Region of the federal state of Austria. Burgenland is bordered by the provinces of Lower Austria and Styria (west), Slovakia (northeast), Hungary (east), and Slovenia (south). The name Burgenland is a post–World War I invention that was officially adopted in 1922. Jews experienced a long, continuous history in the region, characterized by their adherence to religion and tradition.
The first reliable documentations of a Jewish presence in Burgenland date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. After expulsion from Styria and Carinthia (1496) and Sopron (1526), many Jews settled in Burgenland. In the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, Jews who had been expelled from Vienna, Lower Austria, and Moravia arrived there. Three of the five Jewish communities (Güssing, Rechnitz, and Schlaining) under the protectorate of the Batthyány family were located in Burgenland. The Esterházys gained control over Eisenstadt, Mattersdorf, Lackenbach, Deutschkreutz, Kobersdorf, Frauenkirchen, and Kittsee (known as the Seven Communities).
From 1671 to 1857, the number of Jews in Burgenland grew steadily (to 2,460 in 1700; 8,000 in 1850), but these totals diminished as a percentage of the overall Hungarian Jewish community. In places in Burgenland that did contain a Jewish community, up to one-third or even half of the population was Jewish (though Jews never exceeded 10% of Burgenland’s population as a whole). After the emancipation (1867) many Jews left for larger cities. Until the end of World War I, Burgenland was under Hungarian rule; in 1921 it became Austrian.
From early on, Jews of the region were active in the large-scale trading of cattle, corn, honey, wax, and wine. The professional structure of the Jewish community stayed remarkably constant: about 45 percent were in commerce, 25 percent in artisanry, 10 percent in services, and another 10 percent in academia. From the end of the nineteenth century, Jews were prominent in businesses, though no Jews were considered to be extraordinarily wealthy.
The Jewish communities of Burgenland had great autonomy. Until 1848, their legal basis lay in privileges granted by the lords of the manor. Detailed takanot (statutes) regulated every aspect of the community’s life according to halakhic principles. Minhagim (local customs) held great weight. Almost every rabbi had his own yeshiva. Important figures included Me’ir ben Yitsḥak Eisenstadt (author of Panim me’irot, served 1717–1744 in Eisenstadt), Ḥatam Sofer (1798–1806, Mattersdorf), Menaḥem Katz Prossnitz (1840–1891, Mattersdorf), and the rabbinic families Ehrenfeld (active 1877–1938, Mattersdorf), Grünfeld (1905–1938, Güssing), and Grünwald (1907–1938, Deutschkreutz).
Because of the long uninterrupted settlement and the fact that antisemitic incidents were rare, Burgenland’s Jews were deeply rooted into the region. Relations with non-Jews and other Jewish communities were generally good. Inner changes and the establishment of compulsory “German Schools” (1783) led to a gradual integration into Austro-German culture. Burgenland’s Jews continued to maintain their affinity to the German language even when a forced “Magyarization” policy was adopted by Hungary after 1867. Nevertheless, Burgenland’s Jews were of a conservative orientation and favored Orthodoxy. There were almost no intermarriages.
After the Anschluss in 1938, the Nazis adopted a policy of forced emigration. Those among the approximately 3,800 Jews of Burgenland who did not find a way to leave Austria were deported to Eastern Europe and died. At the beginning of the twenty-first century barely a dozen Jews lived in Burgenland.
Hugo Gold, ed., Gedenkbuch der untergegangenen Judengemeinden des Burgenlandes (Tel Aviv, 1970); Rudolf Kropf, ed., Juden im Grenzraum: Geschichte, Kultur und Lebenswelt der Juden im burgenländisch-westungarischen Raum (Eisenstadt, 1993); Bernhard Wachstein, Urkunden und Akten zur Geschichte der Juden in Eisenstadt und den Siebengemeinden (Vienna, 1926).