Leopoldstadt, `the city of Leopold`, named this way after Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, who reigned over these lands in the seventeenth century, is the second district of Vienna. It is located in the center of the metropolis, and it has a population about the size of an average town (e.g. around 103.000 people). In interwar years, Leopoldstadt was home to an important number of the Jewish population (e.g. almost 40% of its population were Jews). Earlier massive settlement of Jews dates the seventeenth century, but the most significant wave of immigration happened in the time of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy when Jews of the eastern lands of the Monarchy like Galicia came here. The Jews of Leopoldstadt were periodically persecuted by authorities or by the local population, yet, they managed to transform Leopoldstadt in a microcosm of Jewish life, abounding of synagogues (almost all synagogues of Vienna were located here), yeshivas, but also of restaurants, cafes, tailor workshops, and bookshops. The annexation of Austria in 1938 by the Nazi regime destroyed the Jewish life of Leopoldstadt. For one thing, none of the existing synagogues survived. The big majority of the Jews were deported and murdered in camps like those of Treblinka, Izbica, Theresienstadt, and many others. One of the most telling traces of these tragedies is a memorial plaque located on the wall of a building on Malzgasse at no. 16. The building belonged to the former school for little girls of Dr. Krüger Heims and to the Orthodox Jewish School for Girls, Bet Jakob. During the Nazi dictatorship, it served as a camp from which ten of thousands of Jews, men, women, children, were sent to the death camps of the Reich.
Yet, today, Jewish life flourishes once more here just the way it flourished in the Austrian Monarchy following the persecutions of the seventeenth century. As you walk around, apart from memorial plaques, you’ll see small Hassidic boys running errands on behalf of their parents, kosher food restaurants, and even real mezuzahs (i.e. not the traces of the old ones).
Always enjoy a walk throughout Leopoldstadt, from the Danube to Augarten Park, and rest for a while in the Karmelitenmarkt. Furthermore, be on the watch for all sorts of signs around you: books, food, houses, workshops, services, and above all, the spirit of long gone people.