Monday, August 8, 2011

Jewish Memories in Vienna

Today I made my way to a Jewish Museum that sits on top of the ruins of a medieval Jewish temple. While my focus for this trip was to explore what would have been my own homeland had my grandparents not migrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to the political economic conditions in those times, today I engaged a much longer history of antagonisms toward the Jews. Back in 1421, Vienna had a thriving Jewish community replete with synagogues, mikvah baths, etc. While there was a Jewish quarter, Jews and Non-Jews lived interconnected lives. Christians depended upon Jews to lend them money in that money lending was not an activity they were allowed to engage in. Meanwhile Jews were prohibited from farming and thus they became medieval doctors, bankers and biblical scholars. When the Christian debt to the Jews became overwhelming, their recourse was to destroy all Jews and everything Jewish.

As a largely secular Jew, what I believe I've inherited from all of these centuries of persecution is a very deep feeling that something is wrong with me. Moreover this something is immutable--it's deep in me. Everyone can see it and I am clueless about where it is and what I can do about it. Perhaps its something about my body...or something about how I use my brain or how my brain and body function together. All I can sense is that I'm weird and that I can't help it and that it may ultimately bring on my demise as it did so many centuries of my forbearers...

Perhaps having grown up (and lived) far from this Ashkenaz center of hatred and fear, I've largely dodged the feeling of having a marked life. I've become a self-styled anthropologist/sexologist who freely travels the world...studying whatever she pleases and engaging all that intrigues her. And now here in Vienna I've been sweetly socializing with Doris, Elizabeth and their friends. Today Doris and I talked about the burdens of history that each of us carry. We were both born after WWII and personally had nothing to do with anything that happened then. Yet, she's been attacked for the actions of her forbearers and I carried the guilt and tears of mine. Today we're both mid-life women who share quite a few passions and could easily become life-long friends. During WWII there were countless instances of Non-Jewish people hiding their Jewish friends, neighbors and lovers. I'd say the more we can get to know each other as people rather than as bearers of ideologies, the more racism and anti-semitism might be averted.

1 comment:

  1. Leanna, that's odd. I am the daughter of German-Jewish Holocaust survivors myself. I was in Vienna with my daughter several years ago, and I swear I could almost hear the ghosts of the murdered Jews speaking to me ....

    Also, the Viennese were for the most part rather rude ... especially when they didn't know I speak German!