Dissolution by the Nazis of the Reading and Lecture Hall for Jewish
University Students in Vienna ‐ August and September 1938

& 2020 DAVID magazine article on this association's history, vibrant intellectual and other activities
from 1894 - 1938, by Gregor Gatscher-Riedl.


These document copies received from the Vienna Archives, provide—evidence of the dissolution of Die Lese-und Redehalle jüdischer Hochschüle in Wien (The Reading and Lecture Hall for Jewish University Students in Vienna) by the Viennese Nazi-authorities in August and September 1938. This Jewish academic organization and its dissolution by the Nazis are relevant to this website’s focus on the Jellinek family’s confrontation with the Holocaust because the forced closure and theft of this association’s library was one more psychological trauma that Karl Jellinek had to endure. Die Lese-und Redehalle jüdischer Hochschüle in Wien (hereinafter referred to as the “Halle”) had been central to Dr. Karl Jellinek’s life both before and after his presidency of the association during most or all of the years between 1923 and 1937. Karl’s brothers, Max and Siegfried Jellinek also participated in this organization.

See Karl Jellinek’s Biography page and the photos in the Images section that show Karl at the ceremonial opening of Hebrew University in 1925, and at the “Halle’s” 35th anniversary celebration in 1929. The Austrian historian, Dr. Gregor Gatscher-Riedl, provided the information for the summary of the development of the “Halle” in the next paragraph. His 2019 historical article on the “Halle,” (which appears on this web page, below the four ‘dissolution’ documents) goes into greater depth and includes information on Karl Jellinek’s leadership.

The “Halle,” chartered (under a slightly different name) by Ruben Bierer in 1894, played a major part in Jewish academic life in interwar Vienna, with a special emphasis on the Zionist movement. The purpose of this fraternity-like association, as stated in its 1913 statutes, was to support the community of Jewish students, as well astheir cultural aims and interests. Although Ruben Bierer’s original conception of the “Halle” was as an umbrella organization for the already existing Jewish academic ‘fraternities,’ the “Halle” turned into a students’ club with a library open for Jewish students both male and female. The “Halle” provided rooms for studies, as well as a vast selection of newspapers, mainly Jewish and especially Zionist. The “Halle” also had many interest-related departments, such as Hebrew and French languages, literature, sciences, music, sports, stenography, as well as aid for poor students, including rooms heated in the winter and affordable meals.

The Nazi procedure of liquidation of Jewish organizations was always the same and had two main aspects: the closing and cessation of all activities and the seizure of the organization’s property on behalf of the Reich. Contrary to the (pre-Nazi) Austrian law that stipulated that the statutes of any private association (Verein) had to contain a paragraph concerning the dissolution concluded by its members, the dissolution of the “Halle” took place by German Nazi authorities and German “law.” This overarching Nazi ruling for the liquidation of associations can be seen at this link to the May 1938 Law Gazette for the Land of Austria, section #137: http://alex.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/alex?apm=0&aid=glo&datum=19380004&seite=00000403&zoom=2

The Nazis’ specific formal procedures to enact the “Halle’s” liquidation is revealed in these documents as follows:

a.) Document dated August 30, 1938: Der Reichskommissar für die Wiedervereinigung Österreichs mit dem Deutschen Reich (the commissioner of the Empire for the reunion of Austria and the German Reich) commanded the dissolution of the association and the annexation of its possessions This decision was handed down for execution by the Polizei-Direktion, Wien (Police Headquarters in Vienna).

b.) Document dated September 3, 1938: Polizei-Direktion is submitting the order for official deletion to the Vienna Magistrate in the Magistratsabteilung 2 (City of Vienna, Department 2., which had authority over religious and school affairs, associations, clubs, public charities and more. The official head of the association is identified by the Police as “Filip Fischgrund, (Vienna District II., Ferdinand Street 13/9)

c.) Document dated September 10, 1938: The Magistratsabteilung 2 (City of Vienna, Department 2.) is executing the order as follows: Deletion of the association in the register of associations via Bescheid (official juridical decision/order), communicated to Fischgrund. (CC: Reichskommissar and police headquarters) The official order states: The organization is dissolved. Any gatherings or even contact of its members among each other is prohibited. The wearing of the emblems, ribbons, pins, etc. is forbidden. Any infringement will be fined.

Concerning the properties of the “Halle”: The vast library of the “Halle” was of special interest to the Nazis and brought after seizure to „Gauhaus“, the seat of „Reichskomissar“ in the former (and after 1945 to this day) Austrian Parliament. At least one volume could be found there in 2014 to be restituted to the Viennese Israelitsche Kultusgemeinde (the Jewish Community of Vienna). Another volume happened to surface in the library of Julius Streicher, Nazi-propagandist and Editor of the influential, rabidly anti-semitic newspaper „Stürmer“ in Nuremberg.

The above comments are a compilation of paraphrased and quoted historical information, summaries, explanations and partial translations generously provided by Gregor Gatscher-Riedl, Ph.D., archivist in Perchtoldsdorf, Austria and by Andrew Simon, retired archivist in the Municpal and Provincial Archives of Vienna. Paulette Jellinek wrote the first paragraph and takes responsibility as well, for any inadvertent errors produced by her assembling and rewording of Dr. Gatscher-Riedl’s and Mr. Andrew Simon’s communications to me.

Dr. Gregor Gatscher-Riedl’s article “An Intellectual Center for Viennese Jewish Students: The Reading and Lecture Hall for Jewish University Students, 1894 - 1938” appears below.

An Intellectual Center for Viennese Jewish Students:
The Reading and Lecture Hall for Jewish University Students, 1894 - 1938

Ausgabe 123.  Heft 123 - 01/2020


Jewish Culture Magazine

Issue No. 123,  January 2020

Gregor Gatscher-Riedl

The Jewish academic student unions and fraternities that were formed starting in 1882 constituted the attempt to create spaces for Jewish cultural autonomy at the university level. The development of these bodies was probably not triggered, but was surely accelerated, by the aggressive anti-Semitism that had begun to permeate the academic mainstream due to the failure of the liberal elites in the 1880s and 1890s. A rich Jewish subculture was the result, and in Vienna it led to some fifteen fraternities identified by their colors, along with other organizations. At the start of this process stands the legendary Kadimah [Hebrew: Forward], which first became active in 1882, initially as a cultural organization, and occupied a position within Judaism that was opposed equally to assimilation and to Orthodoxy. Step-by-step, the group endowed itself with the form of a fraternity with its identifying colors and coats of arms. With the transition to “closed membership” Kadimah took on a more rigid form and tighter internal organization, but the nature of the fraternity, which was also criticized as being “un-Jewish” scared away students who were truly interested in community or specifically Jewish educational content.

Tense relationship between leadership and the broader organization

This shortcoming was recognized by Kadimah, which sought to retain its character as a Zionist elite but at the same time did not want to forego a broad reservoir of members and support. Kadimah’s founder, Ruben Bierer, who had been one of the co-founders, in Lemberg, of the first Jewish political association in Austria-Hungary, Schomer Israel [Hebrew: Guardian of Israel], in this case, too, took over the initiative of a re-founding, which was the subject of preliminary discussions on March 11, 1893. The association was founded on September 16, 1894 as a “Jewish Academic Reading Hall” under the patronage of Kadimah, but soon renamed the “Reading and Lecture Hall for Jewish University Students.” It was to be modeled on institutions with the same name for German national and liberal students that in turn modeled themselves on the one founded in 1848 in Prague. In fact, there was no building; rather a literary topos, a fictitious place in the sense of a sort of “temple” or “fellowship hall.” Certainly, the ancient Athenian “Stoa” (open gallery with columns) or the Aristotelian “Peripatos” (promenade), with their powerful connotations as places for philosophizing and teaching, served as inspiration for the naming.

Group portrait in the reading room on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the Reading and Lecture Hall in March 1929.
The president at the time, Dr. Karl Jellinek, standing in the first row, 9th from the right. In the background the coat of arms with circle and colored ribbons.
Photo courtesy of Paulette Jellinek

These associations, referred to in short as “Halle” (“Hall”), were important social, but also academic centers that offered their members not only club facilities and a program of informative events on political and student-related matters, but were also able to offer their own libraries and journals. A primary model at the university was the “Vienna Academic Reading Hall” founded on February 14, 1870 in which, starting in 1879, Theodor Herzl met his friends Heinrich Kana and Oswald Boxer or Arthur Schnitzler.

In its original concept the “Hall” was intended to serve as an umbrella organization for the academic fraternities that had now proliferated in addition to Kadimah. However, this did not occur, since it was felt that an overly provocative Zionist engagement should be avoided. Political neutrality would maintain the attractiveness for students as well as for sponsors, including the Vienna Kultusgemeinde [Jewish Community]. The balancing act between the Zionist orientation, which in 1897 was anchored in the adoption of the Basel Program, and the ethos of providing a range of services and maintaining an educational platform for Jewish students, succeeded, despite a number of heated debates between members and non-fraternity students.1

Members of the Reading and Lecture Hall in 1929 before the grave of Theodor Herzl.
The president of the Hall, Dr. Jellinek (3rd from right), continued to advocate on behalf of the Zionistic and Jewish fraternity movement even after his flight to the USA.
Photo courtesy of Paulette Jellinek

Important site of intellectual exchange

These factional disputes did not detract from the efficacy of the “Hall” for a Jewish-academic “dissimilation,” as posited by Shulamith Volkov. Already by the end of 1896, the association was the second largest student organization at the university, its membership soon increasing to 1,000, “and more and more, the Hall became what it had always been intended to be: an intellectual center for Viennese Jewish students. [...] Before the war, almost all of the communities, from Olmütz to Debreczin to Agram were among the supporters of the ‘Halle’,” as it says in the association's annual report for the year 1923/24. From this document it also appears that during his years in Vienna, Leo Trotzki [Leon Trotsky] also seems to have been a frequent guest.

The Reading and Lecture Hall had rooms near the university, initially on Währinger Strasse, later at Hörlgasse 11, Grünentorgasse 19a and, starting in 1913, at Türkenstrasse 9 (all in Vienna's District IX.) in the space formerly occupied by the World Zionist Organization. This is where the life of the association took place, which in 1907 was organized into eight sections and took into account the different spheres of interest of the members. In addition to a scientific and a Zionist section, there were Hebrew, French, Esperanto and literary sections, with the latter being responsible for the literary part of the “annual reports,” which was enriched by contributions from Rainer Maria Rilke or Martin Buber.

There were recreational activities in the form of the music group and the gymnastics and fencing teams that were launched on September 26, 1909 in the new sports club Hakoah [Hebrew: the strength] that had been founded by “Hall”members. Later the offerings were expanded: language and stenography courses, tutoring, dance lessons and a job exchange were [all] intended to provide additional qualifications. Before 1914, lectures were held in Lecture Hall 33 of the main university building.

Colored ribbon of a student monogram (“Circle”) of the Reading and Lecture Hall.
Photograph by the author.

“Raising Jewish awareness” as a goal of the organization2

Associations modeled on the one in Vienna were formed in 1903 in Brünn and in 1908 in Prague, and on March 19, 1914 an Alliance of Jewish Academic Reading and Lecture Halls in Austria was finalized, that was revitalized in 1923. The goal of the joint work was to be “Raising Jewish Awareness” of its members, which goal was also to be served by the joint newspaper project “The Jewish Student.” A gazette with the same name was started in 1933 as an organ of the “Judäa”, the joint representation of Jewish university students in Austria.

The new start in the fall of 1918 was characterized by a consolidation phase, which was finalized in 1923. Economic problems, as well as an unprecedented level of antisemitism, complicated the new beginning: In April 1920, for example, the Mensa Academica Judaica, that had emerged in 1911 from the “Hall,” was attacked by several hundred German- national university students; the guests [the Jewish students] were beaten up and the premises trashed.3 Under President Karl Jellinek, the “Hall” experienced a revival and with the acceptance of the honorary chairmanship by the Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Zwi Perez Chajes, it renewed the strong connection to the Viennese Jewish Community, for which long-time members, such as Josef Löwenherz as vice president or Leopold Plaschkes as a board member, assumed responsibility.

There was a loss of sponsorship [for the “Hall”] by the many cultural communities that were now in neighboring countries [i.e., no longer in the same Austro -Hungarian Empire.] This loss increased the significance for the “Hall” [members] of the principle of a lifelong bond, a characteristic of student fraternities. After graduating, the students continued their membership as supportive “old boys” and formed a professional and academic network. The adoption of student traditions also manifested itself in the adoption of a monogrammed “Circle” and the colors silver-blue-silver. Consequently, the “Halle” joined the Ring der Altherrenverbände (IGUL) the association of former students, founded in 1929 as a non-color-identified association.

Library with a reading room at the core

In the public's perception the “Hall” was closely identified with its reading room, which had been opened on January 24, 1924 by Chief Rabbi Chajes, and with the President of the Jewish Community Alois Pick in attendance. A special role in the creation of this institution was played by the “Verein für jüdische Geschichte und Literatur” [Association for Jewish History and Literature] under the chairmanship of the prominent scholar Samuel Krauss. The library comprised several thousand volumes and the reading room, which was open from 3:00 pm to 8:00 pm on weekdays, offered 136 different newspapers and journals, in the care of a “newspaper administrator” and librarian.

The club's premises were also made available to other organizations: the Jewish artists' cooperative Haruach [Hebrew: the spirit] chaired by Felix Salten who, like Sigmund Freud (his son Martin Freud was a member of Kadimah) was also a member of the “Hall's” honorary committee, the Hebrew language association Beth-Waad-L'ivrim [Hebrew: Committee for Hebrews] or the academic Zionists' club Hechawer [Hebrew: the comrade].

In 1938 the “Hall” shared the fate of Jewish organizations and was forcibly dissolved. The premises were seized and the valuable library stolen or distributed to National Socialist offices, such as the district office in Parliament. At least one book also came into the possession of the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher, where it was secured in 1945 by the U.S. Army. Its members suffered persecution or were expelled, like Karl Jellinek, who in 1939, was able to escape to New York with his family where, as chairman, he gathered the members of the “Hall” and other student fraternities into the IGUL-Alumni Association of Zionist Fraternities of Austrian Universities and, as a delegate of the Zionist Organization of America, worked for an independent State of Israel. After the 2nd World War, Berthold Hirschl, the president during the 1911 summer semester, rebuilt the academic infrastructure of the Viennese community. In some respects the ideal successor to the “Hall” became the Vereinigung jüdischer Hochschüler Österreichs [Association of Jewish University Students in Austria] founded on March 20, 1947.


Evelyn Adunka, Die vierte Gemeinde. Die Geschichte der Wiener Juden von 1945 bis heute. [The fourth community. The history of Viennese Jews from 1945 to today (Berlin-Vienna 2000)

Tamara Ehs, Das extramurale Exil. Vereinsleben als Reaktion auf universitären Antisemitismus [The extramural exile. Life in clubs as a reaction to anti-Semitism in universities] . In: Evelyn Adunka, Gerald Lamprecht, Georg Traska (publ.), Jüdisches Vereinswesen in Österreich im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert [Jewish associations in Austria in the 19th and 20th century]. (= Writings from the Center for Jewish Studies, Volume 18, Innsbruck-Vienna-Bozen 2011)

Adolf Gaisbauer, Davidstern und Doppeladler. Zionismus und jüdischer Nationalismus 1882-1918 [Star of David and imperial eagle. Zionism and Jewish nationalism 1882-1918]. (=Publications by the Commission for Modern Austrian History, Vol. 78, Vienna-Cologne-Graz 1988)

Ibid., Eine Jugendbewegung. Zur Geschichte der jüdisch-nationalen Studentenbewegung in Österreich 1882-1914 [A youth movement. On the history of the Jewish national student movement in Austria 1882-1914] . In: Zeitgeschichte, Vol. 2, No. 6, (Vienna March 1975)

Angelika M. Hausenbichl, Jüdische Autoemanzipation. Ein Blick in das Vereinsleben der Donaumonarchie am Beispiel der akademischen Vereine Kadimah und Jüdische Kultur [Jewish auto-emancipation. A look at the clubs of the Danubian Monarchy using the example of the academic associations Kadima and Jewish Culture] In: Adunka, Lamprecht, Traska (publ.), Jüdisches Vereinswesen in Österreich [Jewish Associations in Austria]

Jahresberichte 1902, 1907, 1923/24 der Lese- und Redehalle jüdischer Hochschüler, Wien. [Annual Reports 1902, 1907, 1923/24 of the Reading and Lecture Hall for Jewish University Students, Vienna]

Johanna Josephu, Jüdische Jugendorganisationen vor 1938 und nach 1945. Ein soziologischer Vergleich [Jewish Youth Organizations before 1938 and after 1945. A sociological comparison (=Dissertations from the University of Vienna, Vol. 64, Vienna 2000)

Fritz Roubicek, So streng war'n dort die Bräuche. Erinnerungen eines alten jüdisch-nationalen Couleurstudenten [The customs were so strict there. Remembrances of a former Jewish national fraternity member. (Hilden ³2000); Marsha l. Rozenblit, The Jews of Vienna, 1867-1914. Assimilation and Identity. (=SUNY Series in Modern Jewish History, Albany 1984)

Harald Seewann (publ.), Theodor Herzl und die akademische Jugend. Eine Quellensammlung über die Bezüge Herzls zum Korporationsstudententum [Theodor Herzl and the academic youth. A collection of sources concerning Herzl's ties to Jewish Student Organizations]. (=Historia Academia Judaica, Vol. 6, Graz 1998)

Ibid., Zirkel und Zionsstern. Bilder und Dokumente aus der versunkenen Welt des jüdisch-nationalen Korporationsstudententums. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Zionismus auf akademischem Boden [Circle and Star of David. Photos and documents from the lost world of Jewsh National Student Organizations.

A contribution to the history of Zionism in the academic sphere], 5 vol. (Graz 1990-96)

With special thanks to Paulette Jellinek, daughter of former President Dr. Karl Jellinek (1894-1977)

1. Dr. Gatscher-Riedl added in a personal communication, that the “...‘Halle’ was indeed serving a wide audience among Jewish students and its range of services like the library and courses were easily accessible. This covered things very familiar to us today, but weren’t in interwar times and membership in ‘Halle’ could be acquired very easily. So ‘Halle’ covered both education and provided service to its members.” Specific ‘Halle’ services were named in the third paragraph of explanatory background text above, and are also identified in all of the following sections of this DAVID magazine article that follow.

2. In a personal communication, Dr. Gatscher-Riedl added that ‘Raising Jewish awareness' encompassed both ‘Halle’ members and the Jewish public.’

3. In the same personal communication as above, Dr. Gatscher-Riedl clarified that this invasion of the Mensa Academica Judaica (English: canteen or cafeteria of Jewish university students) was carried out by German-national “Aryan” students while the Jewish students were having lunch in the Mensa. Dr. Gatscher-Riedl added that “The Mensa was open to any Jewish student; it had no membership requirement like ‘Halle’ had. Thus, the Jewish students who came there were guests.

Translated by staff of the Leo Baeck Insitute, NYC. and footnotes by P. Jellinek

About the Author, Dr. Gregor Gatscher-Riedl

Gregor Gatscher-Riedl, is an Austrian archivist, historian, author and journalist. He has headed the archive of the City of Perchtoldsdorf, Austria since 1999. Since 2004 he has authored 22 monographs, and co-authored or edited 12 other varied publications, all on the history of Central Europe. His most recent book is among the several of these publications in which Dr. Gatscher-Riedl has focussed on Jewish life and culture. Published in 2021 by KRAL in Berndorf, Austria, the book is titled: Von Habsburg Zu Herzl: Jüdische Studentenkultur in Mitteleuropa 1848 - 1948 (From Habsburg to Herzl: Jewish Student Culture in Central Europe, 1848 - 1948). In the book’s chapter: “The Student ‘Reading and Lecture Halls at Austrian Universities from 1848 to 1918” and in the biographical section, the reader (of German) can find still more information on the background, historical context and activities of the “Reading and Lecture Hall for Jewish University Students in Vienna,’ as well as on Dr. Karl Jellinek’s leadership role in it.

Dr. Gatscher-Riedl earned an M.A. in History and Political Science (2001), and a PhD in History and Philosophy (2008), both with Distinction at the University of Vienna. He also completed an intensive PhDr. course in Central European Studies at Konstantin University in Nitra, Slovakia in 2011.


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