groups of Vienna, which also govern the Vienna Jewish community. All other large minorities of the Jewish population have either been displaced or are offering strong opposition.
This creates a situation very unhealthy and dangerous to the Jews of Austria. Unhealthy for the interests of the Jewish community as a whole and dangerous to the Zionists themselves. At a time when vital factors in the life of every Austrian Jew need to be defended, such defense should and must be carried out by a united front. Zionist groups, even as a whole, should be wary of taking the whole weight and the whole responsibility upon themselves. Courage and the will to lead are, indeed, very positive qualities. But there are times when a Jewish united front is more important than anything else. There is danger that because of the present involved political situation in Austria great harm may come not only to the prestige and interests of Austrian Zionism alone.
The distress of Austrian Jewry has become too great and too difficult to bear. All positions have been shattered. In every phase of life the break-up is either at hand or well advanced. Politically, socially and economically the ladder of Austrian Jewry is being broken down step by step by the new political regime of the country and by the terrible general economic chaos growing to inconceivable dimensions as a result of the permanent civil strife.
In addition, there is the special ruin of every category of the Jewish population as a result of the anti-Jewish boycott, which is still being carried on, and not only by the Nazified portion of the population. This is leading to the complete impoverishment of Austrian Jewry, an impoverishment which will soon out-distance that of the Jews of Poland. A problem of catastrophic dimensions is arising in Austria, whence the Jews will not be driven but will themselves be forced to flee in search of a livelihood or a place to rest their battered bodies and nerves shattered by constant Nazi strife in the land.
The Jewish world will have to deal with this ruin of Austrian Jewry, not in the same manner as it dealt with Germany Jewry, perhaps, but more intensively and more thoroughly. Tens of thousands are already straining towards Palestine, where they hope to save their lives. But to this very day, the number of Palestine certificates issued for Austria scarcely exceeds thirty or forty.
For one thing is certain. The shift in government control from Dollfuss to Schuschnigg has not effected any change in the specific and general condition of Austrian Jewry. Nor will the general political and economic position of the country improve. Things are still getting worse in Austria and the country faces a generally catastrophic winter, with starvation most intense in the western provinces. The conspirative terrorist Nazi campaign of bomb-throwing to keep the population in a state of turmoil continues all over the country.
The prospect for the Jewish New Year is not consoling. There is not even the slightest basis for objective optimism. It would require a miracle to make this year the last terrible one for the Jews of Austria.
Would that the miracle might happen soon!