Reflections on Project "Registration by Name: Austrian Victims of the Holocaust"

Florian Freund / Hans Safrian: Expulsion and Extermination

Any project which seeks to register the names of Austrian Holocaust victims must begin with considerations of the term "victim" and how these particular victims of Nazism differ from the others.


Religious, cultural, and political affiliation did not play a definitive role in Nazi persecution of Jews; classification as a Jew by the Nazi regime was the only decisive factor. Although the theological connotation of the term "Holocaust" might lead one to assume that all those defined as Jews by the Nuremberg racial laws and killed during the Nazi terror also identified themselves as Jews, this assumption does not apply to groups, e.g. to "Jews" of Christian persuasion or certain assimilated Jews. Since the problem of defining who is a Jew in this context cannot be solved, the only possible approch for our project seems to be to define all those who were considered Jews under anti-Jewish Nazi legislation as "victims of the Holocaust." (1) The term "Holocaust" has not only come to be used in the scientific language in recent years, it has also, through its original meaning, become an accepted expression for the Nazi destruction of European Jewry. (2) Generations of anti-Semites have not been successful in defining who is a Jew. (3) In 1933, the Nazis declared a Jew to be anyone of "non-Aryan descent" (4) - people with at least one Jewish parent or grandparent - regardless of his religious affiliation. Religion alone - and not "racial" criteria, such as skin color, shape of the nose, or other physical features - determined whether parents or grandparents were counted as Jews. (5) The Nuremberg racial laws declinated in detail who was a Jew, as Raoul Hilberg summarized: "Everyone was defined as a Jew who (1) descended from at least three Jewish grandparents (full Jews and three-quarter Jews) or (2) descended from two Jewish grandparents (half-Jews) and (a) belonged to the Jewish religious community on September 15, 1935, or joined the community on a subsequent date, or (b) was married to a Jewish person on September 15, 1935, or married on a subsequent date, or (c) was the offspring of a marriage contracted with a threequarter or full Jew after the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor had becomeinto force (September 15, 1935), or (d) was the offspring of an extramarial relationship with a three-quarter or full Jew and was born out of wedlock after July 31, 1936. For the determination of the status of the grandparnents, the presumtion remained that the grandparent was Jewish if he or she belonged to the Jewish religious community.


Defined not as a jew but as an individual of "mixed Jewish blood" was (1) any person who descended from two Jewish grandparents (half-Jewish), but who (a) did not adhere (or adhered no longer) to the Jewish religion on September 15, 1935, and who did not marry such a person at any subsequent time (such half-Jews were called Mischlinge of the first degree), and (2) any person descended from one Jewish grandparent (Mischling of the second degree). The designations "Mischling of the first degree" and "Mischling of the second degree" were not contained in the decree of November 14, 1935, but were added in a later ruling by the Interior Ministry." (6)

With this definition the Nazis were able to differentiate between Jews ("Volljuden") and those from mixed-marriages, who were not usually singled out for extermination. (7) Although practical problems of definition continued to exist for the Nazis, Himmler rejected a more exact definition in July 1942: "I ask that no decree concerning the term 'Jew' be announced. With all these foolish regulations we are doing nothing more than binding our own hands." (8) Even though all those excluded from society, by the Nuremberg racial laws are registered as "Holocaust victims," a problem of registration still exists for those imprisoned or sent to concentration camps chiefly for their political activity, but who were also categorized as Jews by the Nuremberg laws. This applies to a group of some 1,500 people who, according to a calculation by Jonny Moser, were murdered in concentration camps. (9) However, it is impossible to know whether they were murdered as "political enemies" or as Jews.


It seems justified, therefore, to count these individuals as "Holocaust victims" as well. It can be argued that victims of Nazism likewise include all Jews who were deported and murdered, who lost their lives in accidents in Austria or while trying to escape, as a result of panic, privations, insufficient medical care, and the like. This argumentation, however, fails to acknowledge the qualitative differences among these fates. A distinction should be made between those who died in relative "freedom" (e.g. an accident) and those who suffered a radically different fate as a prisoner in one of the infamous "Judenlager," where the mortallity rates were often higher than in the concentration camps. The project should consequently be limited to the registration of those people who were in some fashion victims of violence.


The second reason for limiting the project is a practical one. To undertake a research project that encompasses all the Jews living in Austria until 1938 would involve high expenses.


Still unsettled - also with regard to available documentation - is the question whether former camp inmates who died following liberation can and should be registered by name.


Since it would hardly be feasible to prove that every Jew in our research was in possession of Austrian "Heimatrecht" (citizenship) before 1938, the term "Austrian" should be understood broadly in this project. Otherwise, a considerable number of "Austrian" Jews who had been living in Austria for decades without citizenship would not appear as Austrian victims of National Socialism. The percentage of non-Austrian citizens or displaced persons was in Vienna very high, as data from the 1939 census illustrates. (10)


Foreign Jews in Vienna according to the 1939 census
stateless 5926
former Poland 3908
Protectorate 1221
Romania 695
Slovakia 461
Hungary 1120
other European countries 543
non-European countries 93
foreign Jews in Vienna 13967
domestic Jews in Vienna 77563
foreign and domestic Jews in Vienna 1530


Project "Registration by Name: Austrian Victims of the Holocaust" should document the fates of all Jews between 1938-1945 who either committed suicide or were murdered (including victims of "Euthanasia") and deported from Austria. The fate of Jews who fled Austria and were seized by the Germans in other European countries, murdered there or sent to concentration and extermination camps, will likewise be documented.


Due to the exorbitant research costs, investigating the personal history of each Jew who was living in Austria in 1938 by means of Arolsen International Tracing Service is not feasible. Utilisation of this tracing service was the preferred method for the "Gedenkbuch" published in West Germany and has the advantage of having a relatively low margin of error. In order to lower the costs, the Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance has decided to work with a smaller range of data and forgo the research of individual fates of deportees from the major transports. A general historical study should yield the place and date of death of those 45,000 people deported in major transports from Vienna and 2,000-2,500 from France. The names of the handful of survivors of these death transports will be recorded by consulting the files of the Jewish Community, victim aid service, and relief foundation witnessing.


In executing our intensive research throughout Europe we will attempt to collect information about as many persons who fled to various European countries as possible. This data will then be examined by the Arolsen International Tracing Service. The prospects for success are, at this time, difficult to assess.

While fewer fates of individual victims can be researched using this method then with the tracing service, the former offers the advantage of collecting extensive sources on the fate of Austrian Jews.



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