“… I would like to be an Austrian”. Judaica from the Eisenberger Collection

The most important private collection of Judaica from the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was put together by Vera and Jenö Eisenberger. It forms the core of an archive that also includes Austrian art and contemporary Israeli art. The Jewish Museum Vienna is marking the start of its tenth anniversary by presenting outstanding items from the Judaica collection together with selected examples of modern Israeli art.

“We collect Austria” is the leitmotif behind the Eisenbergers’ collecting enthusiasm, driven by the couple’s attachment to their adopted home and their fascination with the Austro-Hungarian empire. They have always been interested, in addition, in doing something different from other collectors and discovering new and hitherto largely ignored fields of interest. The result is an impressive collection of artworks as well as everyday silverware items, from samovars to snuffboxes and sugar bowls.

Until a few years ago historical Judaica was collected and appreciated by only a few individuals in Austria. Today this part of the Eisenberger Collection is regarded as one of the most important privately owned collections of its type in existence. The material value of the objects has never been the prime consideration, but rather their aesthetic and historical interest. Jenö Eisenberger sees similarities between a collector and an artist, for both of whom creativeness and individuality are of the utmost importance. In the case of Judaica an awareness of the history of the Jews and the need to keep it alive is an additional factor. Since Judaism is an integral component of Austrian culture, Judaica forges a link between the Jewish and Austrian aspects of this culture.

This feature, which permeates the Eisenberger Collection, is thus closely tied up with the Austro-Hungarian dynastic tradition. Jenö Eisenberger repeatedly draws attention to the contribution that Jews made to this multination state in the reign of the Emperor Franz Joseph. Today the ritual objects that survived the Hitler era are among the few remaining testimonies to this rich culture. These objects are prized items at international auctions even if they are in need of careful restoration in many cases to return them to their former glory.

Curator: Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek