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September 15: Jakob Ehrlich of Vienna

September 14, 2016
Jakob Ehrlich, who represented Vienna’s 180,000 Jews in the city’s government during the rise of Nazism and was murdered in Dachau after the Anschluss, was born in Bistritz am Hostein, a small town in northern Moravia, on this date in 1877. Ehrlich became a Zionist organizer as a young man and in 1913 became vice-president of the 11th Zionist Congress as it met in Vienna. An attorney and a veteran of the Austrian army (he was a captain) in World War I, Ehrlich became a leader in the Viennese City Council after the war and worked ceaselessly for the acceptance and naturalization of Jews streaming into the city from the east. In 1933, Ehrich visited Palestine for the first time and, in the face of Nazism’s rise, acquired immigration visas for his family and several friends. Five years later, as a prominent opponent of rising antisemitism in Vienna, he was attacked in the Nazi press and, less than a week after the German army marched into Austria, was arrested, beaten to death in Dachau, and returned to his family in a sealed coffin. No eulogies or obituaries were permitted. “By 1938, conditions were hostile enough that Ehrlich used his opportunity to speak at the annual city council budget debate to make an appeal for human rights and equality in Vienna, arguing that an attack on Jews was an attack on Austrian democracy itself. His remarks were picked up by news agencies around the world, and also by the Nazi propaganda paper Der Stürmer, which featured a caricature of him on its front page with the headline, ‘What is the Jew Ehrlich doing in the Vienna German Council?’ . . . Ehrlich is believed to be the first prominent Austrian Jewish victim of the Third Reich.” --David B. Green, Haaretz