“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.

EASTERN JEWS

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.” …