- Die Grabstätten meiner Väter: Die jüdischen Friedhöfe in Wien by Tim Corbett
Vienna has a special relationship with its cemeteries, as immortalized in Wolfgang Ambros's 1975 pop song "Es lebe der Zentralfriedhof." This becomes even more significant in the case of Vienna's Jewish cemeteries, which are places of memory and reminders of a once vibrant and large Jewish community before the Holocaust, as well as markers of the Holocaust, and they illustrate the challenges of a diminishingly small Jewish community after 1945 that has struggled to take care of this heritage. Tim Corbett's meticulously researched and extensive volume on Vienna's Jewish cemeteries is more than just a study of the cemeteries, delving deep into the history of Viennese Jewry and thereby provides a history of Vienna's Israelitische Kultusgemeinde as well.
The Jewish cemeteries are markers of Jewish identity and how this was and is constructed, specifically in the Viennese context. Across Central and Eastern Europe, the design of the headstone at a Jewish cemetery indicates a [End Page 158] lot about the level of religious observance and/or assimilation to the majority culture. Corbett starts his book with a reference to Arthur Schnitzler's Ehrengrab at the Zentralfriedhof's Tor 1. Corbett describes this space as a "sozial- und kulturhistorisch bedeutsamer Raum," (23) which indeed it is, and his first chapter focuses on Jewish spaces and cultures. Cemeteries are important to the Jewish faith, and Corbett situates this tradition within the Viennese context, also detailing the history of the Chewra Kadischa (sacred burial society).
Probably one of the most fascinating historical Jewish sites in Vienna today is the cemetery in the Ninth District's Seegasse, which can only be accessed through the lobby of an old-age home, but whose history goes back to the second half of the sixteenth century and was closed in 1783. Corbett examines this in the third chapter of the book, drawing parallels to the Christian Sepulkralepigraphik on the headstones in Vienna's Stephansfreithof, some of which are still preserved in St. Stephen's Cathedral today.
In the fourth chapter, Corbett examines the establishment of the Jewish Community as the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde, which was a long historical process starting with Emperor Joseph II's tolerance patents in the 1780s until the official founding of the Kultusgemeinde in 1890, a direct result of the Israelitengesetz (205). In this chapter, the author also examines the Jewish Währinger Friedhof, which still exists today, though a section of it was demolished by the Nazis. Today the Währinger Friedhof can only be visited with a rarely offered guided tour. This cemetery was marked by "Die Neomanie des 19. Jahrhunderts—Neoklassizismus, Neorenaissance, Neugotik" (219). Corbett compares this Jewish cemetery with the Christian St. Marxer Kommunalfriedhof, which existed roughly during the same time, from the 1780s to the closing in 1874, with the establishment of the Zentralfriedhof.
The Zentralfriedhof was established in the 1860s, and more than three million people have been buried there since, thus about twice of the city's living population today. The founding of the first Jewish section at the Zentralfriedhof's Tor 1 provides at the subject for the fifth chapter. At Tor 1, a monumental Jewish ceremonial hall stood from 1879 until the destruction by the Nazis in 1938. This was the period in which Vienna's Jewish community grew the most. Indeed, the Jewish community was growing so quickly that the establishment of another section, Tor 4 at the southern end of the cemetery, became necessary by 1912, and Tor 4 was thus constructed during [End Page 159] World War I in 1917. Unlike Tor 1, the Kultusgemeinde gained the rights to run the Tor 4 section autonomously. The ceremony hall was completed in 1926, destroyed by the Nazis in 1938, and finally restored and rededicated in 1967; it is still in use today as Tor 4 is the currently active Jewish cemetery in Vienna. This is a complex history in itself, as Tor 1 remained active in...