My visit to The Vienna Central Cemetery: The Jewish Experience and WW2

IN THIS post I will write about my visit to one of the most well-known cemeteries in Europe and Austria. My journey was back in 2009 but I still remember my visit very well as I spent about two hours walking the older Jewish part of the cemetery. The Vienna Central cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof) is also a cultural landmark receiving many tourists. It’s the final resting place of famous people like Beethoven and Mozart. As I arrived with my Nikon it was a very hot day in July it was all very quiet and I honestly can’t remember I saw that many people around. The photo below is what you can expect the old Jewish section to look like a warm beautiful summer’s day. Many stones are overgrown by vegetation reminding us this place soon 100 years ago was active and full of family members attending beloved ones final resting places. But as National Socialism arose in Germany in 1930s and Austria was ‘captured’ in 1937 all Jews were deported to Concentration Camps in Eastern Europe. You can see this for yourselves on several stones that something happened because there are no further burials or deaths noticed on the stones between 1939-1945 since their family members died in the Concentration Camps. In that point of view the Cemetery is a horrible reminder on what happened to Austrian Jews during WW2. 

Several non-Catholic denominations share the Zentralfriedhof and there’s an Evangelischer Friedhof. By far the largest non-Catholic sections, however, are the two old and new Jewish cemeteries.

A Rabbi’s gravesite

ONE of most interesting discoveries was a tomb of a rabbi and as I managed to sneak myself in with my camera I noticed people had scribbled several messages to him at the walls and the ceiling. I also noticed many of the messages dated to the late 1930’s and as early as 2004. All the messages are written in German and likely scribbled down by one-time vistors seeking the blessing of the deceased rabbi. Most of the content are somewhat desperate begging the rabbi to bless their souls and asking for help or guidance.

All photos in this post was taken by me. I saw several interesting graves with family names connected to many wellknown historical persons in Vienna history; such as Viktor Frankl and Arthur Schnitzler.

Gravesite of author Arthur Schnitzler

Arthur Schnitzler (15 May 1862 – 21 October 1931) was an Austrian author and dramatist. I was really happy upon discovering his grave since I love his novel Rhapsody – also published as Dream Story (Traumnovelle – 1925/26), later adapted as the film Eyes Wide Shut by American director Stanley Kubrick.

Notice all the small stones on Schnitzler’s grave. All of them marks an unique visit as it’s a Jewish custom to place a stone on a grave. There are many explanations why we place a stone rather than flowers which is connected to pagan worship in some Rabbinic sources. In the Torah patriarch Abraham builds an altar to God by help of stones. The Temple in Jerusalem was built by stones and The Wailing Wall surrounding the Second Temple. While flowers wither and die a stone can represent a more lasting memory. In European Jewry with a rich superstitious tradition the grave is the deceased’s new home and not make the soul go wander among the living a stone is said to keep it were it belongs until Judgement Day. You are welcome to comment on my post if you wish to share your experience on this famous cemetery. 

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