Jewish cementery, Krakov

Joseph Roth, born to a Jewish family, grew up in Brody near Lemberg/Lvov/Lviv in Eastern Galicia, the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Brody had one of the biggest Jewish populations in Europe and Jewish cultural life played an important role there. He began his studies in Lemberg and then went on to study philosophy and German literature in Vienna in 1914. In 1916 he quit university and volunteered in the Austro-Hungarian Army. The collapse of the empire had a lasting and detrimental effect on him, as on many other Jewish intellectuals. “My strongest experience was the War and the destruction of my fatherland, the only one I ever had, the dual Monarchy of Austro-Hungary.” In 1927 he wrote his famous essay “The Wandering Jews” about the minority of Eastern Jews and their plight. “The Eastern Jew does not know anything about the social injustice of the West; nothing about the reign of prejudice, that governs the paths, actions, customs and ways of life of the average Western European,….nothing of the hate which is already so strong that it is cherished like a life-giving (but life-killing) eternal fire that warms the egotism of every man and every country…. For the Eastern Jew the West means freedom, the possibility to work and to develop his talents, justice and autonomous rule of the mind. Western Europe sends engineers, automobiles, books and poems to the East. It sends propaganda soaps and hygiene, the useful and the sublime….For the Eastern Jew Germany for example is still the country of Goethe and Schiller, of the German poets, who every ambitious young Jew knows better than a swastika-loving grammar school pupil.” They started migrating from the borderlands to the Russian Empire, where “every year there is a war and every week a pogrom”. Some returned, many more continued their journey. “The Eastern Jews have nowhere a fatherland, but graves in every cemetery…. Most give to the West at least as much as the West takes from them. Some give more to the West than the West gives to them. They all have the right to live in the West who sacrifice themselves, in that they venture to the West.” Roth regretted that the Eastern Jews assimilated themselves rather too fast – and not too slowly as they were being accused of – to the living conditions in the West. Most of them viewed anti-Semitism as a consequence of the capitalist economic system, but they often became Socialists because they were suppressed, not because they were revolutionaries. Most of the Eastern Jews in the Western part of the Habsburg Empire were reactionary due to a bourgeois attitude, a love for property and tradition and out of fear of a change of the current situation that never brought about an improvement for Jews. There was a historical feeling, nourished through experience that the Jews were the first victims of all bloodbaths that took place in world history. In the East there were Jewish workers and Jewish artisans, which was unknown to the West. The war and the revolution in Russia, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire increased the numbers of the Jewish minority that tried to find a foothold in the Western part of the Danube region. The easiest way to make a living there was as traders. So they gave up their jobs, “they gave themselves up and they lost themselves”. They changed their hairstyle, their beards, their clothing, their religious ceremonies, their lifestyle, they became simply lower middle class people who paid their taxes, filled in their residence permits and became part of a “nationality” and became citizens of a nation state. They now had a “fatherland”. Joseph Roth: “The concept of a nation was invented by western European thinkers who tried to explain the term. The old Austro-Hungarian Monarchy seemingly offered the practical proof of the nationalities theory. That means, it could have proved the contrary if it had been well governed. The inefficiency of its governments offered the practical proof for the theory that was further cemented by an error and became widely accepted thanks to such errors… In the Austrian parliament there were representatives of various nations and they continuously fought for rights and liberties which would have been matter-of-fact if they had been granted. The Austrian parliament was a substitute for national battlefields. Only the Jews could not call for their own national territory… But anti-Semitism thrived with the Germans as well as with the Czechs, the Poles, the Ruthenians, the Hungarians and the Romanians. The Jews proved the contrary of the proverb that if two quarrel, the third one wins. The Jews were the third one who always lost….. The Peace Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations tried to guarantee for the Jews the right to a “nationality”. Joseph Roth writes about the Eastern Jews that had made it to Vienna: Their sons and daughter were very productive. Even if their parents were peddlers, the young became lawyers, doctors, bankers, journalists and actors. “It is terribly difficult to be an Eastern Jew in Vienna, there is no more serious plight than this.” The ones that had arrived ten years before did not like the newcomers “Another one has arrived. Another one wants to earn. Another one wants to live. And the worst: one cannot let him perish.”



Census 1900: RELIGIOUS BELIEF in selected crown lands (Geschichte der Juden in Österreich)


Crown land Roman Catholics Greek Cathol. Jews


Greek Orthodox Protestants others
Vienna & Lower Austria 92.4 0.1 5.1 0.1 1.9 0.4
Trieste 95.1 0.0 2.8 0.8 0.8 0.5
Bohemia 96.0 0.0 1.5 0.0 1.2 1.3
Moravia 95.4 0.0 1.8 0.0 1.1 1.7
Silesia 84.7 0.1 1.8 0.0 13.4 0.0
Galicia 45.8 42.4 11.1 0.0 0.5 0.2
Bukovina 11.9 3.2 13.2 68.5 2.5 0.7
Dalmatia 83.7 0.0 0.1 16.2 0.0 0.0



Census 1910: LANGUAGE SPOKEN in daily life according to religious belief


(number of speakers)

Roman Catholics Greek Catholics Jews Greek Orthodox Protestants others


42.1 0.1 27.7 0.6 52.6 65.5


28.0 0.0 4.1 0.1 31.1 22.4


17.3 7.0 65.9 0.1 15.6 1.5


0.2 92.7 1.9 42.2 0.2 7.2


5.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.2


3.1 0.0 0.0 15.6 0.0 0.1


3.4 0.0 0.2 0.1 0.1 2.6


0.0 0.0 0.1 41.0 0.0 0.2



Census 1910


Language Non-Jewish population Jewish population Percentage of Jewish population
German 10.5 93.0 56.7
Polish 5.0 1.1 3.2
Ruthenian 43.5 2.0 0.7
Romanian 39.0 1.0 0.4
Hungarian 1.5 0.0 0.2





1880 1890 1900 1910
Galicia 11.5 11.7 11.1 10.9
Bukovina 11.8 12.8 13.2 12.9
Vienna & Lower Austria 4.1 4.4 5.1 5.2
Bohemia 1.7 1.6 1.5 1.3
Moravia 2.1 2.0 1.9 1.6
Silesia 1.5 1.6 1.8 1.8
Coastal area (Istria / Dalmatia) 0.8 0.8 0.7 0.7
Cisleithania overall 4.5 4.8 4.7 4.6
Transleithania overall 4.1 4.2 4.4 4.5


Adapted from Geschichte der Juden in Österreich



Brugger, Eveline e.a., Geschichte der Juden in Österreich, 2006

Roth, Joseph, Juden auf Wanderschaft, Wien 1927