Jewish Heritage Travel in Vienna and Prague: History and Holocaust Sites
Vienna and Prague are not places that automatically come to mind when Americans remember the Holocaust. But Austria and Czechoslovakia were the first places the Nazis took for their own, and therefore some of the first places where the Jews were targeted.
Take a look:
- March 1938: Hitler’s Germany annexes Austria, with its Jewish population of some 180,000. Anti-Jewish policies are immediately instated.
- September 1938: Munich Agreement allows Hitler to annex Sudetenland – the borderlands of Czechoslovakia inhabited mainly by ethnic Germans – in exchange for his promise to respect the independence of the remaining parts of Czechoslovakia.
- November 1938: Kristallnacht, a Nazi-inspired pogrom throughout Germany and Austria results in 95 synagogues being burned in Vienna alone. Jewish homes, hospitals and schools are attacked, and more that 100 people killed.
- March 1939: One year after annexing Austria, Hitler breaks the Munich Agreement and the German Wehrmacht marches into Prague.
All this happened before the war officially began. War was not declared until September 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.
Led by MIR’s Joanna Millick, they took a walk through Leopoldstadt, Vienna’s historically Jewish neighborhood, and toured the Judenplatz Jewish Museum.
They climbed the “Stairs of Death” at the Mauthausen concentration camp’s stone quarry, imagining what it must have been like to carry huge blocks of stone up the 195 uneven steps cut into the quarry wall.
In Prague the group visited the Ghetto Museum at Terezin, learning about what daily life was like for the thousands of Jews interned in Theresienstadt concentration camp.
For Joanna, a native of Poland with a deep interest in the Jewish experience during the Holocaust, the highlight of the trip was their visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Archives at his former office in Vienna.
Before this visit, only researchers and scholars had access to Wiesenthal’s private office, but Joanna and her group were admitted just before workers would pack up his life’s work and transfer it to the new building of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.
Weisenthal, who called himself a “deputy for the dead,” is thought to have been responsible for the capture of 1,100 Nazi war criminals, including Adolph Eichmann.
After miraculously surviving 12 concentration camps (including the Mauthausen stone quarry) he dedicated the rest of his life to systematically searching for the people who implemented Hitler’s “Final Solution,” and reminding the world of the importance of the lessons taught by the Holocaust. He never gave up. “When I am gone,” he said, “who else will do this work?”
Here’s what Joanna said about the experience:
I felt that I was experiencing something much bigger than my small life. Simon Wiesenthal walked through this door every day into an ordinary, unassuming apartment and did his work, until he could not walk any more. He was ostracized and sometimes even spat on as he walked the streets of Vienna, by people who wanted only to forget and move on.
I felt that this office was almost a sacred place, the sanctuary of someone who represented the best qualities of humanity.
To be able to stand in his footsteps and touch that history was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.
Search for your roots with MIR
With our regional knowledge and on-the-ground representation, we are experts at designing independent trips for people searching for their roots, or their relatives, in Central and East Europe.
Top photo: Looking through the files at The Simon Wiesenthal Archives. Photo: Joanna Millick
PUBLISHED: October 26, 2016