Back to the future: the Vienna attacks

It’s perhaps an over-reaction brought on by having recently completed my Jewish ancestors’ history, but I felt personally attacked by the shootings in Vienna on November 2 that killed four people and seriously wounded several others.

It started near the main synagogue on Seitenstettengasse, and although it wasn’t immediately clear if the attacker had chosen this location deliberately, it conjured images of ugly days in Vienna, when the Seitenstettengasse synagogue was the only one left standing on Kristallnacht, the November 1938 pogrom.

It was the synagogue my grandmother Emma used to attend for weekly religious classes, sauntering there across the Danube canal from her home in the Brigittenau district. It was left standing, but all its windows and pews were smashed, religious objects torn and broken. The reason it was spared was that fire could have spread to nearby buildings. The Leopoldstadt synagogue, on the other hand, was a free-standing building that once seated 3,000 members, and it was set alight along with some 80 other synagogues and smaller prayer houses.

I felt some comfort when Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s speech condemned the attack as one of the country’s darkest hours since the end of World War Two. Despite his generally right-wing positions, he refused to condemn any one religion. “Our enemies are terrorists and extremists; we are not going to fall into their trap and divide our society.”