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On this date in 1421, 212 surviving Viennese Jews were burned to death after a year of persecution, forced conversion, expulsion, imprisonment in their synagogue, and mass suicide. Contemporary reports described the Jews as singing songs and dancing before the pyres. Archduke Albrecht V’s Wiener Geserah(Vienna Edict), which prompted these horrors, occurred amid the fervor of the Hussite Crusades, mounted by the Catholic Church to suppress reformist uprisings in Bohemia; Albrecht’s persecutions helped to fund his military campaign. All relics of Jewish life in Austria were destroyed, and Jewish families did not return until the 16th century. Also on this date, in 1938, Austria was annexed to the Nazi Third Reich as the German army poured across the border. No shots were fired. In Vienna, 200,000 Austrians gathered to cheer Hitler. “I have in the course of my political struggle,” he later said, “won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier, there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced.”
“If I speak of Vienna it must be in the past tense, as a man speaks of a woman he has loved and who is dead.” —Erich von Stroheim
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.