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Graz, Austria

Graz is the capital of Styria, considered one of the oldest Jewish settlements in Austria. Although a gravestone, excavated in 1577 and erroneously dated to 70 B.C.E., long led to the belief that the community was much older, adjacent Judendorf was recorded in documents dating from 1147. In Graz itself there is reliable evidence of the presence of Jews only in the last decades of the 13th century. At that time they made their living mostly through moneylending, particularly to the local nobility.

By 1398, a community had come into existence, located in a Jewish quarter, headed by a Judenmeister and a iudex Judaeorum, and possessing a synagogue and a mikveh. Though expelled in 1439, the Jews returned by 1447. After the expulsion of the Jews from Styria in 1496, together with the rest of Austrian Jewry, almost four centuries passed before there was again a formal settlement of Jews in the town. Only in 1783 were they permitted to attend the yearly trade fairs then held in Graz. Individual families with special permits were allowed to settle in Graz after 1848.

By 1863, a community had come into being and, in 1868, the demand for special permits was rescinded; at that time an official organization of the community took place. From then on the community grew rapidly, partly because of economic factors. It numbered 566 in 1869 (0.7% of the total population), 1,238 in 1890, and 1,720 (1.1%) in 1934.

The community was able to finance its activities not only through the imposition of taxes on the Jews of Styria but on those of Carinthia and Carniola as well. Soon after its formal organization, a primary school was founded.

By 1892, a large school was built; in 1895 an impressive synagogue was dedicated. The anti-Zionism of Graz’s communal leaders was pronounced, but a large influx of refugees from Eastern Europe in the wake of World War I strengthened the Zionist movement considerably and, in 1919, the Zionists gained a majority in the community. The Jews in Graz were socially segregated, and in the later 1930s Graz was a center of Austrian National Socialism (known as the capital of the insurrection after 1938).

Immediately after the Anschluss (March 12, 1938), the Jewish cemetery was desecrated. The members of the community board were arrested and released only after prolonged negotiation. Local functionaries were anxious to make Graz the first town to be Judenrein. On the initiative of the head of the Jewish community, Elijah Gruenschlag, Adolf Eichmann agreed to the transfer of 5,000,000 marks to facilitate the emigration of 600 Jews to Palestine, but the events of Nov. 10, 1938, put an end to the project. On the night of Nov. 9–10 (Kristallnacht), the synagogue was dynamited and burned to the ground. More than 300 Jews were taken to Dachau concentration camp, to be released in April 1939. Of the 1,600 Jews in Graz on Kristallnacht, 417 emigrated. In June 1939, only 300 were still in the city; most were sent to Vienna and then to the death camps.

After World War II, 110 Jews settled in Graz. There were 420 in 1949 and 286 in 1950. A small synagogue in a communal center built on the site of the synagogue ruins was consecrated in 1968. A Jewish community of fewer than 100 members remained at the beginning of the 21st century. A new synagogue on the site of the one destroyed on Kristallnacht was consecrated in 2000.

The historian David Herzog was rabbi of Graz (1908–38), and the Nobel Prize laureate Otto Loewi taught pharmacology at Graz University from 1909 to 1938. Wilhelm Fischer-Graz (1846–1932), a writer popular at the time for many novels, mainly set in the town itself or in Styria, worked in Graz as a librarian.


J.E. Scherer, Die Rechtsverhaeltnisse der Juden… (1901), 455–517; E. Baumgarten, Die Juden in Steiermark (1903), passim; A. Rosenberg, Beitraege zur Geschichte der Juden in Steiermark (1914), index; D. Herzog, Die juedischen Friedhoefe in Graz (1937); idem, in: MGWJ, 72 (1928), 159–67, 327; 75 (1931), 30–47; idem, in: ZGJT, 3 (1933), 172–90; F. Popelka, Geschichte der Stadt Graz, 2 (1935), 332–44; Rosenkranz, in: Yad Vashem Bulletin, 14 (1964), 40–41; Schwarz, in: J. Fraenkel (ed.), The Jews of Austria (1967), 391–4; Kosch, in: Zeitschrift des Historischen Vereines fuer Steiermark, 59 (1968), 33–43; Germ Jud, 1 (1963), 119; 2 (1968), 300–2; K. Hruby, in: Judaica, 25 (1969), 179–81; PK Germanyah.

[Meir Lamed]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.