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"Saxa loquuntur"

Saxa loquuntur, Vienna Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, newspaper article 1943
Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, No. 6, Vienna, February 12, 1943

In the initial years of Nazi rule, as with other aspects of Jewish life, Jewish newspapers found the space in which they operated increasingly shrinking. On the one hand, the Third Reich was an authoritarian dictatorship, with dire consequences visited upon anyone who criticized it or was opposed to it. On the other hand, being Jewish in Nazi Germany was becoming an increasingly untenable proposition, and as Jewish life itself was everywhere under assault, so were the Jewish newspapers. The Nazis had always railed against the "Jewish press," because they believed that the "Jewish conspiracy"—which they were convinced was driving world events, against the purported German and European "interests"—was insidiously spinning news for its own purposes, disseminating an anti-German message through the liberal press. Disproportionate numbers of Jewish journalists and editors, the consequence of an uneven, century-long process of Jewish emancipation in the German lands, allowed the Nazis to accuse the Jews of "running" the press in Germany. From the early years of their rule, in accordance with their strategy of removing Jews from civil service and other public positions, the Nazis thus stripped Jewish owners of their newspapers, and fired Jewish journalists and editors.

But what was to be done with the actual Jewish press? What was to be done with publications that were not German outlets supposedly infiltrated by the Jews, but newsletters, journals, and newspapers published by Jewish organizations—the press, that is, by the Jews and for the Jews? The Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens ("Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith"), the largest German Jewish organization, ran its own weekly, distributing it among hundreds of thousands of Jews in Germany. Even as it had to tone down its reporting—much of the pre-1933 reporting alerted its readers of Nazi antisemitism and related issues—the newspaper continued its run into the Nazi period, albeit under the cloud of regime censorship and intervention. It nevertheless strove to provide information and news that was pertinent and useful to its readership.

The Kristallnacht changed this radically. In the wake of the pogrom, the Nazis banned all Jewish newspapers and seized their assets. Simultaneously, the Nazi Propaganda Ministry mandated the founding of a single, Nazi-controlled Jewish information sheet, Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt ("The Jewish news journal"), published by the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland. The organization was set up and tightly controlled by Himmler's experts on anti-Jewish policy, and was, since September 1939, part of the SS-Reich Security Main Office.1 This "Jewish" newspaper would have a wholly different function than the pre-Kristallnacht Jewish press: while the latter negotiated the constraints of Jewish life in Nazi Germany and strove to provide its readership with information and news that was pertinent and useful to its readership, the new, Nazi-controlled publication was designed to convey the key points of Nazi policy and restrictions placed upon the Jews.

Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt was thus filled with ever-tightening Nazi regulations and orders pertaining to Jews and Jewish life in Germany, as well as reports and articles following the main thematic strands of current Nazi policy. Between 1938 and 1941, this meant Jewish emigration, and much space in the journal was devoted to information about possibilities of emigration, emigre stories and experiences, and related matters—this even in circumstances in which possibilities for Jewish emigration were clearly shrinking. The newspaper also featured a busy section of advertisements and notices, which inadvertently but poignantly testified to the dire situation in which the Jews found themselves. Doctors unable to practice medicine sold their medical instuments and tools; single men and women looked for other singles with visas and exit permits, hoping to marry them and flee; people leaving the country sold entire households for next to nothing.

The Nachrichtenblatt was published in Berlin, and was supervised directly by the Propaganda Ministry, which approved all articles and print items in advance of publication. In two former capitals of countries swallowed up by the Reich—Vienna and Prague—other Nazi agencies supervised the publication of two "local" issues along the same lines and with largely similar content. Over time, as the combined demographic consequences of emigration, and, later, deportation and genocide, shrunk the numbers of German Jews in the Reich, so did "their" journal shrink in size and frequency. By mid-1943, the publication of Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt ceased.2

A strange article in the very last issue of the Vienna Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, published in February 1943, stands as a sad tombstone of Austrian Jewry. Both a literal and a metaphorical walk among Jewish graves in the former capital of a mighty empire, the article recounts personal and communal tragedies and achievements of Jews in Vienna. In the short span of the article, entitled in Latin "The [tomb] stones speak" the anonymous author recounts, through individual but typical examples, the mass arrival of Jews in Vienna in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and references the high- and low points of their existence in the capital of the Habsburg empire: the October revolution of 1848, when sympathizers of the liberal Hungarian revolution conquered the streets of the capital and lynched the Emperor's ministers; and the economic crisis spurred by the collapse of 1873, when the investment bubble burst after years of bank speculation, ruining many middle-class Jews.

The mood of the article oddly (or perhaps not at all oddly?) coincides with the end of Jewish life in Nazi Vienna. By 1943, the Germans had deported most of the remaining Viennese Jews to their deaths in Poland; only Jews in hiding remained in the city.3

For more on the Reichsvereinigung, see Beate Meyer, A Fatal Balancing Act: The Dilemma of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, 1939-1945 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013).

For more details on the history of the newspaper, see Clemens Maier, "The Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, 1938-43" in Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon, and Chana Schütz, eds., Jews in Nazi Berlin: From Kristallnacht to Liberation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 100-21.

For some aspects of Holocaust history in Vienna (albeit focusing on Eichmann and the machinery of destruction), see Hans Safrian, Eichmann's Men (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009); and Doron Rabinovici, Eichmann's Jews: The Jewish Administration of Holocaust Vienna, 1938-1945 (Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2011).

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Saxa loquuntur

If stones could speak, they would sometimes have interesting things to tell us; it only comes down to listening to them properly. Whoever, for example, reads the inscriptions in old Jewish cemeteries with attentive eyes, will often be surprised by how, alongside many standard formulas, there are many biographical and culturally and historically intereresting details to be gleaned. Diverse are the fates of those who found their resting place in the Währinger Cemetery in Vienna. We are not only interested in the affluence of blessed financiers, whose monuments attest to now-faded glory, but also those who lived their lives in another fashion. The case of the Broda family is certainly a good example. In 1830, the head of this family, Isaias Broda from Nikolsburg,1 was found murdered at the age of 34, in the then-suburb of Wieden. Hardship and misfortune followed his surviving family and a few months later, a son was born named after the father, only to die three years later. The widow pulled herself through and raised their oldest son Baruch, who also died at the age of 23, and burdened by many tragedies, his mother followed, only 49 years old. Her tombstone shows, through beautiful Hebrew verses, the courage and soulfulness with which this woman took on the struggle until it laid her down.

As the victims of the battle against overpowering circumstances of the new and fast-paced life in the big city, one can find here a pretty high number of suicide cases, whose tombstone inscriptions differ from the others mostly only through the slightly greater brevity and through the particularly pronounced wish that the deceased will be forgiven for their sins. Many of these victims also, naturally, went through the crisis of the [eighteen] seventies. 

Interesting from an entirely different perspective are many wanderers, such as, for example, a man from the Steiermark region, by the name of Georg Abraham A., who was a haberdashery merchant and died in Vienna at the age 45, or the Jewish wife of a well-known Viennese chimney sweep, who was born in Burgenland. The Jewish martyrs of [the revolution of] March 1848 were not buried in the Währinger cemetery, but the graves of many victims of the street battles of October 1848 can be found here, along with those of a number of soldiers who died in the wars of the fifties and sixties. There are also a number of researchers and world travelers in this graveyard, for example the scholar Salomon Reinmann, who lived for many years in Cochinchina [French Vietnam] and carried out language studies with the natives there, or Captain Benjamin Solomon Spitzer, who as a child of the Pressburg2 Ghetto traveled at a young age to the new world and became a ship captain, in which capacity he sailed several times around the globe. During a visit to the old homeland, he died in Vienna. A third representative of this type was the doctor of the frigate "Novara," Dr. Eduard Schwarz, who took part in the well-known around-the-world sail and led the medical research part of the research mission.

The most shocking case is the fate of the father, who on the wedding day of his only daughter, while the guests were gathering under the chuppah3 at his Döblinger Villa, collapsed from a stroke. Something similar happened to a woman, who died suddenly beside the cradle of her grandchild, and on whose tombstone is proclaimed:

Called upon from afar, from motherly love, from faith in God,
she came with a joyous heart to see the child of her child;
but that long-awaited joy was not granted to her.
The child saw the light, and she parted to eternal peace.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, No. 6, Vienna, February 12, 1943
Date Created
February 12, 1943
Page(s) 1
Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt
Vienna, Austria
Vienna, Germany (historical)
Document Type Newspaper Article
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