“EVERY VIENNESE HAS A BOHEMIAN GRANDMOTHER“: BOHEMIAN & MORAVIAN JEWS IN THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE

The gravestones of Josef Weiss, medical doctor, and Agnes Weiss, his wife, my great-great grandparents, Eywanowitz (Ivanovice na Hane)

„Every Viennese has a Bohemian grandmother”, this popular Viennese saying is partly true for me as well, but she was a Moravian and not a Bohemian grandmother because Lola was born in Eywanowitz (today Ivanovice na Hane) in Moravia in 1902 as the second daughter of Leopoldine, née Weiss, and Ignaz Sobotka, a beer brewer. Soon after her birth the family moved to Vienna because Ignaz started to work for the brewery in Kaiser Ebersdorf. She did not speak any Czech, but told me some lines of Czech nursery rhymes she still remembered and she spent her childhood holidays at the house of relatives in Znaim (Znojmo). In 2015 I visited for the first time the little village of Eywanowitz and saw the church, the castle and the brewery. In 2017 I discovered, to my great surprise, a Jewish cemetery that was preserved between a petrol station and a sewage treatment facility on the outskirts of the village and accessible to the public. To my even greater astonishment I spotted among the graves the well-preserved gravestones of my great great-grandparents Josef Weiss, general practitioner, who died in 1901, and Agnes Weiss, his wife, who died in 1902.

Jewish cemetery in Eywanowitz

In the 16th century larger Jewish communities existed already in Moravia, contrary to the Habsburg lands, for instance in Nikolsburg (Mikulov) Trebitsch (Trebic) and Proßnitz (Prostejov). The Jews had been expelled from the imperial cities at the end of the 15th century and mostly lived on the estates of the landed nobility in smaller villages. The Bohemian capital city of Prague hosted the biggest Jewish community, next to Frankfurt, of Ashkenazi Jews. Those were Jews who had originally settled along the Rhine River in Western Germany and Northern France and continually moved eastward out of the Holy Roman Empire in the late Middle Ages in the wake of pogroms. But the majority of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia lived in small villages dispersed across the countryside. After the pogrom of Vienna of 1670 many Viennese Jews fled to Bohemia and Moravia, but also to Hungary where they could settle on the estates of the Hungarian nobility, like the Counts Palffy. The majority of Hungarian Jews lived in the part of Hungary that was still under Osman rule which can be explained by the more tolerant religious policy of the Osman Empire which guaranteed relatively better legal security for Jews than in the Habsburg lands.

VIENNA, THE MELTING POT OF CENTRAL EUROPE

Crest of the Ephrussis, migrated to Vienna from Russia

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution Vienna had the largest multi-ethnic immigration of all European big cities. in 1880 65 % of the population were not born there and in 1910 the share was still 51 %. The famous Ringstrassen buildings can act as a symbol for this multi-ethnic climate. They were built by architects from different nationalities, constructed by workers and craftsmen who had immigrated to Vienna from all parts of the empire and were partly inhabited by first and second generations of immigrated industrialists of the Ringstrassen era. These architects built similar representative buildings in all the big cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and this architectural heritage can still be seen in many cities of the Danube region, restored to new splendour after 1989.…

IDENTITY CRISES AND ASSIMILATION

The Austro-Hungarian Empire in those days was characterised by ambivalence: on the one hand the multi-lingual international aspect, on the other hand increasing nationalism. This atmosphere formed the basis for the famous cultural climate that produced outstanding artistic, philosophic and scientific results. These cultural and political clashes, multiple identities and this special way of life created lots of contradictions that triggered innovative solutions. This atmosphere also produced the founders of national mass movements of the Jews and the Czechs: Theodor Herzl founded Zionism, Heinrich Füger and Miroslav Tyrs the sports club Sokol, the centre of the Czech national movement.…

MINORITIES IN THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE

Not only the Jewish population but all national minorities had to cope with the pressure from the majority population, mostly the German- or Hungarian-speaking majority. Since the 1880s politics and everyday life were dominated by nationalism and nationalistic conflicts in Central Europe. Yet the multinational dynastic Habsburg Empire continued to exist and to make administrative efforts to protect all peoples and religions. All the bigger minority groups in the cities had developed an infra-structural network. In Vienna there were dozens of Jewish and Czech associations, Jewish newspapers, a Hungarian and a Croatian newspaper and several Czech newspapers. Furthermore there were several national mutual loan societies (Kreditgenossenschaften), a Czech private school system, a Polish school, Jewish Thora schools, many charities to support even small communities of emigrants from small rural regions and villages. These societies, associations, clubs and charities compensated for the dispersed living conditions as the minorities in the crammed 2-million capital could not crowd together in special areas. …

A COMPARISON OF THE TRANSFORMATION OF BANKING AND INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT IN CEE IN THE 1890s & THE 1990s

Trieste, maritime trading centre of the Habsburg Empire

Close ties of banks with the industry of the Austro-Hungarian Empire can be identified, yet a leading role of banks in the industrialisation process cannot be seen. On the contrary, Austrian banks were for years averse to industrial promotion in the 19th century. The caution which pervaded the banking circles in Austria and the Czech Lands was evident in the general lack of risk capital, and in the preference for participating in or granting extended credit to only the booming enterprises. The caution and the lack of entrepreneurial spirit of the banks can be seen from the fact that in the periods of economic expansion the banks lagged behind with their investments. So industrial development was not triggered by investments of banks, but was preceded by private investment or an expansion of government programmes such as railroads. This was not only true for Austrian and Czech, but also for Hungarian banks. Yet despite the fact that economic development was not bank-led in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the banks did fulfil the important role of providing financial intermediation services. The widespread development of banking services, such as credit on current account, open book advances, and discount of bills, were the main contribution of banks to industrial development. They were very efficient in mobilising capital.…

CENTRAL EUROPEAN INTERCULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS: “K & K KAKANIEN”

Central European architecture: Prague, Czech Republic

A question to be asked is whether the historical and cultural entity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Danube basin and special cultural relationships of the past in any way promoted the expansion of Austrian banks, insurances and other businesses in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe after 1989.
Robert Musil sarcastically describes in his famous novel “The Man Without Qualities“ the disintegration of Austrian hierarchical society and liberal-rational culture: “Kakania”. “Kakania was the first country at the present stage of development, from which God had withdrawn all credit, all love of life, all belief in itself and the capacity of all cultural nations to spread the useful imagination that they had a task to fullfill.” This Kakania is at the same time a model of an intellectual concept of Central Europe – more imaginary than a real geographically and historically defined area – today. Again Robert Musil: “…after having taken stock of the bulk of Central European ideas, he found out, not only to his regret, that it consisted only of contradictions, but to his astonishment he also realised that these contradictions are melting into each other when you look at them carefully.” “People who were not born then,” wrote Musil about the Austrian fin-de-siècle , “ will find it difficult to believe, but the fact is that even then time was moving faster than a cavalry camel…. But in those days, no one knew what it was moving towards; nor could anyone quite distinguish between what was above and what was below, between what was moving forward and what backward.”…