Reminiscences of Nikolsburg in the 1880s by Edmund Jerusalem

[A typewritten MS dated 1957, made available by Peter Lowe]

I was born in Nikolsburg on 17th September 1879. My father was Dr. Wilhelm Jerusalem, who had received an appointment as a teacher at the Gymnasium (Upper School) in Nikolsburg the year before, teaching Greek and Latin. He had married Katharina Pollak in Prague in 1878 and during our seven years in Nikolsburg my brother and two sisters were also born.

Nikolsburg was one of the approximately 30 "independent Jewish communities" of Moravia, a special feature of this Austrian crown land that continued until the end of the Habsburg monarchy. For a long time Nikolsburg was the largest of these communities, but in the course of the 19th century it was overtaken by Boskowitz. There was thus the town municipality of Nikolsburg with 6000 inhabitants, and at the same time the Jewish municipality with 1500-2000 inhabitants, its own mayor and town council, its own school and its own policemen. However (after 1848 or 1867) Jews were able to live in the "Christian" town and Christians in the "Jewish" town. My parents lived first of all in the Jewish town (Haus Glogau), then on the main square of the Christian town (Haus Hellebart), then finally in the Jewish town again (in the main street, then called Hauptgasse). I remember this last home quite well, with its little garden under the walls of the palace of Prince Dietrichstein on the hill.

It was probably because the Jewish population was so large that there were also two other Jewish teachers at the Gymnasium school apart from my father. These were the old history teacher Josef Frank, who had spent his entire teaching life in Nikolsburg, and the art teacher and painter Löw, who perished with his wife at the Ring Theatre fire in Vienna in December 1881. My father took part in the Jewish life of the community inasmuch as he was a good friend of the much older Rabbi Meir Feuchtwang. On the Sabbath he fasted but he also taught at school, which only went on until 11 am. So he was able to come back in time to properly read the Haftara.

For some reason my parents didn't like the the teacher of the youngest class at the Jewish Elementary School, so I had a young (Christian) teacher for reading and writing, and only joined the school in the second year (1885). At about this time I remember accompanying my father to an open-air Emperor Josef Commemoration. These meetings were in fact, as I now know, a dynastic excuse for demonstrations against the church-dominated and pro-Czech government of Count Taaffe (1879-1893).

[In his memoirs, "Gedanken und Denker" (1925), Dr. Wilhelm Jerusalem writes: "Once the Czech-Polish-Church coalition gained the majority in the National Council under Taaffe, the German-speaking Austrians who until then had been in favor of a modern, centralized state began to adopt an ever more nationalist tone. I saw this change clearly happening in the vigorously fought elections of 1885. The old opposition of reaction and liberalism didn't interest anyone anymore, the only question which moved the masses was whether one was pro-German or pro-Czech."

In 1885 my father at last received the appointment in Vienna which he had wanted for so long. The departure from Nikolsburg of a family which was much liked among both Jews and Christians caused great regret. I think my parents' home was possibly the only place in Nikolsburg where Jews and Christians could meet each other privately. The oldest students at the school, who had known my father throughout their years at school, were especially sad. Wolfgang Pauker, who later became leader of the Klosterneuburg Choir and a well-known art historian, made the two hours journey from Wichernitz despite being ill to bid farewell to his teacher. However it was in the same class that my father experienced the first results of the antisemitic nationalist German student movement inspired by Schönerer, which one of his favorite students had joined. Another, happier outcome was the later Austrian social-democratic leader, Karl Renner, who was his student in Nikolsburg between 1881 and 1885. Renner became prime minister and after the Second World War president of the Austrian Republic.

Copyright © 2000 Mark Tritsch, by permission of Peter Lowe
Copyright © 2009 Bob Lenk

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