The Vienna Jewish Community Collection
By far the largest holding of the Jewish Museum Vienna is the collection of the Jewish Community, which gave their stock to the Museum as a permanent loan in 1992.
This is only partly a collection in the classic museum sense, and can more accurately be described as the remainder of the world’s first Jewish museum, which was founded in 1895 in Vienna. In 1938, the collection was confiscated by the Gestapo, and 6,474 objects were transferred to the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna and to other Viennese institutions. In the early 1950ies, most of the holdings of the local community were returned, but quite a few only made it back as late as the 1990ies. Today we can identify in our portfolio 3,517 objects of the first museum.
The second part of the Jewish Community stock should be understood more as a selection than a collection. It comprises ceremonial objects that used to stand in Vienna’s formerly numerous synagogues and prayer houses, and in Jewish communities in other provinces, from which they were violently ripped out in 1938, as well as liturgical objects and personal memorabilia that private citizens entrusted to the Community before their deportation and death.
These objects are in that sense not only a testimony to the magnificent history of Austrian Jewry, but forced into a museum context, also evidence of the community’s annihilation. This stock reminds us that these objects, beyond their aesthetic value and beyond all historical sensation, also document destruction and dehumanization.