Saturday, June 03, 2006

Friday, June 2nd, part 1

I just spent the last 30 minutes typing this post, only to have the machine lose the entire thing. I'm going to try again, but break it up into pieces, so I don't have to retype everything again.

After a good breakfast I went to St. Stephen's Cathedral. A typical gothic catholic church, but with one interesting feature: strange creatures carved into the bannister of the lecturn. They were frogs, turtles, and snakes, somehow representing the forces of good and evil in the world (don't ask me which were which). At the top, the small figure of a dog stood guard to prevent any of the evil ones from getting through.

Then I walked to the Judenplatz, where there were several memorials. This was the site of the original Jewish community in Vienna. In 1420, most of the community was expelled, except for those burned at the stake. The oldest existing house in the square was built in the 1490s by one Mr. Jordan, and a plaque from that time commemorates how just as the Jordan washed away the sins, so too did Vienna wash away the evil Jews.

Opposite it are two memorials. One is to the 18th-century German enlightener, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. He argued for the emancipation of the Jews and befriended the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. This statue was torn down by the Nazis, but was restored by the original artist about 20 years ago.

Across the square from it is the memorial to the Jews of Vienna murdered in the Holocaust. It is a tomb-shaped building, with the walls resembling the spines of books, and has the names of camps to which Viennese Jews were deported.

Behind it, in a small corner, is the other Jewish museum in Vienna, built on the site of the original Viennese synagogue. Unfortunately, it is closed today, because today is Shavuot. This means, it is very unlikely I will be able to visit the museum before I leave on Sunday for Budapest.

From there I went to the remaining synagogue in Vienna. It was the only one to survive Kristallnacht because it was built so close to the other apartment buildings that the Nazis feared the city would burn down if they set it on fire. I had been warned by my mother not to photograph it, but I could see several Viennese Jews making their way to Shavuot services.

Then I went to Leopoldstadt, site of the second Jewish community in Vienna. Founded in the 17th century on some marsh land next to the Danube, it was known colloquially as "matzah island." I tracked down the place that served as the center for the deportation of Viennese Jews to the death camps. The street is one of the center's of the current Jewish community. There are two kosher restaurants and one kosher grocery store (called "Kosherland"). Of course, all were closed.

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