Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The Habsburg Monarchy as the guarantee of pluralistic identities

For Austrian Jews, the Habsburg Monarchy as a supranational entity meant the possibility of developing an identity that was not based solely on membership of a national, ethnic or religious body. They saw themselves as the backbone of an integrative force loyal to the Imperial family within the multiethnic state, and advocated multinationalism up to the end of the war.



Most Austrian Jews were loyal to the Habsburg multiethnic state, identified themselves with German culture and were members of the Jewish faith. This membership, described by the historian Marsha L. Rozenblit as a "triple identity", had developed over the course of the second half of the 19th century, and had a unifying effect on the Jewish population of the multiethnic state. It felt itself patriotically linked to the monarchy and faithful to the Habsburgs.

In an age of increasing nationalism and the centrifugal effects of separatist movements, most Jews remained true to the state. The growing anti-Semitism and the ethnic definition of national identity increased their loyalty to the Habsburg Monarchy. Their expectation was that a strong central power would be most likely to allow autonomy rights to the individual groups while at the same time providing for equal rights for all citizens in the constitution. In addition, they saw the continued existence of the multinational Habsburg Empire as the best protection against rampant anti-Semitism.

At the beginning of the war, the majority of the Jewish population adopted a position of loyalty to the Emperor, and leading personalities gave vociferous expression to their patriotism. Many young men marched enthusiastically into war, and in particular those soldiers who had grown up under the threat of anti-Semitic agitation saw the war as an opportunity to vigorously prove their loyalty to the state and the Imperial house and to confute their detractors. Thus for instance, Egon Zweig wrote in the Jüdische Zeitung in July 1914: "The contemptible, who year in year out have vilified us Jews as heartless money machines, as dishonourable cowards, as the embodiment of all vices, who have trampled on our statutory rights to equal treatment with scorn, let them see how Jewish men, ready for battle, present to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor."

Alongside the need to demonstrate their loyalty to the monarchy and to counter the allegations of cowardice and idleness, there was another reason for the large number of Jewish volunteers. For many, the war against Russia was seen as a crusade against the hereditary enemy of the Jews. The perception of the Tsarist empire as barbarian, despotic and anti-Semitic was reinforced in the first years of the war following the Russian army's invasion of Galicia, forcing thousands of refugees to flee to the Western part of the monarchy for fear of pogroms. Chronicles by Jewish soldiers from all areas of the monarchy testify that it was the war against Russia that justified their willingness to serve at the front.

Translation: David Wright



Beller, Steven: Wien und die Juden 1867–1938, Wien/Köln/Weimar 1993

Botz, Gerhard et al. (Hrsg.): Eine zerstörte Kultur. Jüdisches Leben und Antisemitismus in Wien seit dem 19. Jahrhundert, 2. Auflage, Wien 2002

Rozenblit, Marsha L.: Sustaining Austrian „National“ Identity in Crisis: The Dilemma of the Jews in Habsburg Austria, 1914−1919, in: Judson, Pieter M./Rozenblit, Marsha L.: Constructing Nationalities in East Central Europe, New York 2005, 178-191

Rozenblit, Marsha L.: Reconstructing a National Identity. The Jews of Habsburg Austria during World War I, Oxford 2001

Rechter, David: Kaisertreue. The Dynastic Loyality of Austrian Jewry, in: Hödl, Klaus (Hrsg.): Jüdische Identitäten. Einblicke in die Bewusstseinslandschaft des österreichischen Judentums, Innsbruck/Wien/München 2000, 189-208


„Die Nichtswürdigen, die jahraus, jahrein...“: Zweig, Egon: „Oesterreich und wir Juden“, Jüdische Zeitung. National-jüdisches Organ, Wien 31. Juli 1914, 31, 1

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    On the eve of war

    The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were a time of modernisation, mechanisation and speed. In 1910, Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire, had 2.1 million inhabitants and had grown to become an international metropolis. New technologies changed working life and leisure. Railways increased mobility, as did the bicycle, motor vehicle and aeroplane. How did this development manifest itself and what other trends emerged in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War?


  • Development


    Around the turn of the century anti-Semitism entered the political agenda and became part of the ideological programme and guiding principle behind political activities. It was based on an ideology that stigmatised Jews as “different” and as a threat to society. During the First World War, anti-Semitic agitation abated initially underthe domestic “truce”, but it heated up again as the war failed to take the desired course.

  • Development

    National attitudes to the war

    The Habsburg Monarchy as a state framework for the smaller nationalities of Central Europe was not seriously questioned before 1914, either internally or externally. With the outbreak of war, representatives of the nationalities initially emphasised their loyalty to the Monarchy’s war aims.