Austrian Heritage Collection

The Austrian Heritage Collection (AHC) at the Leo Baeck Institute New York (LBI NY) is one of the largest collections relating to the Austrian-Jewish emigration to the USA. The project was initiated in 1996 as a cooperation between the Leo Baeck Institute New York, the Verein GEDENKDIENST and the Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY)

 

The documentation of Jewish-Austrian Life Stories

The AHC aims to document the life stories of Austrian Jews who were forced to emigrate to the USA during the National Socialist period or immediately afterwards and who then started a new life there. In 1938 there were around 200,000 Jewish people living in Austria, between 120,000 and 150,000 were able to emigrate. 30,000 people reached the USA – often via other countries – and 15,000 were able to reach Israel.

Young Austrian volunteers, trained by the Verein GEDENKDIENST and sent for a year to the LBI NY as part of their alternative civil service (an alternative to military service) documented the life stories of these Austrian-Jewish émigrés and Holocaust survivors in the USA. Along with carrying out interviews, documents such as letters, diaries, memoirs and photographs were also collected and archived. A particular emphasis was placed on collecting the life stories of “ordinary people”, those whose experiences have been ignored in favour of the stories of the persecution, displacement and emigration of more prominent people.

The interviews pay special attention to life in Austria, persecution and fleeing, integration and acculturation in the USA, the interviewee’s identity and their attitude and feelings towards Austria today.

Since 1996, the LBI NY has evaluated over 4000 questionnaires and carried out almost 600 interviews. The relationships that were built up between the interviewees and the young Austrian volunteers developed into personal friendships that in many cases continue to today.

 

The Leo Baeck Institute

The Leo Baeck Institute was founded in 1955 by German-speaking Jewish immigrants. The aim of the founders was to preserve the memory of Jewish life and culture in Germany and Austria that had largely been decimated by National Socialism. There are branches of the institute in London, Jerusalem and New York. After the Second World War, the Leo Baeck Institute developed into the leading research institute on German-speaking Judaism, another reason why the Austrian Heritage Collection is housed at the LBI NY.

The Leo Baeck Institute New York is made up of an archive, an art collection and a library with over 70,000 predominantly German-language books. 

 

The Austrian Heritage Collection in Israel

In 2012, the Austrian Heritage Collection was expanded to include Israel and to document the history of Austrian Jews living there, something which had, until then, received very little attention. The AHC is based at the Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem (LBI Jerusalem).

Around 100 interviews with Austrian Jews have been carried out since 2012 as part of the project and related documents have been collected.

 

The Austrian Heritage Collection: One of the largest collections relating to Austrian-Jewish Emigration to the USA and Israel

The collection of the Austrian Heritage Collection in the USA and Israel currently encompasses the life stories of 700 people. This makes the AHC not only one of the largest collections about the history of Austrian-Jewish emigration to the USA and Israel, but also one of the largest collections of exile history generally.

 

Further Information

Austrian Cultural Forum: http://www.acfny.org

Leo Baeck Institute New York: http://www.lbi.org

Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem: http://www.leobaeck.org

Verein GEDENKDIENST: http://www.gedenkdienst.at