With Karl Lueger's election as Mayor of Vienna in 1897, political anti-Semitism reached its climax and became a social force dominating everyday life.
The decline of political liberalism towards the end of the 19th century was accompanied by a surge of anti-Semitic movements. In Vienna, anti-Semitism manifested itself at political level in two competing directions: in German-National and Christian-Social anti-Semitism.
The 1873 stock exchange crash and the subsequent social tension brought a sudden end to the hopes of the Jewish population of achieving complete social equality through their own modernisation and assimilation efforts.
Around the turn of the century, over 2 million people of the Jewish faith lived in the Habsburg Empire. In the age of liberalism, the gradual introduction of legal equality raised their hopes of social integration, while at the same time the emerging anti-Semitism was developing to be a potential threat to the Jewish population.
First used in the German press in 1879, the term anti-Semitism rapidly became popular, and stood for the ideologization of hostility to Jews, presenting the "Jewish question" as the solution to social and political crises.
In 1916 the hunger disaster spread unstoppably throughout the Habsburg Monarchy. In their affliction women became the harshest critics of the state, demanding an end to the war.
The third war winter became the turning point. In view of the continuous price rises and shortages, the population’s willingness to make sacrifices reached its limits. The catastrophic hunger threatened the internal cohesion of the society, social chasms grew deeper and the search for those to blame began.
At the beginning of the war the population had mainly to struggle with exorbitant price increases. Indeed the increasing shortages made themselves felt already at the start of 1915. The purchase of everyday articles as well as the production and conservation of food became the predominant tasks.
In view of the supply crisis, food gained political importance. Women, upon whom fell in most cases the feeding of their families, became protagonists of a morally highly stylised, existential provision. Through thriftiness and ingenuity they were supposed to conquer the foe in the kitchen.
To compensate for bottlenecks in the provision of basics, improvisation was in demand. All manner of substitutes featured in the kitchens of the Monarchy, and became a symbol of a failure to provide basic services.