Tucked away inside Vienna’s old town is the Jewish Museum, a centre of art, culture and history that pays testament to the important role played by the Jewish community in the city’s past and present development.
Equally, the museum offers deeply thought-provoking insights into the Jewish experience and the struggle against antisemitism
- Documents the history of the Jewish community in Vienna
- Also features regular temporary exhibitions
- Permanent “Our City!” exhibition is a real eye-opener
- €12 for adults (free entry with the Vienna Pass. Fast-track tickets available online*.)
- Notable current exhibitions:
- Arik Brauer (until Oct 2019)
- Lily Renée, Bil Spira & Paul Peter Porges (until Nov 2019)
- See also: The Holocaust Memorial
What’s the Jewish Museum?
The Jewish Museum explores the history of the Jewish people in Austria and, more importantly, the relationship between the two.
In doing so, the museum is a paradox for a non-Jew like me. The displays are at once shocking and not shocking enough. Celebratory and reaffirming, but also terrifying and depressing. I’ll explain what I mean in my review below of the permanent exhibitions.
The museum is actually split across two sites. The main one on Dorotheergasse (see photo above) houses the permanent collections, with space for regular temporary exhibitions.
The site on Judenplatz hosts temporary exhibitions, but is also home to the remains of a medieval synagogue destroyed by the Viennese in the first major expulsion and murder of Jewish people in the 15th century.
Both sites have a history of their own.
The Dorotheergasse address is Palais Eskeles, an aristocratic townhouse that traces its roots back to the early 15th century and beyond.
The Judenplatz address is the Misrachihaus, which has its origins in the middle
The permanent displays
There are various permanent installations and displays, but the main ones are:
The ground and second floors of the main museum deal with the history of the Jewish community in Vienna.
The first half tackles the rebuilding of this community after WWII. The second with the time before, particularly the role played by Jews in Viennese life and the three great periods of often violent and deadly expulsion in 1421, 1670 and the time of the Nazis.
The museum itself seems to walk a pragmatic line between expressing justified outrage and recognising the delicacy required when working within a society that is, perhaps, unwilling to face the whole truth.
The photos, documents and day-to-day items do not make easy viewing. But not in the sense you might imagine. The “horror” of oppression, racism, and, at times, genocide is never graphical but implied.
This horror lives in the throwaway remarks of post-WWII politicians, the insidiousness of anti-semitic media images, the initial reluctance to officially accept Austrian complicity in the Holocaust, the careful graphics of Nazi administrators as they describe Jewish emigration, the casual use of Jewish caricatures in 19th-century walking sticks, and in society’s willingness to value the music and science, but reject the Jewish musicians and scientists who produced it. Freud, for example, fled Vienna in 1938.
And then, among the negativity, there is the expression of Jewish community and achievement, the optimism of family and community life…indeed, the normality of family and community life, even in challenging circumstances.
When I left, I wondered if the exhibition was too gentle, too easy on the guilty: there are no images of concentration camp victims, for example. But that would, I imagine, be too personal for many visitors, and the message comes across, indirectly, anyway. Besides, in the end, the dominant theme is resilience.
It is a thought-provoking experience.
The Judenplatz site takes you underground to the remains of the synagogue burnt down in the 1421 destruction of the Jewish community in Vienna. It’s actually under the Holocaust memorial pictured below.
The rooms leading to the excavation site feature a virtual tour through medieval Jewish life in Vienna, as well as items rescued from the diggings: coins, pottery and similar. There’s also a rather nice wooden model of Vienna around 1420. It’s…cough… a little smaller than today’s city, with one or two fewer buildings of note.
Tickets & visitor information
If you buy a ticket at one site, it’s valid for the other site, too, for four days after purchase. At the time of writing, a standard adult ticket cost €12, with concessions, free entry for children, and tickets available online*. The Vienna Pass sightseeing pass gets you in for free.
Excepting some Jewish holidays, the museum opens Sunday to Friday, 10 am to 6 pm, whereby the Judenplatz site closes early on Fridays (at 2 pm).
As always, check locally for up-to-date info.
- Multimedia guides are available at the main site (audioguide at Judenplatz)
- There’s a supervised cloakroom at the main site and lockers at both sites
- All labels and overview texts are in both German and English
There’sa nice shop and a small café at the Dorotheergasse site. The former sells a better-class of souvenir as well as books, exhibition catalogues, crockery and clothing
How to get to the Jewish Museum
Alternatively, take bus 2A to “Plankengasse” or either the 2A or 1A to “Habsburgergasse”.
Address: Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna | Website
The 1A and 3A bus have a stop nearby (“Schwertgasse”). It’s also just a short walk away from three subway stations:
- Schottentor: U2 (and also the 1, 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 and 71 trams)
- Herrengasse: U3
- Stephansplatz: U1 and U3
Be sure to drift through the square outside, whose buildings date back to the time of Mozart (who actually lived on the square, albeit in a house that has since been torn down. Music really is everywhere in this city).
Address: Judenplatz 8, 1010 Vienna | Website