Holocaust commemoration – Sweden in Vienna helping Jews to escape

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January 27th was declared International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the UN. This is an opportunity to think about “last minute rescue” as well. The National Socialist Jewish policy had two different phases: until 1941, Jews were urged to emigrate, after which they were mass murdered. Emigration was associated with difficulties for the Jews: potential host countries did not want to take many, the emigrants faced an uncertain future, and leaving the country was expensive – the majority of the Jews’ assets were to remain in the German Reich. Therefore, many Jews hesitated at first, and gradually it became more difficult to leave Austria – later called the Ostmark – and finally it was too late.

The Swedish Israel Mission had been active in Vienna since 1920. She had missionary and diaconal concerns; After the First World War there was great poverty in Vienna, and many poor Jews from Eastern Europe lived in the 2nd district in particular. The Israel Mission bought a house for its activities in the 9th district, at Seegasse 16 – opposite the old Jewish cemetery in Rossau. This house was built by the Jewish architect Ludwig Schmidl. Wealthy Jews lived in this area.

Franz Graf- Stuhlhofer is a lecturer at the Church University of Education in Vienna/Krems (

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After Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany in January 1933, Frederik J. Forell, a pastor of Jewish descent, fled to Vienna and took over the leadership of the Israel Mission. When the Institutum Judaicum Delitzschianum in Leipzig was closed in 1935, its director at the time, Hans Kosmala, came to Vienna and continued teaching at the institute at Seegasse 16. At that time, Vienna still seemed to be a safe alternative.

After the “Anschluss” in March 1938, Forell fled to France. Pastor Göte Hedenquist took over the leadership of the Israel Mission in Vienna. The Israel Mission was threatened with closure unless it helped Jews leave the country. The Israel Mission was willing to do this because they soon realized that it would be dangerous for Jews in Austria.

Hedenquist discussed the emigration of Jews with Adolf Eichmann in the Palais Rothschild, where the Vienna Central Office for Jewish Emigration was then located. Those who wanted to leave the country had to go through 16 (!) bureaucratic hurdles; help from the Israel Mission facilitated and expedited the process. In total, this helped more than 2,000 predominantly Protestant Jews to leave the country (they were mainly accepted in England and Sweden). In addition, there was the help center for non-Aryan Catholics, the Jewish community looked after the religious Jews, and the non-denominational Jews looked after the Quakers.

Despite the successful efforts, there were also many who did not manage to leave the country on time. As part of the pastoral care, the Israel Mission staff tried to prepare the Jews seeking help for dramatic situations, also by referring to Bible verses such as Romans 8:35: “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Distress or fear or persecution. . .”

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