What did a valet wear in the 1870s

The rise of political anti-Semitism from the 1870s

The vast majority of the Jewish population of Vienna at the turn of the century was socially part of the lower middle classes. As a result of structural discrimination, Jews barely had the opportunity to enter the public service. They also remained clearly underrepresented in industry. In contrast, Jewish workers were strongly represented in trade and commerce. The majority of the Jewish workforce was not employed in industry, but in small workshops and at home. With the arrival in the 1860s, a Jewish upper middle class quickly emerged. But not only the Jewish craftsmen, industrialists and bankers represented a new, unpleasant competition for the non-Jewish elite. As a population group with a particular affinity for education, Jews (and since the turn of the century also increasingly Jewish women) took advantage of the fact that the last barriers to entry in the education system had fallen. The better educated children of the immigrant Jewish families made their way into salaried positions and middle management in companies on the one hand, and academic professions on the other, and increasingly began to shape intellectual and cultural life.1 In addition to the long-established traders, the non-Jewish educated bourgeoisie also saw this development as a veritable danger to their own advancement.2.


At the same time, the liberalization and dynamization of economic life since the 1860s, which caused the competitive pressure to grow considerably, was attributed primarily to Jewish influences by both Catholic and ethnic agitators, specifically to “Jewish” big business.3


The question of Jewish emancipation raised the question of a Jewish nationality inside and outside the Jewish communities: How far should one adapt to one's non-Jewish environment after the legal equality? The growing German nationalism, which was particularly widespread among the non-Jewish educated bourgeoisie, insisted, on the other hand, that Judaism was not a religious community, but a “people” - and as such a “foreign body”.4

Finally, for a third reason, the Jewish population was targeted by conservative circles. Many Jews felt a strong connection to the Enlightenment, because they hoped for a decrease in the Christian-religious hostility towards Jews. Naturally, many of them also sympathized with emancipation movements that were committed to the principle of equality. While liberalism had initially dominated as a political trend,5 Since the turn of the century, many young Jews joined the emerging labor movement. The most prominent example was the founder of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, Viktor Adler.

The founder of the Austrian Social Democracy, Victor Adler (middle, with a rose in his buttonhole). The rapid growth of social democracy further fueled the fears in the already pessimistic bourgeoisie. Because the social democracy was the only non-anti-Semitic group, many Jews were soon among its supporters. This in turn offered anti-Semitic agitators a target. (Photo: Association for the History of the Labor Movement)


Conservatives saw the social demands of the labor movement as a serious threat to their own economic interests. It was not the bitter poverty of large parts of the population, but the workers' organizations that they considered a rift in an otherwise supposedly orderly society. Against this background, bourgeoisie of all shades saw the relatively high proportion of Jewish functionaries in social democracy and trade unions as proof that “the Jews” left no stone unturned to turn “the Germans” against each other and thus weaken them as a nation.

After the stock market crash in 1873, a long economic downward spiral began in 1873. The effects not only hit the poorest sections of the population, but above all also hit the industry very hard.


The mixture of anti-liberalism, socialist hatred, massive fear of decline and an aversion to everything modern led from the 1870s in combination with a massive economic crisis 6 to a sharp increase in anti-Semitism. From the 1880s onwards, hostility towards Jews quickly became the basis of business politics for the bourgeois parties - the Christian Socials as well as the German Nationalists.7 The later chairman of the Vienna Christian Socialists and Mayor, Karl Lueger, exploited anti-Semitism particularly successfully. Of course, Lueger himself did not believe the content of his tirades, which went as far as calls for murder. His agitation followed a sober cost-benefit analysis. After he had made a career with the help of the enemy image "Jud‘ ", anti-Semitism became a hindrance to him:8 "Once you are upstairs, you can never use it [anti-Semitism, note], because dös is a mob sport."9 The anti-Jewish agitation was consequently reduced in everyday political life, but not completely dispensed with. The Christian Social Party Organ that Reichspost, held soberly:

"However, after anti-Semitism has contributed significantly to the development and expansion of power of the Christian-Social Party, this retrograde principle will have to be adhered to in political action until it ceases to form a source of strength for the party."10 Especially in the run-up to the elections in 1900 and 1906, this “source of strength” was used extensively.11

The Viennese Sebastian Brunner (1814-1893) belongs with Joseph Deckert and other clergy to the so-called "agitation pastors" who stir up hatred against the Jewish population in publications and speeches and are among the central agitators of the Christian Socialists. They hold “the Jews” responsible for enlightenment and secularization as well as for capitalism and socialism. The whole of modernity is ultimately only the result of a Jewish strategy to subjugate Christianity.


Anti-Jewish resentments could therefore look back on decades of tradition when they were reactivated during and after the First World War. In the second year of the war - tens of thousands of soldiers had already fallen or returned home severely disabled - the Viennese population had to starve and bitterness began to spread. In addition to the war itself, mismanagement and planning errors by both the military and the civil administration were responsible for the food shortage. The right-wing political spectrum was one of the vehement supporters of war in 1914, and the conservatives also appointed the mayor after Karl Lueger's death in 1910. There was therefore reason to be concerned about being held responsible for the catastrophic conditions in the city on several occasions. Against this background, parts of the party - as well as the German Nationals - began to bring an alternative culprit in position: the Jewish population, which had meanwhile grown again due to refugees from the embattled Galicia.12 After the defeat in 1918, the right wing military and officers returning home took up the slogan “The Jew is guilty”. As in the 1890s, anti-Semitism became the central ideology of the bourgeois milieu alongside anti-Marxism and was a defining element of all election campaigns in the First Republic. Viewed in this way, the agitation that was carried out by a small splinter group in the 1920s whose supporters called themselves “National Socialists” was nothing unusual, even if they behaved particularly aggressively and vulgarly by the standards of the time.

Florian Wenninger

  1. 1) See Albert Lichtblau, Integration, Destruction Attempt and New Beginning - Austrian-Jewish History from 1848 to the Present, in: Brugger / Wolfram, Geschichte, 447–536, 478–484. On the change in the occupational structure, see also Rozenblit, Juden, 55–79; Goldhammer, Juden, 66–69.
  2. 2) See Bruce F. Pauley, A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism. From exclusion to extinction, Vienna 1993, 132f .; Steven Beller, Vienna and the Jews 1867–1938, Vienna – Cologne – Weimar 1993, 54–81.
  3. 3) See Peter G. J. Pulzer, The emergence of political anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria 1867–1914, Göttingen 2004, 178ff.
  4. 4) See Doris Sottopietra, Metamorphoses of a Concept. A historical study of anti-Semitism in Austria, phil. Diss., Vienna 1995, 48ff. A contemporary contribution to the debate summarized the current lines of argumentation and discussed them against each other, see Joseph Kolkmann, Die Soziallichestellung der Juden, Löbau 1876, esp. 9–23.
  5. 5) Steven Beller, Vienna and the Jews 1867–1938, Vienna – Cologne – Weimar 1993, 136-138
  6. 6) See Peter Eigner, The Habsburg Monarchy in the 19th Century. A model case of delayed industrialization ?, in: Contributions to historical social studies 27 (1997) 3, online at http://vgs.univie.ac.at/VGS_alt/b973lp.html (accessed on November 30, 2016).
  7. 7) For the specific form see Ursula Baudisch, Der Antisemitismus der Christlichsozialen in the mirror of the party-affiliated press 1890 to April 1897, phil. Diss., Vienna 1967.
  8. 8) On the person of Lueger see John Boyer, Karl Lueger (1844–1910). Christian Social Policy as a Profession, Vienna – Cologne – Weimar 2010.
  9. 9) Quoted from Michael Schiestl, hostility towards Jews and anti-Semitism in Austria. Continuity and Change, phil. Diss., Vienna 1992, 300.
  10. 10)Reichspost, 13. 10. 1896, 2.
  11. 11) See Bruce F. Pauley, A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism. From exclusion to extinction, Vienna 1993, 73f.
  12. 12) See Beatrix Hoffmann-Holter, East Jewish War Refugees in Vienna 1914–1923, Salzburg 1994, esp. 162–248.