Ilse Aichinger, 1948
Lilly Axster
Katherine Klinger
Hannah Arendt, 1950
Hannah Fröhlich
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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

“Vienna is a beautiful city,” I wrote in my very first essay in Hebrew. “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. “Is there anti-Semitism in Austria?” Rina, the Hebrew teacher, asks. “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.” [2] 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—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.”

When I visit Vienna now, I do so to see my family and friends. The “comforts” of a familiar environment is an antithesis 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. Even though Vienna would, of course, be much more beautiful without the Viennese. [3]

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.

“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,” Avi said in the course of my preparations for immigration to Israel.

Lior, a dear friend who lives in Jerusalem, told me that he used public transportation on principle. “Because,” he explained, “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 taxi driver interrupted their conversation to offer diet tips. “You know,” Lior went on, “I really can’t take that.” I had to laugh. “In Israel, people take care of each other.” And then, we both laughed.

“We” Austrians are somehow accustomed to the fact that civil courage is as good as non-existent. 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 to get into a discussion, 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.

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. 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. [4]

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 guarded and very closed, by necessity. In Israel, we breathe freely. We can be as much or as little Jewish as we want. 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

This text was published (in German) on September 17, 2011, in the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard.


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) Holocaust Remembrance Day

3) 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.”

4) 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.