Ilse Aichinger, 1948
Lilly Axster
Katherine Klinger
Hannah Arendt, 1950
Hannah Fröhlich
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Reference text Arendt
Nicola Lauré al-Samarai
Simone de Beauvoir, 1949
Dagmar Fink
Tom Holert
Billie Holiday, 1939
Jamika Ajalon
Rúbia Salgado
Adrian Piper, 1983
Belinda Kazeem
Anna Kowalska
Yvonne Rainer, 1990
Monika Bernold
Shirley Tate
From Vienna [1]
Hannah Fröhlich, 2011

Visit I

When I visit Vienna now, after living in Tel Aviv for more than a year, I do so to see my parents, siblings, and closest friends. The “comforts” of a familiar environment—Vienna, forever Vienna—is an antithesis of sorts to all of the newness that I am able to experience in Israel. It is a paradox: somehow I relax in the comforts of a city in which as much as 27 percent of the population voted for the Freedom Party (FPÖ). After all, it is the city in which I was born, and is still the place in this world that I know best: in all of its facets. Even though Vienna would, of course, be much more beautiful without the Viennese. [2]

When I come for a visit, I leave as an Israeli and enter as an Austrian; when I fly back to Israel, I leave as an Austrian and enter as an Israeli. It is a privilege. I do not wait in line anywhere, and no questions are asked.


Pleasant surprises marked the first weeks after my arrival in Israel. I wrote to my friends in Vienna: “It is so unbelievable how welcomed you are. The people—waiters, guests at my cousin’s, market vendors, simply everyone, congratulates you that you’ve come and want to try your luck here. Imagine that in Austria! Or, when I was waiting in line at the interior ministry, there was a friendly official there handing out numbers and asking everyone what they wanted/needed so he could point them to the proper place. He came up to me and I said, “I am an olah chadascha (new immigrant) and need an ID.” He asked, “Do you have photos with you?” I replied, “Yes,” he inquired, “Do you have your teudat oleh (immigrant ID) with you?” I said, “Yes,” then he gave me the number, looked me over, smiled, and began singing “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem.” [3]

From Vienna

“Vienna is a beautiful city,” I wrote in my very first essay in Hebrew, a few months after my arrival in Israel. “The streets are clean and the historical buildings are cared for and preserved. The street names of old Nazis, too.” Israelis can hardly believe that.

In 2008, when the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG) built a new center to house the Jewish school, old-age home, and Hakoah sports club, the street had to first be renamed. On the initiative of the IKG, Ichmanngasse was renamed Simon Wiesenthal Gasse. The elaborate bureaucratic political process necessary for that name change took as long as construction of the building: several years. The protocol of various meetings and accompanying applications would have been a cabaret if entirely normal Austrian reality were not so atrocious. Ichmanngasse is only one example.

Rina, the Hebrew teacher, asks, “Is there anti-Semitism in Austria?” “It is everywhere,” I say. It is not the anti-Semitism ingrained in the minds of Israeli children by the documentaries on Nazi Germany screened every year on “Yom HaShoah.” [4] This anti-Semitism is a changed one. It hides behind a double moral when Israel comes up as a subject; behind one-sidedness and disinterest, yes, even refusal to recognize facts—for example, those surrounding the “Gaza flotilla.” It hides behind the question of whether Jews now feel more Jewish or more Austrian. It also hides behind the question directed at me as a Jew—not as an expert on political issues, diplomatic processes, or historical contexts, as I am not at all any of these things—of how I think that the Middle East conflict will be solved. The list is endless.

And no, it is no coincidence that Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis precisely in Vienna. My friend Sarah declares, “How can a person grow up as a Jew in Vienna and not end up in therapy.” “How right you are,” I laugh. “And those are the happy ones.”

Civil courage I

When Avi, a born Israeli, working in Vienna for a few years, had a serious bicycle accident and was lying on the street covered in blood unable to move, it took more than an hour until finally, from among all of the passersby, a young woman did not simply go by without paying attention, but called for an ambulance and attempted to help. The experience of lying helpless on the street and being so entirely ignored remains embedded in his memory as something characteristic: people in Austria are cold and heartless.

“In truth, civil courage is not highly regarded,” writes Ulrike Weiser. “It begins with children, who should not disagree with their parents.” People who take a stand against minor infractions in everyday life are considered bothersome. “Someone who demands that others refrain from speaking loudly on the telephone in the subway or leave alone a frantic-looking young woman, are cautioned with a shake of the head. But the mute masses are glad that someone, someone else, is taking care of things. Creating a culture of civil courage is one thing; specific instructions for how to do so are another. Ever since the 1990s, when rightwing extremism experienced a notorious surge, a number of courses for correct behavior have been offered in Germany. After all, civil courage fails for the same reasons as first aid: no practiced behavior, no routine. In Austria, however, the offer of courses is rather lean. The police do not have enough personnel and, in schools, civil courage goes under the heading ‘social learning.’” [5]

Civil courage II

In Israel, those who want to learn Hebrew attend “Ulpan.” The basic course, Class A, lasts five months if you study every day from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. After successful completion, you can order in a restaurant, buy a dress, recommend a shop to a friend, and complain. This last item is one of the first things that new immigrants are equipped with in Israel; even before the ability to understand the news and read the newspaper.

Since we grew up in Austria, “we”—Viennese, Austrians—are somehow accustomed to the fact that civil courage is as good as non-existent, and that in an emergency, at best, our friends and family will support us. That is more or less normal for us and we adjust accordingly.

Furthermore, having grown up as a Jew in Vienna, it is normal for me to speak openly only with certain people. The daily routine involves thinking about whether it’s “safe” to mention family origins, religious traditions, and customs or even discuss them, and most of the time, remain silent, as though this aspect of my personality does not even exist. And this is not because Neo-Nazis are turning the corner or I have to fear for my life in some other way, but simply because it leads to uncomfortable situations in which there is suddenly no room for anything other than various projections, forms of defense, and even purportedly political discussions about Israel and the Middle East conflict. Sometimes it is productive, even exciting to get into a discussion, yes, that happens, too; but usually, the reverse is the case. The state of knowledge in Austria is appallingly low; the greatest “critics” of Israel have never even stepped foot in the country, and the most vehement opponents of “religion, regardless of which one,” spend Christmas at home with Mom and Dad.

Civil courage III

When I spoke with Avi in the course of my preparations for immigration to Israel, he said, “You’ll see—what happened to me in Vienna, that doesn’t exist in Israel; here, people take care of one another. Sometimes even too much.”

Lior, a dear friend who lives in Jerusalem, and has been there for twenty years, told me that he used public transportation on principle. “First,” he explained, “because they are rather meager in Israel and we need to use them more often so that they will be improved; but the real reason is because riding in a taxi is simply not tolerable. I am not at all interested in having to constantly defend my personal borders.” The last time he took a taxi, his slightly overweight sister accompanied him. The journey was long and she ate something on the way. The taxi driver interrupted their conversation, pointed out the fat content in her food, and began to offer diet tips. “You know,” Lior went on, “I am a patient person. But my sister can’t take things like that. She lit into him rather severely: ‘Excuse me, do we know each other? What business is that of yours?’” I had to laugh. “What are you getting upset about,” I said to Lior, “In Israel, people take care of each other.” And then, we both laughed.

Visit II

When I visit Vienna today, I smile when I am asked if it is safe to live in Israel; or how I can stand back and watch the “repression” of the Arabic minority. Only those who have never been here ask that. Nowhere else in the world is so much done to ensure the safety and security for the country’s residents. The entire country has trilingual road signs—every street, every traffic sign, is in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Television programs are in Arabic, Russian, Spanish, English, and Hebrew. On the ground floor of the house where I live, there is a synagogue, on the corner is a church, and on the other corner is a mosque. Sometimes I hear all three at the same time: singing from the floor below, the church bells, and the muezzin. On Saturdays, the public grilling spots on the beach are filled with people—the most colorful picture that you can imagine. I can recall a documentary on Austrian public television about feuds among different groups on the Donauinsel. [6]

Here, we all live together; we share this tiny piece of earth and are versatile and multifaceted in living out our various religions and non-religions. Constructing the separation barrier has prevented 99 percent of all suicide bombings—which is, by the way, one of those facts not acknowledged in Austria or in Europe. [7]

Visit III

When I visit Vienna today, I take a bit of internalized Israel with me. This is the confidence that arises when being Jewish or not is allowed to become a non-issue, because everyone around you shares this aspect—in their own versatile, colorful, manifold way. We European immigrants come from Jewish communities that were nearly extinguished by the Shoah, and remain extremely small until today. There are maybe a few thousand people in the cities we come from, and we all more or less know one another. Everything is small and guarded and very closed, by necessity. In Israel, we breathe freely. We can be as much or as little Jewish as we want, in the way that we define that for ourselves. No one questions it. We all are part of it. It no longer plays a role. It’s simply there.


Hannah Fröhlich has lived in Tel Aviv since 2009, and works as a translator.

Edited by Sabine Rohlf & Jo Schmeiser

Translated from the German by Lisa Rosenblatt, copyedited by Harold Otto


1) The German title, “Von Wien” signifies both coming “from Vienna” and writing “about Vienna,” while the English “from Vienna” offers only the former, and the additional sense of having left “from Vienna.” (Translator’s note)

2) Georg Kreisler’s song “Wien ohne Wiener” (Vienna without the Viennese) is a cynical-ironic fantasy to the sound and rhythm of the Viennese Waltz, of how beautiful Vienna could be if there were no Viennese: no traffic, tourists would feel comfortable and, last but not least, there wouldn’t be any anti-Semitism; In English you can find Kreisler’s (unpublished) debut record from 1947: “Please shoot your husband.”

3) hevenu – we bring (lehavi )
shalom – peace
Aleichem – you
We bring peace unto you; or, we greet you.

4) Holocaust Remembrance Day

5) Ulrike Weiser, “Wie mutig sollen wir sein?,” (How courageous should we be?) in Die Presse, 20 September 2009,

6) The Danube Island is a recreational park with various facilities for grilling, swimming, boating, etc. (Translator’s note)

7) At the completion of this text, Israel’s safest and most quiet time in 10 years came to an end, due to a bloody terror attack by the jihad against a public bus heading to Eilat, the ongoing rocket fire from the Hamas in the Gaza Strip despite the ceasefire, as well as the general political turmoil in the Arab world.