For most of my week in Vienna, my experience of the city was so positive as to be a bit surreal. I remembered Vienna from the early 1970s — the only time I’d visited before — as being gloomy and dour.
I also imagined that, given what I’d learned over the last few years about my family’s history, I would be coping with a lot of difficult emotions.
The city, several residents told me, has changed dramatically since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989. It wasn’t my imagination that Vienna used to be depressing when it was backed up against depressing Communist countries, they said, or that it has since shared in the tourist bounty that resulted from the area’s opening up.
In fact, that’s pretty much how I felt, like an appreciative tourist, visiting one of the world’s great cities, indulging in its famous indulgences. Even when I was taking pictures of my family’s former properties or visiting the graveyard where several members are buried (theoretically), I felt distanced from any negative feelings. I was looking at ordinary lives (and deaths), not thinking about 1938 and the Anschluss. I had no reason to.
Except on my first day in the city, and I avoided thinking about that. Until now.
Who the Heck Is Karl Lueger, Anyway?
A bit of background.
Until I began researching Vienna and my family history, I had never heard of Karl Lueger. But his name kept cropping up in my research. A mayor at the turn of the 20th century, he is known primarily for two things: Transforming Vienna into a modern city and being a virulent antisemite.
How antisemitic was he? So antisemitic that the Emperor Franz Josef I, who was friendly to the Jews, would not approve his election to mayor for two years. So antisemitic that Hitler cited him as an inspiration for his own views in Mein Kampf.
At least that’s how many historians view it. But the Encyclopedia Britannica, which I’d always considered a respectable source, sees it a bit differently:
Lueger, from a working-class family, studied law at the University of Vienna. Elected to the capital’s municipal council as a liberal in 1875, he soon became popular for his exposure of corruption. Though he was not himself a violent anti-Semite and regarded German nationalism with skeptical antipathy, Lueger did not hesitate to exploit the prevalent anti-Semitic and nationalistic currents in Vienna for his own demagogic purposes.
A believer in the equality of all nationalities in the multinational Habsburg monarchy, Lueger opposed Austro-Hungarian dualism and advocated a federal state. When the Christian Social Party won two-thirds of the seats in the Viennese municipal council in 1895, he was elected mayor; but the emperor, Francis Joseph I, regarding Lueger as a social revolutionary, refused to confirm his appointment for two years.
So let me get this straight, Encyclopedia Britannica. Karl Lueger wasn’t really an antisemite — he only played one on TV because it was popular — or he was okay because he wasn’t a violent antisemite; he only incited violence with his rhetoric. And although he was an antisemite, he believed in the equality of all nationalities (except for Jews, who aren’t a nationality. Or a race. Or something). And the only reason that the imperialist emperor Franz Joseph didn’t confirm his appointment was because Lueger was a social revolutionary, not because he was a virulent antisemite who inspired racial hatred. Did I interpret that correctly?
It is noted by apologists that Lueger had many Jewish friends. Lueger’s cynical response to people who mentioned this to him is often attributed to Hitler: “I determine who is a Jew.”
So I was a bit shocked when, emerging from a central U-Bahn station, Stubentor, I saw a directional sign for Doktor-Karl-Lueger-Platz. Huh? Yup, close to the center of town, near the popular restaurant to which I was headed, Plachutta, is a plaza named for the man who inspired Hitler.
The fallback rationale is always that he did so much for Vienna that he can be forgiven for this one flaw. Yes, and dictator Francisco Franco got the trains in Spain to run on time. But wait, some will say. An important street in Vienna was stripped of its Karl Lueger-ness not long ago. This is true. According to an April 2012 article in The Guardian:
… 78 years after a portion of the main belt of boulevards that encircles the city centre was named the Karl Lueger Ring, the streets signs are getting a makeover.
Last week the coalition of social democrats and Greens running the Austrian capital decided to rename the 600-metre stretch of the Ringstrasse bearing Lueger’s name, triggering a row about whitewashing history, political correctness, and Vienna’s often difficult attempts to deal with a troubled past.
But as the article also points out, near the University of Vienna “a large statue of the mayor dubbed the founder of modern antisemitism still stands proudly. The city government said there were no plans to make any other changes.”
[Note: Both of these photographs were taken by the author of the excellent post on Karl Lueger and Vienna in the Wanderlust für Wien blog.]
Where Is Herr-Professor-Sigmund-Freudplatz or Any Statue of Freud?
Which brings me to one of my favorite Viennese semites — outside of my family members, of course — Sigmund Freud. What about his legacy in Vienna?
Amazingly, there is no street named for Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and no major plaza, just a park near the university better known for being backed up against the impressive Votive Church than for its association with Freud.
So… two grand, full-size statues of Karl Lueger, of whom almost no one outside Vienna or people doing research into the city has heard, and how many dedicated to Freud? None. Nada. Zilch.
There is a single bust of Freud in a “public” place, the University of Vienna. I found it–with the help of a guide–hiding behind some scaffolding in a row of undistinguished busts. Freud is not even in the center.
As it happens, a statue of Freud by sculptor Oscar Nemon was commissioned in 1936 by the city but was never cast in Vienna. It was, however, cast in London, where it stands in front of the Tavistock Clinic, a short distance from the Freud Museum, which has almost all of Freud’s belongings, including the bust made by Oscar Nemon of Freud in 1931. Smaller versions of the statue exist in New York and Boston. Just not in Vienna.
Update, 2017: The Nemon Freud statue will be installed at the University of Vienna Medical School in June 2018.