INNOVATIVE VIENNESE HOUSING CONCEPTS FOR THE WEALTHY AND THE WORKING CLASS (1872-1933) AND THE CONTRIBUTION OF VIENNESE JEWS AS ARCHITECTS, ENTREPRENEURS AND TENANTS

On 14 March 1872 the “Wiener Cottage Verein” (Viennese Cottage Association) was founded, initiated by the famous “Ringstrassen” architect Heinrich von Ferstl, whose aim was to counter the pressing need for housing in the overcrowded city of Vienna and to plan a “garden city” following the English model. In the houses and villas which were erected there several writers, artists, actors, scientists, entrepreneurs, many of them of Jewish descent, lived in this “garden city” at least for some time. The first tenants had to walk there from the city, but from 1889 a horse-drawn tramway ran to the “Cottage Quarter” and from 1907 the tram number 40 left the city at the stop “Stock Exchange” and ran to Sternwartestrasse and Gymnasiumstrasse and along “Währinger Park”, which had been the cemetery of the suburb Währing until 1923, where the writers Franz Grillparzer and Johann Nestroy were buried. From there the tram 40 reached the “Türkenschanzpark”. The name is derived from the place where the Turkish army, which besieged Vienna in 1683, had entrenched itself. In 1872 Edmund Kral and Heinrich von Ferstl founded the “Cottage Association”, which bought the gravel and sand pits below the former trenches and initiated a housing project which was supposed to realise their idea of modern and healthy living in one- and two-family houses. Ferstl’s dream of a different form of housing was modelled on the concept of “idyllic English garden cities”. Between 1873 and 1930 houses and villas were built imitating historical styles, others were modern houses designed by innovative architects like Josef Hoffmann. All of them were free standing town houses with a front and a back garden in an idyllic green oasis for the well-to-do.

A “Cottage Quarter” similar to the one in the suburbs of Währing and Döbling was established in the suburb Hietzing between the imperial castle Schönbrunn and the imperial hunting ground, the Lainzer Tiergarten, the “Hietzinger Cottage”. There a start was made in 1883, when the entertainment park of Carl Schwender called “Neue Welt” (“New World”), went bankrupt. This ground was divided up into plots of land for the construction of another “garden city”, which was called “Neue Welt”, too. Many of the proprietors and tenants of the “Viennese Cottage Quarters” were forced into exile after the takeover of the Nazis, the “Anschluß”, in March 1938 and several did not only lose their fortunes, but also their lives in the Nazi terror.

Nearly 50 years after the foundation of the first “Cottage Association” the dream of modern and healthy living in Vienna was to be realised for the working class as well. When in 1919 the Social Democratic Party took over the running of the city of Vienna, the party devised an ambitious plan of creating at the start terraced houses in settlements and then blocks of flats with modern amenities to alleviate the drastic housing shortage. Between 1923 and 1933 63,934 affordable, light and healthy flats were built for workers and their families in a world-wide unique social housing project of the time. In the housing concept of “Red Vienna” several modern architects, like Josef Frank, intellectuals, health experts, pedagogues, like Friedl Dicker and Franz Singer, and sociologists like Otto Glöckel, Siegfried Bernfeld or Max Adler were involved; many of them with Jewish backgrounds. Unfortunately all the Jewish tenants could enjoy the benefits of the new flats only briefly because they were the first to be evicted from the social housing projects after the “Anschluß” (the takeover of the Nazis) in March 1938, among them my great-uncle Karl Elzholz and his wife Mitzi, who were chased out of their flat in the “Reumannhof” at Margaretengürtel 102/15/17. They both managed to flee to Bolivia. After the war Karl returned to Vienna and moved into a newly built social housing complex nearby.

The only member of my large family who was well-off enough to move intone of the high-end housing projects of the “Hietzinger Cottage” was Henny Singer, who was a niece of my other great-uncle Norbert Katz. She had survived the holocaust in Israel and returned to Vienna after the war with her wealthy husband Josef Singer, who was a textile trader in the “Viennese Textile Quarter”. They moved into a villa in Hietzing in Alban-Berg-Weg 2/24.


“Cottage Quarter” in Währing & Döbling (most interesting villas in the roads marked in yellow)

The first “Cottage Quarter” was planned in the suburbs of Währing and Döbling in the west of Vienna between Gymnasiumstrasse, Haizingergasse, Sternwartestrasse and Cottagegasse. On 9 April 1873 the “Viennese Cottage Association” was turned into a cooperative with unlimited liability. The members signed a commitment that forbid the building of houses which would in any way block the view of the other members, or restrict their access to light and fresh air. Additionally no trade was to be run on these premises which would disturb the other proprietors by polluting the air or producing noise or causing the danger of fires. Further regulations stipulated that every house was to have two floors only and a minimum distance to the next house was to be kept. All houses of one block had to form a square block with the gardens in the middle so that a garden complex was to be formed at the centre of a block. The building contractor was free to choose the architectural style, but the house had to fit into the character of the “Cottage Quarter” and by that help form a harmonious unity. This voluntary commitment of the members of the association was known as the “Cottage Servitut” and this was cited in the land register. It is still valid today and has helped to create a leafy suburban residential neighbourhood with interesting villas in historical and art nouveau styles. The architect and founder Ferstl was the first chairman of the “Cottage Association”, Archduke Karl Ludwig took over the “Protectorate” and the architect Carl von Borowski was in charge of the site management. He also developed the basic architectural concept of the first villas. The terrain was an open space at 388m altitude with rich water reserves and a fertile ground for gardening. The price at the time of the foundation of the association was affordable at 14.50-18.50 crowns per square fathom. The first 50 lots found many buyers and the architectural concept for the houses was modelled on English one- family houses, which meant, just one floor, which was cheaper and a floor plan then common in England: namely a basement with kitchen and store rooms; a ground floor with dining room, smoking room and lounge and finally on the first floor living room and bed rooms. Many of the clients opposed this architectural concept because they were used to the Viennese housing design of having all the rooms on one floor. The association had to convince the clients of the benefits of the new floor plans because otherwise they would violate their ideal of a garden city. To make the houses affordable a flat to rent was included in the attic, so that in the end four floors were erected on a rather small building plot and enough space for the garden was saved. Every house had to have a small front garden and the larger back garden of a block had to be directed towards the other back gardens to form a large green space in the middle, which was considered essential because it created a bigger “air reservoir”. This type of urban housing was until that point of time completely unknown in Vienna and the leading architect was Carl von Bokowski together with Anton Zöchmann and Julius Deininger.

After the first building phase approximately ten new houses were built per year according to the guidelines of the association under the leadership of the architect Karl Haas, a student of Ferstl. At that time a plot of 220 square fathoms cost 3,200 crowns and the cheapest house with four rooms plus ancillary rooms cost 10,000-12,000 crowns including the price of the building plot. The first houses were simple and cost-efficient with two to maximum four rooms, the staircases were steep and narrow, toilet and bathroom positioned in inconvenient corners of the house. When all the ground the association had bought in 1973 was used up, more land was acquired in the adjoining suburb of Döbling by the association in 1884. In this second building phase new types of family houses were planned and constructed with a greater variety of floor plans and richer decorations imitating Renaissance and Baroque styles. The rising property prices attracted a richer clientele, which had an effect on the architectural planning. The rooms were now larger, the staircases grander, the antechambers more representative and the furnishings much more luxurious. By 1906 a model house had been designed by Gustav Tschermak which tried to incorporate all the experiences of the “Cottage Association” of the last thirty years. It has to be noted that by this time the largest part of the first 260 family houses had been planned and built by the site management of the “Cottage Association” according to designs of different architects. Furthermore the association planted 1,900 trees in all streets of the “Cottage Quarter” and the adjoining “Türkenschanzpark” was opened to the public in 1888. In 1905 the quarter comprised 640,000 square metres with 387 family houses in 16 alleys.  The area boasted primary and higher schools, an ice rink, tennis courts, a casino association, a police station and a post office, but no shops or restaurants and cafés.

This innovative urban planning model was so successful that it was copied elsewhere and in 1910 the City of Vienna took up this concept and incorporated it in its building regulations and area zoning plan. Today the voluntary commitment of the “Viennese Cottage Association” represents public law and the aim of the association is to conserve the special character of this neighbourhood.

One of the targets of the founders was to convince the Viennese bourgeoisie of the advantages of a family town house with garden and to compensate the lack of green space in the inner city areas. In a way it was the counter-concept to the expensive inner city blocks of flats. The architect Heinrich von Ferstel and the art historian Rudolf Eitelberger opposed the building speculation in those huge blocks of flats and wanted to improve the quality of housing in Vienna by constructing smaller units. Their ideal was the “English philosophy of housing”. The first fifty family houses were planned in detached and semi-detached form by Carl Ritter von Bokowski and the plots were rather small. Later on some rich owners wanted to show off their wealth, so their houses were built in more opulent styles and the plots were larger. Originally the villas were built in the “English style”, but when Hermann Müller took over the site management of the “Cottage Association”, French- and Italian-style villas were erected as well. In 1961 the “Cottage Quarter” in Währing and Döbling comprised 84.27 ha net building land and 6,644 inhabitants. In the wake of the “Viennese Cottage Association” in other suburbs of Vienna similar “Cottage Quarters” for the well-to-do were established, for example in Hietzing, in Gersthof, Hütteldorf, the Prater and Lainz.


“Cottage Quarter” in Hietzing (most interesting villas in the roads marked in yellow)

THE LIVES OF PEOPLE IN „MIXED MARRIAGES“ AND OF „MIXED-RACE CHILDREN“ (ACCORDING TO THE NAZI NUREMBERG RACE LAWS) IN VIENNA 1938-1945

After the “Anschluß”, the takeover of the Nazis in Austria on 12 March 1938, the racial background of every citizen was documented according to the Nazi Nuremberg race laws and my mother, Herta, was classified as a “Mischling 1.Grades” (a “mixed race child of the 1st degree”) – as can be seen in the documents above. Her mother, my grandmother Lola (Flora Kainz), was a Catholic of Jewish descent with Jewish parents, my great-grand parents Ignaz and Rudolfine Sobotka, which meant that all of them had to bear the full brunt of racial discrimination of the Nazi dictatorship. But as long as my grandfather, Anton Kainz, the father of Herta, stood by his family and did not divorce my grandmother Lola, at least Lola and Herta were somehow “protected” because he was a certified “Aryan”. But this “protection” was constantly on the brink of being withdrawn, despite the fact that Toni loved his wife dearly and adored his daughter and would never have thought of giving in to Nazi pressure. This constant insecurity and permanent racial discrimination left deep scars especially in the psyche of Herta, who was four and a half years old at the time of the “Anschluß”. She first lost her aunts and uncles who had to flee Austria, then her grandparents, who were deported to the KZ Theresienstadt and then was in constant fear that her mother would be arrested and deported, too. At the end of the war she was eleven and a half and was not only terribly afraid of the Allied bomb attacks on Vienna, but even more of the knocking on the door and a surprise visit of the GESTAPO which would take away her mother. It was impressed on her by her father that she had to run to the fish shop where he was the branch manager and inform him immediately if anything happened to Lola. Herta remembered that her parents had lots of friends and kept in contact with them during the Nazi occupation. One of them was a high-ranking NSDAP party member and he proposed that Lola should hide in his flat in case of emergency, because no one would suspect him of secretly protecting a Jewess, so she would be safe at his place. But fortunately this was not necessary. Till the end of her life this fear accompanied Herta. Despite the tragic political circumstances and the discrimination she faced as a child, she stressed what a happy childhood she had had because her parents doted on her and this love carried her through those hard times – and the close friendship to a girl who lived in the same house in Mariahilferstrasse 41 and was an outcast just like her. Her name was Herta, too, and she was a very unruly foster child. This unlikely couple, the extremely timid and withdrawn Herta, my mother, and her daring wild playmate remained friends until old age despite the fact that their lives took very diverging paths: My mother became a master dressmaker and “the other” Herta a bar singer. Maybe the discrimination they faced as children created a lasting bond.

The fate of Jewish partners in “mixed marriages” and of “Mischlingskinder” (“mixed race children”) in Vienna was a doubly tragic one because after the war their sufferings were not recognised, neither by the 2nd  Austrian Republic nor by the Jewish or Catholic community with the argument “nothing had happened to them – they had survived”. Yet the fast succumbing to a very severe form of dementia at a rather early age can be contributed to the trauma Herta had experienced during the Nazi occupation and that had never been diagnosed or treated. It seems that children carried these traumas with them all their lives and despite apparently functioning very well as adults, the harm that was done to their souls came up again much later in life once more.


All Jewish women were forced by the Nazis to take on the name “Sara”, as can be seen in this document of the 30 June 1939 of my grandmother Flora Kainz, called Lola. Jewish men had to include “Israel” in their names.

“Ariernachweis” (“Aryan Certificate) of Anton Kainz, Herta’s father. This document proved the “Aryan” status of Toni, which provided some fragile protection for Lola and Herta. The handwritten addition stated that Toni was married to a Jewess.

The Nazi IDs of Toni (left – the Nazi eagle was covered, probably because the ID was still in use after the liberation by the Allied Armies) and of Lola (right – marked with a “J” for Jewish)

If this photo of Lola of 1939 is compared to the photos of her before 1938 in the articles on classical music, suburban inns and suburban cafés on this research website, one can see that the happy-go-lucky beautiful young woman of those days had turned into a terrified, emaciated and desperate one within a year.

When Toni was drafted by the “Wehrmacht” for the campaign against France, he wrote this Christmas card to Lola from the front on the 24th December 1940 declaring his never ending love for her despite Nazi pressure to divorce her. He quoted the famous lines of the operetta aria “Das Land des Lächelns” by Franz Lehár: “Yours is my whole heart” on the front of the card.

The text Toni wrote, which was censured by the Army High Command, says: “Dearest Muckerle! All the best for the New Year. I only wish for one thing which is being together again very soon. Kisses, yours Toni”

BRITISH WORLD WAR II INTERNMENT CAMPS FOR ENEMY ALIENS ON THE ISLE OF MAN: HUTCHINSON INTERNMENT CAMP

Agi and Norbert at their wedding in Vienna

The husband of Agi, Norbert, an excellent Austrian football player, managed a last-minute escape to England with the help of his sister-in-law, Käthe in a domestic household. Unfortunately as a fit young “enemy alien” he was considered a threat to British military security and interned on the Isle of Man after the outbreak of World War II.

Norbert Katz as a young man

What were possible escape routes out of Austria? As a reaction to the threats against Jews in Germany and Austria and the resulting refugee crisis the US President Roosevelt initiated an international conference on the refugee problem out of Germany. From 6 to 14 July 1938 the Conference of Evian took place in Evian-les-Bains in France. Representatives of 23 countries took part. To allay fears that the United States would demand great concessions, the invited nations were told that no country would be expected to receive a greater number of emigrants than was permitted by its existing legislation and all new programmes would be financed by private agencies and not public monies. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate the emigration of political refugees from Germany and Austria, not Jews. Despite extensive media coverage the conference ended without achieving significant results. On the contrary, the participating countries stated that they would on no accounts change their existing refugee policies. Representatives of the threatened Jewish communities were deeply disappointed by the results. The governments that participated were still unwilling to solve the problem and fell back on palliatives. The more difficult the tasks became, the smaller their will to deal with them efficiently. An Intergovernmental Committee, headquartered in London, was established to improve coordination, but it was still in a preliminary stage of development when the war broke out.

“KINDERTRANSPORTS” FROM VIENNA TO GREAT BRITAIN 1938/1939

Agi with her twins, Susi and Josi

Agi Katz, the younger sister of my grandmother had found refuge in England as a maid in the household of her sister Käthe’s mistress, but she could not bring her two-year-old girl twins, Susi and Josi with her. Käthe had helped to organise from across the channel to have the girls transported via a “kindertransport” to England to Quaker foster families. Unfortunately the twins had to be separated not only from their mother, but also from each other, which caused serious and long-lasting emotional damage. They were reunited with their parents after the war. The family then decided to become British citizens and remain in the UK. In 1948 the Evening Standard printed a picture of the twins then aged 12, “Flowers at Victoria Station. 12-year-old twins Susan and Josephine Katz of Isleworth (Middlesex). They were waiting for their grandparents, septuagenarians Herr and Frau Ignaz Sobotka to arrive from Vienna for a holiday here.” (see below)

The twins, Susi and Josi, still in Vienna

With the permission of the British, Dutch and Swedish governments aid organisations in “Greater Germany” (Germany and the occupied territories) organised kindertransports in 1938 and 1939 on special trains to send endangered children west to safety. The children on board these trains left their parents and other family members at the railway stations of Prague, Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin, Leipzig, the free city of Danzig and the Polish city of Zbonszyn. Descriptions and eye witness reports abound of chaos, tears and the pain of the parents. The kindertransports from Austria took the train route through Germany via Cologne, over the border to the Netherlands, up to the Hook of Holland, across the North Sea by boat to dock at Harwich. Some of them were sent to London from there, others were transported to Dovercourt Bay, a holiday camp taken over to accommodate arriving youngsters. Newspaper reports describing the violence of the November pogroms prompted public sympathy and government action in the UK. The Times reported on 14 November 1938, “The position of Austria’s Jews is becoming daily more precarious… Although the more violent demonstrations have ceased the Nazis have prohibited non-Jewish stores, restaurants and cafés from selling to Jews. As no Jewish shops have been allowed to reopen the effect has been to reduce many Jews to a position dangerously near starvation.” The plight of children struck an especially resonant chord. Stories circulated in the UK about attacks against Jewish orphanages and children roaming the countryside on the verge of starvation.