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Franz Joseph I

(1830 - 1916)

Franz Joseph I was Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, King of Bohemia and many others (see grand title of the Emperor of Austria) from December 2, 1848 until his death on November 21, 1916. From May 1, 1850 to August 24, 1866 he was also President of the German Confederation. He was the longest-reigning Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, as well as the third longest-reigning monarch of any country in European history, after Louis XIV of France and Johann II of Liechtenstein.

In December 1848, Emperor Ferdinand abdicated the throne at Olomouc as part of Ministerpräsident Felix zu Schwarzenberg's plan to end the Revolutions of 1848 in Hungary. This allowed Ferdinand's nephew Franz Joseph to accede to the throne. Largely considered to be a reactionary, Franz Joseph spent his early reign resisting constitutionalism in his domains. The Austrian Empire was forced to cede its influence over Tuscany and most of its claim to Lombardy–Venetia to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, following the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859 and the Third Italian War of Independence in 1866. Although Franz Joseph ceded no territory to the Kingdom of Prussia after the Austrian defeat in the Austro-Prussian War, the Peace of Prague (August 23, 1866) settled the German question in favour of Prussia, which prevented the unification of Germany under the House of Habsburg (Großdeutsche Lösung).

Franz Joseph was troubled by nationalism during his entire reign. He concluded the Ausgleich of 1867, which granted greater autonomy to Hungary, hence transforming the Austrian Empire into the Austro-Hungarian Empire under his dual monarchy. His domains were then ruled peacefully for the next 45 years, although Franz Joseph personally suffered the tragedies of the execution of his brother Maximilian in 1867, the suicide of his only son and heir, Crown Prince Rudolf, in 1889, and the assassination of his wife, Empress Elisabeth, in 1898.

After the Austro-Prussian War, Austria-Hungary turned its attention to the Balkans, which was a hotspot of international tension due to conflicting interests with the Russian Empire. The Bosnian crisis was a result of Franz Joseph's annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, which had been occupied by his troops since the Congress of Berlin (1878). On June 28, 1914, the assassination of his nephew Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo resulted in Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against the Kingdom of Serbia, which was Russia's ally. This activated a system of alliances which resulted in World War I. Franz Joseph died on November 21, 1916, after ruling his domains for almost 68 years. He was succeeded by his grandnephew Charles.

Jewish Life

After the period of the religious fanaticism towards the Jewish population of the region, a period of relative tolerance began towards the Jewish population which was less noticeable during the reign of Maria Theresa of Austria, and its peak was during the reign of Franz Joseph I of Austria, which was very liked by the Jewish population.

Between 1848 and 1938, the Jewish Austrian population enjoyed a period of prosperity beginning with the start of regime of Franz Joseph I of Austria as the Emperor of the Austria–Hungary Empire, and dissolved gradually after the death of the emperor up to the annexation of Austria to Germany by the Nazis, a process that led to the start of the Holocaust in Austria.

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria bestowed on the Jewish population equal rights, saying the civil rights and the country's policy is not contingent in the people's religion. The emperor was well liked by the Jewish population, which, as a token of appreciation, wrote prayers and songs about him that were printed in Jewish prayer books. In 1849 the emperor canceled the prohibition against the Jewish population organizing within the community, and in 1852 new regulations of the Jewish community were set. In 1867 the Jewish population formally received full equal rights.

In 1869 the emperor visited Jerusalem and was greeted in great admiration by the Jewish population there. The emperor established a fund aimed at financing the establishment of Jewish institutions and in addition established the Talmudic school for rabbis in Budapest. During the 1890s several Jews were elected to the Austrian parliament.

During the regime of Franz Joseph and after, Austria's Jewish population contributed greatly to Austrian culture despite their small percentage in the population. Contributions came from Jewish lawyers, journalists (among them Theodor Herzl), authors, playwrights, poets, doctors, bankers, businessmen and artists. Vienna became a cultural Jewish center, and became a center of education, culture and Zionism. Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, studied in the University of Vienna, and was the editor of the feuilleton of the Neue Freie Presse, a very influential newspaper at that time. Another Jew, Felix Salten, succeeded Herzl as the editor of the feuilleton.

Other notable influential Jews contributing greatly to Austrian culture included composers Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, and the authors Stefan Zweig, Arthur Schnitzler, Karl Kraus, Elias Canetti, Joseph Roth, Vicki Baum and the doctors Sigmund Freud, Viktor Frankl and Alfred Adler, the philosophers Martin Buber, Karl Popper, and many others.

The prosperity period also affected the sports field: the Jewish sports club Hakoah Vienna was established in 1909 and excelled in football, swimming and athletics.

With Jewish prosperity and equality, several Jewish scholars converted to Christianity in a desire to assimilate into Austrian society. Among them were Karl Kraus and Otto Weininger.

During this period, Vienna elected an antisemitic mayor, Karl Lueger. The emperor, Franz Joseph, was opposed to the appointment, but after Lueger was elected three consecutive times, the emperor was compelled to accept his election according to the regulations. During the period of his authority Lueger removed Jews from positions in the city administration and forbade them from working in the factories located in Vienna until his death in 1910.

The intertwining of the Jewish population and the attitude of the emperor towards them could also be seen in of the general state of the empire. From the middle of the 19th century there started to be a lot of pressures from the different nationals living in multinational House of Habsburg empire: the national minorities (such as the Hungarians, Czechs and Croatians) began demanding more and more collective rights; among German speakers, many started feeling more connected to Germany, which was strengthening. Under these circumstances, the Jewish population was especially notable for their loyalty to the empire and their admiration of the emperor.

Circa 1918, two years after Franz Joseph I's death, about 300,000 Jews in Austria were scattered in 33 different settlements. Most of them (about 200,000) lived in the capital city of Vienna.

Sources: History of the Jews in Austria, Wikipedia;
Franz Joseph I of Austria, Wikipedia;