Be strong and courageous! Jewish Youth Movements

With photos, documents and historical objects, “Be strong and courageous!” tells the story of Jewish youth movements. The organisations, which started up in the early 20th century, were part of a generalised social phenomenon. Originally, groups like the Wandervoegel and Scouts, founded in 1896 and 1906, respectively, espoused romanticised ‘back-to-nature’ ideals as a critical reaction to modernisation and urbanisation.

In many cases this evolved into a German ‘blood and soil’ nationalism with the exclusion of Jews from membership as a consequence. Jewish youth movements therefore created a ‘Jewish’ equivalent, albeit retaining many of the ideological elements of non-Jewish groups. Like Jewish life in the Diaspora as a whole, Jewish youth movements were of all political hues. The first Zionist group was Blau-Weiss, founded in Germany and Austria in 1912. Originally a middle-class and apolitical hiking movement, it gradually assimilated the ‘chalutz’ (pioneer) ethos. In 1916, Zierei Zion and Shomer, which had originated in Poland, developed into HaShomer HaZair in Vienna. This left-wing socialist movement served as a home from home for many poor Jewish adolescents. During the First World War and in the confusion that surrounded the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Vienna was flooded with Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. The cultural alienation, poverty and hostility of their surroundings created the ideal breeding ground for young Zionist movements.

The Holocaust put an end to all this, although youth movements were involved in all types of resistance, especially organising escape to Palestine. This exhibition pays special homage to Aaron Menczer as one of the guiding lights in post-1938 Vienna. Jewish survivors and refugees in Europe after the War were uprooted and traumatised. Youth groups were set up again in DP(displaced person) and refugee camps to give the young people there a sense of stability and identity and to encourage them to emigrate to Palestine. The first ‘ken’ (nest) was established in Vienna as early as 1949 as Jewish life gradually came back to Austria. The Jewish youth movements in Vienna today represent a continuation of an older tradition but also symbolise the new identity of young people in a modern society.

Curator: Naomi Lassar