When you think of Simon Wiesenthal and Mauthausen concentration camp, you don’t naturally think of coffee, cake and croissants. The Café As exhibition shows how the bright light of creativity and friendship can blossom in even the most trying of circumstances.
- Coffeehouse drawings and plans by Simon Wiesenthal
- Tells an implicit tale of survival and friendship
- Just needs a normal ticket for the Jewish Museum
- Runs May 29, 2019 – Jan 12, 2020
- See also: Events in Vienna
Wiesenthal’s coffeehouse designs
The name Simon Wiesenthal resonates with symbolism and meaning; a name associated with tireless efforts to bring those responsible for the holocaust to justice.
What fewer people know is that this icon of post-WWII history was a trained architect.
The Café As exhibition at the Dorotheergasse site of Vienna’s Jewish Museum combines these two aspects of Wiesenthal’s life by displaying the results of a friendship forged in the horrors of Mauthausen concentration camp in the last weeks of WWII.
Edmund Staniszewski was a political prisoner from Poland put to work in Mauthausen. He used a bureaucratic sleight of hand to keep Wiesenthal out of the gas chambers and also gave bread to his severely malnourished Jewish companion.
Staniszewski dreamt of opening a coffeehouse (“Café As”) after the war, and his friend offered to design the building for him.
Even while still at Mauthausen, Wiesenthal began sketching out ideas using pens and paper “borrowed” from the concentration camp’s offices. He worked on all aspects of the proposed café, much in the spirit of famous Viennese architects and designers like Wagner or Hoffmann, designing furniture, advertising, cake decorations, invitations, and even the uniforms of the waiting and kitchen staff.
In the weeks after the liberation of Mauthausen, Wiesenthal turned his sketches into dozens of detailed plans and drawings for Café As.
Staniszewski never did build his coffeehouse. But he kept Wiesenthal’s drawings, now owned by the Jewish Museum thanks to the support of the “US Friends of the Jewish Museum Vienna” and on display for us to admire.
Selected drawings form the bulk of the exhibition. There are 80 in the actual collection, which you can browse on a tablet. They invite us to wonder what might have been had Wiesenthal’s life taken a more innocent turn.
The drawings also provide us with another symbol of the triumph of perseverance, friendship and humanity in even the most difficult circumstances. And, frankly, Café As looks like it would have been a fine establishment.
The Café As exhibition also presents some biographical details and other examples of Wiesenthal’s talents with the pencil. For example:
- A section on his architecture studies that includes such exhibits as his 1932 student report card from the Czech Technical University in Prague
- Some of Wiesenthal’s sketches of Mauthausen. This includes the poignant “Transports”, where a giant skeletal SS officer swallows row after row of wagons full of people
- A look at his time immediately after the liberation of Mauthausen, where Wiesenthal worked with the US army’s Counter Intelligence Corp. This includes a sweet letter to his wife anticipating their reunion
Dates and tickets
Curated by Michaela Vocelka and supported by Raiffeisen and Uniqua, the Café As exhibition runs from Wednesday, May 29, 2019 to Sunday, January 12, 2020.
At the time of writing, the Jewish Museum opens daily bar Saturdays and selected Jewish holidays, from 10 am to 6 pm. You don’t need a special ticket, just a normal entrance ticket for the museum.
How to get to the exhibition
Subway: Stephansplatz station is closest on the U1 and U3 lines
Tram/bus: It’s not too far from the Oper/Karlsplatz or Burgring tram stops on the 1, 2, D, and 71 lines, and the 2A bus stops nearby (Plankengasse or Albertinaplatz), as does the 1A bus line (Habsburgergasse)
Address: Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna