A Jewish community existed in Vienna from medieval times, centered around Judenplatz where the city’s first synagogue was built. That was burnt down during an uprising in 1420, by which time the Jews controlled much of the city’s wealth. A second Jewish enclave grew up in Leopoldstadt in the 15th century and flourished until the 1930s; there were synagogues all over the city and the Jews were part of wealthy Viennese society. All that came to an abrupt end in 1938 with the Nazis marching in to the city, and many thousands of Jews fled Austria following the burning of their businesses and houses on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938.
Altogether 65,000 Viennese Jews died during World War II and the city’s Holocaust Memorial stands in Judenplatz, a controversial and austere white marble box that contrasts sharply with the ornate Baroque architecture that surrounds it. Designed in 2000 by British artist Rachel Whiteread, it is made of concrete and steel and recounts the names of the concentrations camps where Austrian Jews were murdered. The Museum Judenplatz is found alongside the memorial and provides a virtual tour through 900 years of Jewish history in Vienna. Coming full circle historically, it is built over the site of the synagogue that was destroyed back in 1420; its excavations form part of the exhibition.