In 1938, that year of Anschluss, Adolf Hitler promised that he would “give a proper setting” to the pearl that was Vienna. He remade the city indeed, writes Vienna native and now American journalist Weyr, but with far from lustrous results.
Vienna, Hitler and company knew, was a great Jewish center: Before the Annexation, Adolf Eichmann’s euphemistically named Central Office for Jewish Emigration estimated that “175,000 religious Jews had lived in ‘totally Jew-infested’ Vienna and at least another 120,000 ‘Nuremberg’ Jews—agnostics, atheists, or Christians but who could not muster the requisite number of Aryan grandparents.” One of the earliest acts of the new regime after Nazi Germany annexed Austria was to remove Jews from the city’s newspapers and other media so as to “get the Nazi message out to the world from day one.” Jews in other walks of life quickly followed. The Nazis, Weyr (Hispanic U.S.A., 1988, etc.) writes, also introduced sweeping changes to remake other aspects of Viennese life; for instance, the government decertified Catholic schools, cut support to churches, required religious teaching to be done in accordance with National Socialist dogma and exerted pressure on Catholics—who had tended toward the right wing, but a decidedly Austrian one—to leave the church. The anti-Catholic campaign was far less successful than the anti-Jewish one, Weyr documents, but it had far-reaching consequences. So, too, did Hitler’s determination that Vienna take second place to Berlin, which had been something of a backwater by comparison; with the removal of Jews from its cultural life, and thus the destruction of so much of its culture, Vienna became ever more provincial. Weyr cites his journalist father’s return to the city after the war, “appalled by what he found”: Though the non-Jewish people had the same names, they now looked “Alpine-Nordic” and “spoke a foreign language from which the magic of the Viennese dialect had totally disappeared.”
Vienna remains provincial and unimportant, Weyr writes, and “the city’s culture in the twenty-first century is all in the past,” another victim of a tragic time. A solid, well-written history of a city undone.