Salzburg has a rich Jewish heritage that goes back very far in history. Jewish people were reported to arrive in Salzburg at the days of the Roman Empire, when the city at the location of today’s Salzburg was called “Iuvavum.”
After the withdrawal of the Romans, and the decay of Iuvavum, Salzburg was re-founded in the 8th century. Bishop Arno of Salzburg (785-871), who was a friend and advisor to Emperor Charlemagne, was treated by a Jewish doctor – this record of a “medicum iudaicum” is the oldest for Jews in Salzburg in post-Roman times.
Documents from the 12th century refer to the “Judengasse,” the “alley of the Jews.” This alley is an extension of the world-famous Getreidegasse and near the cathedral. A busy shopping street, it is still one of the central attractions in Salzburg. The house in the Judengasse 15 was referred to as a house of prayer and a synagogue in a record from 1370. Later, it became the site for the pub “Höllbräu” and today hosts a 5-star hotel.
In late medieval times, Jewish people in Salzburg had to face threats and pogroms. Under the rule of a Catholic Prince-Archbishop not overly pleased about non-Catholic residents of any kind, Jews were burnt near today’s Müllnerbräu in 1492 and were expelled from Salzburg and prevented from permanent settlement. This ban prevented the development of a Jewish community in Salzburg until 1868. In 1893, a synagogue was built in Lasserstraße 8, which still exists and is in use today. One year later, a Jewish cemetery was built in Aigen.
In 1885, Theodor Herzl – a Jewish Austrian lawyer, journalist and father of the Zionist movement – stayed in Salzburg as a trainee at Salzburg’s province court. He referred to Salzburg in a letter as a place at which he spent some of his happiest hours. However, he pointed out in the same letter, that there was a lot of anti-Semitism in Salzburg, which would make a longer stay impossible for him, as his career-prospects would be very restricted. In the late 1990's, a controversy arose over plans to erect a memorial plaque with the first part of Herzl’s quotation – the one that is somewhat flattering for Salzburg – but leaving out the criticism. After a lot of public involvement and media coverage, the memorial plaque finally included all of Herzl’s comment.
Not every Jew felt hostility in Salzburg. Many Jewish Austrians settled in Salzburg and actively contributed to the cultural and intellectual life of the city. The historian Adolf Altmann lived in Salzburg between 1907 and 1920 and published Geschichte der Juden in Stadt und Land Salzburg (A history of the Jews in the City and Province of Salzburg). Dramatist Max Reinhardt and poet Hugo von Hoffmannsthal played important roles in founding the Salzburg festival and shaped it in its earliest years. Writer and pacifist Stefan Zweig, one of the most important German-writing authors of the 20th century, lived in a villa on the Kapuzinerberg. In the early 1930's, the Zweig-Villa was a meeting point for Europe’s intelligentsia. Jewish German dramatist Carl Zuckmayer escaped to Austria in 1933 to live in his former holiday house in Henndorf, near Salzburg. For most of these people, the Salzburg Festival and its intellectual community was a binding force, causing invaluable cultural input to the life and development of the city.
In 1938, Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany, and Austria, with a significant Jewish core, had to face its darkest hour. Shortly after the annexation, Salzburg’s synagogue was destroyed. Jewish property in Salzburg – like elsewhere in Austria – was “Aryanised,” which normally meant that the Jewish owners were forced to sell all their possessions for a below-value amount. Stefan Zweig and his wife fled to Great Britain and later to South America. When they thought Europe was lost to Nazi terror, the couple committed suicide together. Zuckmayer escaped to Switzerland.
About 100,000 Jewish Austrians left the country, often leaving behind everything they had owned. About 70,000 Jewish Austrians were murdered in concentration camps. Approximately 375.000 people, about 5.5 percent of the nation’s population, were killed during the Holocaust and Second World War. About 70 percent of the casualties were soldiers serving in the Wehrmacht.
Salzburg’s Jewish community never recovered. The current Jewish population consists of only about 100 people. The synagogue at Lasserstraße 8 is in active use; services are held on Jewish holidays, Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.