Jews And The Cultural Life Of Fin De Siecle Vienna

Jews And The Cultural Life Of Fin De Siecle Vienna

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Jews And The Cultural Life Of Fin De Siecle Vienna


"Mythenbildung ist wie kristallisation in der gesattigten salzlosung: es wird dann im entscheidenden augenblick alles mythisch" Arthur Schnitzler (Buch der Freunde) (1)
Viennese Jews proportionally did have more representatives in the cultural sphere. This can be because they had the means, ways and opportunity to exploit their situation to pursue the arts. Steven Beller states quite unequivocally "Whether it be Freud, Schoenberg, Schnitzler or Wittgenstein, the number of individuals at the top level of Viennese culture - or rather that type of culture for which Vienna is today so famous - who are of at least partly Jewish descent is so large that it cannot be ignored." (2) And indeed it has not been ignored, rather it has been used to create myth.(3) with many of the authors who write on the Jews of fin-de-siecle Vienna depicting a golden age and of a homogenuous Jewish culture with a shared common identity.(4) Yet Ernst Gombrich recently controversially asserted, whilst giving a lecture on the topic of, "Fin de siecle Vienna and its Jewish Cultural influences", "I am of the opinion that the notion of Jewish Culture was, and is, an invention of Hitler and his forerunners and after-runners. (5) There is then a controversy centered around Jewishness which likewise examines the individual and their level of faith, secularisation or assimilation.(6) For indeed what at this time did it mean to be a Jew? What also was the Cultural life in this Vienna? (7)
Judaism is a religion. It is not a nationality. Nowadays Israel is synomonous with Judaism but there was no State of Israel in the 19th century and there was no holocaust in the 19th century. It is necessary to state this because they have both in their own ways changed our perceptions as to what it means to be a Jew. The Jews of Vienna despite being portrayed as a homogenous unit were in fact divided on many lines. There were firstly, major class divisions, also they had a myriad of political beliefs, they had as many nationalities as the empire and more, and even with regards religion there were differences, since even an assimilated, lapsed or aethistic Jew could still be regarded as a Jew. Throughout the history of the Habsburg Empire, Jews had been bankers to the Crown. Despite prejudice and restrictions on their movement and

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trade, privildeged Jews managed from the 18th century onwards to settle and prosper in Vienna (since only 179 "tolerated" families were allowed) (8) The Jewish emancipation of the mid 19th century; then brought an influx of immigrants and official acknowledgment of those whom had been living illegally. There was then, an established core of a rich priviledged educated elite with the means and a larger group of first generation Jews with a desire to participate culturally.

As Rozenblit has noted, despite Vienna having no ghetto, Jews did congregate in homogenous neighbourhoods (9) Viennese cosmpolitanism, obviously did not extend to whom they shared neighbours with, wealthy Jews were, however, attracted from all parts of the Empire and would often have a holiday home in Vienna so as to enjoy the culture and life of the capital. Aspiring artistes then would have the opportunity to procure Jewish patrons and customers for their works. Yet it must be considered that the patrons of Klimt, Wagner et al. were on the whole varied and on closer examination it is apparent that there were no Jewish patrons solely commissioning Jewish artistes to produce Jewish art. Rather there were patrons of both faiths who commisioned artistes of both faiths or none to produce Art.

There is an argument that Jews played a large role in cultural life since there were obstacles placed in front of them in many of the professions. This however is a moot point. It is true that in the so-called liberal-professions such as journalism and the theatre there was an overwhelming amount of Jews this could be because many Jews owned the theatre and the newspaper or it could have been the hostility to non-Jews to "putting their daughter on the stage"( 10). In spite of Emancipation there still remained restrictions on entry to the Civil Service, however many Jews with the talent and the desire to enter, merely assimilated and there was a sizeable number of these assimilated Jews within the Civil Service. (11) In business, wealthy Jews dominated the Viennese Stock Market and the Banking of Vienna,(12) however with the rise of anti-semitism by the end of the century they tended to have a lower profile, often having non-Jews as figureheads to deflect attention. The situation for other Jews was different, the merchants with their "open all hours" policy, typical of aspiring first generation immigrants, grated with standard Viennese practice, which although legal led to accusations of fraud and malpractice in the courts. (13) Yet, ultimately it did change the shopping culture of fin-de-siecle Vienna. The Jews who had newly arrived from the Shetl could be deprived of a livelihood with the continued existence of "closed shop" practices of the Viennese artisan's guilds. However, despite polemics against employing Jews and letting them have access to trade secrets, masters continued to employ willing and able Jews as apprentices and Jews were now entering the Christian professions.(14) For the majority of Jews in Vienna, however, life was hard and many were living below the poverty line. (15)This working class Jewish culture, of the Shetl and of the supernatural esoteric folk-tales handed down from generation to generation, were encouraged by Hasidism. This world of spirits and dybbuks (16) was in sharp contrast to the near secular world of the Shephardi Jews (17) and it is in this juxtaposition that many writers have seen one of the main reasons for this Jewish dynamism in the cultural sphere.

A more convincing argument for Jewish cultural involvment, is their near total absence from political representation. Indeed, Beller concludes that this resulted in "a fundamental fragility" ... that caused them to express "the predicament of the isolated individual in mass society". This is an interesting idea, which is persvasive yet ultimately goes against his main argument that the Jews of fin-de-siecle Vienna were a collective, joined together not only by faith, but by a shared culture that they created: he states "...that it was indeed its {Vienna's} Jews which made Vienna what it was in the realm of modern culture". (18) Ultimately his argument is perverse, using his paradigm, it would be possible to state that it was the French which made what Algeria was in the realm of modern culture. Tur-Sinai takes a more balanced approach and whilst noting Jewish achievement emphasises that they lived in a multi-faith pluralistic society. (19) Jews were associated with Liberalism, since the Conservatives, that is the Christian Socials were anti-semitic. With the success of the Christian Socials and the election of Leuger as Mayor (20) there was a crisis in Liberalism {21}, that Schorske takes as a major reason for increased Jewish participation in culture but according to Schorske it was not so much a Jewish culture but an aristocratic culture since the liberal bourgeoise was in decline and crisis.(22) Notable Jews refused public office for fear of putting their head above the parapet and quietly resided in their palaces is the standard argument. Yet those wealthy Jews continued to attend court, throw ostentatious parties, and attend opera and theatre in all their glory. It would be disingenious to say that Jews in high society , were isolated and lacked political clout, that their power lay behind the scenes does not mean that it did not exist. Many ordinary Jews were however disenchanted with the political process, since the majority of them were disenfranchised, because although over-represented, in the fields of business and culture; Jews were under-represented in home-ownership. This was important since one of the criteria for enfranchisement was homeownership, with the high rate of taxation on properties it meant that it was more profitable to invest capital elsewhere. It could be argued that the main reason for the crisis in Liberalism is the modern idea of apathy and general disinterest in politics, far from being "fragile" many Jews even voted for the Christian Socials, since they allied themselves more with the emerging nationalism rather than their faith despite its insidious anti-semitism.(23) Jews, like many people today in towns and cities saw little of benefit in the party politics of municipal government. Instead they succesfully looked to special interest groups such as sporting associotions{23a} and legal associations to promote the ideas of a social civil society with rights enshrined in Law (23b), whether ruled by the right or the left. Interestingly though "...official Vienna Jewry rejected Herzl's Zionism".{24}, however Rozenblit argues that the Zionists and Jewish Nationalists argued with the Viennese elite as to what defined Judaism.{25} McCagg however has it that Viennese Jewry seemed a normally self aware modern urban Jewry with a web of modern particpatory social charitable organisation holding it together. (26) With so many different people living in Austria the Christian Socials were a reaction to the extraordinary change that the city had went through in the last half of the ninteenth century: its development into a modern cosmopolitan city at the crossroads of Europe.

This then is the crux of my argument that the Jews were at the forefront of culture because they were cosmopolitan and were well placed to pick up the ideas of Post-Impressionism, the Pre-Raphelaites, William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh et. al. Away from the constraints of the Ghetto and the Shetl they were able to experiment, love, laugh, cry and indulge in the joyous cabaret of Viennese cafe-life, salons, and then wander alone to debauch in the dark nightlife of the metropolis. The Jewish tradition of medicine now turned to the mind, and with Freud a great practioner there was the beginnings of psycho-analysis, dreams in literature and nightmares in paintings. Yet they were not alone, for the "Elektra" of Strauss is just a much a product of fin-de-siecle Vienna as Schoenenberg. (27) The Jews still alligned themselves as to their country of origin and as they progressed socially disavowed themselves of Yiddish, and the clothing which so marked out their poorer more pious brothers in their faith.{28} Jews had had the benefit of a culture which esteemed learning and this was put to good use not only in literature, and journalism{29} but also in the practical arts and it is in the field of architecture that the dilemma between the traditional and modern is best seen between Sitte and Wagner who was alongwith other non-Jews commissioned to build on the Ringstrasse around the outskirts of the old historic Vienna. The Secessionist style was the pre-dominant style of fin-de-siecle architecture as well as in painting and the decorative arts. Schorske shows that in both public architecture and in private homes this Seccessionist style was one of modernity, utilitarian yet aesthetically pleasing. In this, it was not so much a Jewish phenomena but rather part of a wider international trend (30). Yet it could be argued that Jewish architects embraced cosmopolitanism since the architecture of their synagogues had incorporated also Moorish and Turkish designs especially in their interiors. (31)The quaint parochial paintings of mid-century were now replaced by more modern images.(32) And as Herman Broch has in Vienna as a city in crisis politically, emotionally and aesthetically, as portrayed by Herman Broch, there was much a Jew could relate to and then express{33} with especially Viennese Moderism having a large Jewish presence. (34)). Beller argues that there was a "Jewish tradition or influence" because of the sheer weight of numbers but unsatisfyingly he does not examine what they believed or what indeed was fin-de-siecle culture which ultimately was at odds with traditional Jewish culture. (35). Yet there is a continuity in Fin-de-siecle Viennese Culture, which Kann has alluded to and Janik has also hinted at {36}. This continuity could even be traced back to the court of Rudolf II whose high culture was also dominated by outsiders, humanism and a secular delight in the senses combined with a melancholy.

Fin-de-Siecle Vienna then was a cultural hothouse (37) and Jewry did play a large part in the arts , sciences, and society, this much is incontreveritible. Yet the mere listing of famous Jewish names and their achievments is in itself an unsatisfying answer. Some would have it that they were so succesful because they were part of a collective identity and common purpose shaped on the anvil of anti-semitism: cut off from other opportunity they then took to the arts as a form of expression as to their condition. However, Jews had advantages to fully participate in Viennese culture in having a large liberal, educated, middle class, who were largely unaffected by the anti-semitism so vividly depicted by Mark Twain. If anything Viennese society rather than being intolerant was remarkably tolerant, as any reading of novels, journals, and diaries would prove. Jews were in abundance because in Vienna there was opportunity; and talent from the all over the empire was attracted there precisely because of greater anti-semitism elsewhere and also to escape the shackles of ghetto life and the shetl, that would have never had tolerated a talent such as Kokoschka . For this Vienna was irreverent, modern, cosmopolitan , a metropolis filled with a humanism and a dark joie d'vivre that placed a high regard on aestheic values whilst at the same time challenging old moral standards especially that which had been previously taboo.

NOTES (1) quoted in Yates, W.E. Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal and the Austrian Theatre (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1992)

(2) Beller, Steven. Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,1990) Page 4

(3) Hobsbawm notes that the historical novelty of Israeli nationalism implies innovation that seeks to invent tradition.{1} I would be so bold as to say that the idea of a collective Jewish idea in the sphere of cultural activities in fin de siecle Vienna is one such "invented tradition" The myth "that the cultural flowering in Vienna was an essentially Jewish phenomenon."{2}: {1} Hobsbawm, Eric. Introduction: Inventing Traditions in Hosbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence The Invention of Tradition p13 {2}Beller, Steven. Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,1990)
(4) Typical of these is Berkley who espouses this golden age and argues that without the Jews Vienna was nothing. Berkley, Georg E. Vienna and its Jews: The Tragedy of its Success (Abt and Madison Books, 1988) There is also Zweig who believed the fin-de-siecle to be a golden age for jews {Wistrich, Robert S. The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph. The Littman Library, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990) p.1622}. Marsha L. Rozenblit has done a wonderful demographic study on the Jews of fin-de-siecle Vienna and she sees in the informal and formal Jewish networks a source for Jewish identity especially with the increased anti-semitism which was encouraged by the mayor, Lueger {Rozenblit, Marsha L. The Jews of Vienna, 1867-1914: Assimilation and Identity ( State University of New York Press, Albany, 1983) p147}. Likewise Pollack speaks of Jewish identity in the nineteenth century and mentions both Marxism and Zionism as providing a place for Jews to discover their collective identity {Pollack, Michael. Cultural Innovation and Social Identity in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna in Oxaal, I., Pollack, M. and Botz, G. eds. Jews, Anti-semitism and Culture in Vienna (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987)

(5)Gombrich, Ernst. The Visual Arts in Vienna circa 1900: Reflections on the Jewish Catastrophe. The Art Newspaper no.73 September 1997

(6) Janowski has critically analysed both Beller and Schorske and finds it difficult to accept their over-stressing the significance of Jews to both Liberalism and the Culture of Vienna Janowski, Maciej. Zydzi w Kulturze Fin De Siecle'u Kwartalnik Historyczny 1992 vol.99 no 1

(7) Vergo gives perhaps the most even-handed description of cultural life in Vienna in the biographies of various artists and architects of whom religion it seems plays either none or no significance to their art. Vergo, Peter. Art in Vienna 1898-1918: Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele and their contemporaries (Phaidon, London, 3rd edt. 1993)
(8)Papo, M. The Shephardi Community of Vienna in Fraenkel, Josef. ed. The Jews of Austria: Essays on their life, History and Destruction (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1967) P331

(9)Rozenblit, Marsha L. The Jews of Vienna, 1867-1914: Assimilation and Identity ( State University of New York Press, Albany, 1983)

(10) or could it have been that Jews were more talented ? see the popular song of the 1920s Dont put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington

(11)"Jews faced some pressures to convert or to declare themselves "without religion" if they aspired to upward economic and social mobility" Cohen, Gary B. Education and Middle Class Society in Imperial Austria 1848-1918 (Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indianna, 1996)p135

(12)McCagg, William O. Jr. A History of Habsburg Jews 1670-1918 (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1984) p196

(13) Berkley, Georg E. Vienna and its Jews: The Tragedy of its Success (Abt and Madison Books, 1988) page 80-81

(14)McCagg, William O. Jr. A History of Habsburg Jews 1670-1918 (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1984) P148 and also Boyer, John W. Political Radicalism in Late Imperial Vienna: Origins of the Christian Social Movement 1848-1897 ( The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1981) p55 Who notes that after 1859 it was free for Jews to enter nearly all of the trades of Vienna

(15)Henisch, M. Galician Jews in Vienna in(a) Beller, Steven. Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,1990) Page 4 and also in McCagg, William O. Jr. A History of Habsburg Jews 1670-1918 (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1984 p146

(16) This other-world has been best encapsulated in the novels and short stories of Isaac Bahevis Singer

(17)Papo, M. The Shephardi Community of Vienna in Fraenkel, Josef. ed. The Jews of Austria: Essays on their life, History and Destruction (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1967)
(18)Beller, Steven. Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,1990) p224

(19)Tur-Sinai, N. H. Viennese Jewry in Fraenkel, Josef. ed. The Jews of Austria: Essays on their life, History and Destruction (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1967)
(20) Geehr, Richard S. Karl Lueger: Mayor of Fin de Siecle Vienna (Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1990)

(21)Pollack has it that with Leuger came the end of Liberalism and the growth of anti-semitism {Pollack, Michael. Cultural Innovation and Social Identity in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna in Oxaal, I., Pollack, M. and Botz, G. eds. Jews, Anti-semitism and Culture in Vienna (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987) p63}
(22)Beller, Steven. Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,1990) P39

(23) Mark Twain during his stay in Vienna witnessed some anti-semitic incidents that inspired him to write satirically on the subject Twain, Mark. Concerning the Jews: From The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (Harper and brothers, New York, 1900)

(23a)Contrary to what you may believe, Jews despite being banned from the Wiener Sportklub managed to contribute something to the sporting life of Vienna by establishing at the turn of the century their own club known as the Hakoah sports club which enjoyed some success in the Vienna football championships and even once beat West Ham 5-0 Juhn, Erich. The Jewish Sports Movement in Austria in Fraenkel, Josef. ed. The Jews of Austria: Essays on their life, History and Destruction (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1967)
(23b)The founders of the Austrian school of law were Julius Glaser and Joseph Ungo whose law reports were the basis for all Austrian Lawyers. There was also Emil Steinbach and Julius Ofno who attempted to reform civil law in order to promote more social legislation. Yet these were only the most famous practioners of law, throughout the legal profession was dominated by Jews , who were highly respected for their work for example Josef von Kormla. Who was the professor of law at the University of Vienna and was given an honorary position in the upper chamber ( Herrenhaus) of the Imperial diet Fraenkel, Josef. ed. The Jews of Austria: Essays on their life, History and Destruction (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1967)p31

(24)Berkley, Georg E. Vienna and its Jews: The Tragedy of its Success (Abt and Madison Books, 1988)p198

(25)In this she perhaps over estimates the power and influence of Zionism and Jewish Nationalism of this time {Rozenblit, Marsha L. The Jews of Vienna, 1867-1914: Assimilation and Identity ( State University of New York Press, Albany, 1983)p175
(26)McCagg, William O. Jr. A History of Habsburg Jews 1670-1918 (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1984) P200

(27)Gradenwitz, Peter. Jews in Austrian Music in Fraenkel, Josef. ed. The Jews of Austria: Essays on their life, History and Destruction (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1967)
(28)Janik highlights the Austrian Jews dislike for East European Jews. Janik, Allan. Viennese Culture and the Jewish Self-Hatred Hypothesis: A Critique in Oxaal, I., Pollack, M. and Botz, G. eds. Jews, Anti-semitism and Culture in Vienna (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987) p81

(29) It is in journalism that perhaps the full extent of the impact on viennese culture and society can be seen: an interesting story is that of Bruckner the popular musician who when asked by the Emperor which honour he would like Bruckner replied by saying "Perhaps your majesty could put in a good word for me with Hanschok, so that he will stop writing such terrible things about me"Grunberger, Richard. Jews in Austrian Journalism in Fraenkel, Josef. ed. The Jews of Austria: Essays on their life, History and Destruction (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1967)p81

(30)Schorske, Carl E. De la Scene Publique a l' Espace Prive in Clair, Jean Vienne 1880-1938 L'Apocalypse Joyeuse (The Pomidou Centre, Paris 1986)

(31)Papo, M. The Shephardi Community of Vienna in Fraenkel, Josef. ed. The Jews of Austria: Essays on their life, History and Destruction (Valentine Mitchell, London, 1967)
(32)Hoffman illustrates the quite startling change of style from Romako to Kokoschka but also illustrates the change within Klimt whose paintings of the same subject are completely different as he absorbs the temperament of the fin-de-siecle Hofmann, Werner. La Mort dans la Peinture Autrichienne in Clair, Jean Vienne 1880-1938 L'Apocalypse Joyeuse (The Pomidou Centre, Paris 1986)

(33)Wistrich, Robert S. The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph. The Littman Library, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990) p623

(34)Beller, Steven Class, Culture and the Jews of Vienna, 1900 in Oxaal, I., Pollack, M. and Botz, G. eds. Jews, Anti-semitism and Culture in Vienna (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987) p43

(35)Beller, Steven Class, Culture and the Jews of Vienna, 1900 in Oxaal, I., Pollack, M. and Botz, G. eds. Jews, Anti-semitism and Culture in Vienna (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987)p58

(36) Janik, Allan. Viennese Culture and the Jewish Self-Hatred Hypothesis: A Critique in Oxaal, I., Pollack, M. and Botz, G. eds. Jews, Anti-semitism and Culture in Vienna (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987)
(37)Schorske, Carl E. Cultural Hothouse New York Review of Books, December 11, 1975

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