Sunday, January 4, 2009

Austria: A visit to Eisenstadt cemetery

The tiny town of Eisenstadt means different things to different people. There can be strange juxtapositions in the study of Jewish cemeteries and genealogy. Here you will find at least four: the composer Joseph Haydn; the Esterházy family, a world-renowned potter and an ancient Jewish community in Eisenstadt in the Burgenland (Austria).

Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau (Lower Austria) on March 31, 1732, and died in Vienna on May 31, 1809. I am such a Haydn fan that I visited his birthplace a few years ago, at the exact day and moment of his birth - I was the only visitor!

Haydn was often a reluctant resident of Eisenstadt as he and his musicians had to spend the summer there; Haydn was employed to compose “to order” and play almost daily to entertain the Esterházy court and its many visitors.

It was the same Count Nikolaus Esterházy who was the Schutzherr of the Jews of Eisenstadt, who lived within the castle estate. After Vienna, Haydn found Eisenstadt very tedious as it was so small and restrictive. When Count Nikolaus died, the composer went to London and was in seventh heaven.

Haydn was awarded the first-ever Honorary Doctor of Music at Oxford and I too have an Oxford degree and have trodden in his footsteps in that historic University town. If you have never listened to Haydn’s Creation - based on the Old Testament account of the seven days of creation - and his secular oratorio, The Seasons, you are in for a treat in 2009, the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death.

It is not generally known that Sandór Wolf - his Eisenstadt house is now a regional museum and houses one of Haydn's gorgeous organs - was the grandfather of the world-renowned potter Lucie Rie. See photos in my FLICKR site here.

Sándor Wolf (Eisenstadt Nov. 21, 1871 - Haifa Jan. 2, 1946) was a wine wholesaler, art collector and researcher. He was also a scholar/archaeologist and collaborated with Bernhard Wachstein - click here for more information - in a momentous tome on the transcriptions of the Eisenstadt cemetery: “Die Grabinschriften des alten Judenfriedhofes in Eisenstadt mit einer Studie: Die Entwicklung des jüdischen Grabsteines und die Denkmäler des Eisenstädter Friedhofes von S. Wolf (Eisenstädter Forschungen 1).

Wolf was particularly interested in ancient settlements and artefacts of the Burgenland and there is evidence that Jews had arrived in this area with the Roman Legions, well over 1,000 years before the first Jewish community settled in Eisenstadt in the 1370s.

The Esterházys took the Jewish community under their protection in 1622 when they inherited the area estates. The Jewish population increased and the fame of tiny Eisenstadt as a centre of Jewish learning and scholarship spread throughout the world.

In 2008, a gold scroll was discovered in the Burgenland, as the earliest evidence of Jewish inhabitants in the region, now part of Austria; the amulet was inscribed with a Jewish prayer and found in a Roman child’s grave dating back to the 3rd century at a burial ground in Halbturn. Read about these here.

There is a WOLF GOMPERZ RIE family archive here with many pictures.

Lucie Gomperz was the youngest child of three and the only daughter of Dr. Benjamin and Gisela Gomperz. Dr. Gomperz was a successful ear, nose and throat specialist in Vienna. Gisela Gomperz née Wolf was born into the wealthy Wolf family. The Gomperz children, who lived in Vienna, spent a lot of time at the Wolf estate in Eisenstadt.

Here is an excellent German-language article with photographs about this fascinating family, and a family tree here.

Burials in Eisenstadt cemetery illustrated here took place from 1679-1874. There is a later Jewish cemetery I did not visit on this trip.

The Israelitische Kultusgemeinde {IKG - Vienna} cemetery database lists about 1,200 burials in Eisenstadt cemetery and the names - many patronymics- are very evocative. Here are four entries:
Fr. Hindel T. Abraham ha-Levi Spitz (Fr. Elia Lichtenstadt) 5th row 223
Frumet T. Elia Zebi aus Trebitsch, Fr. Pinchas Ahron Halberstadt 07/30/1802 5th row 464
Gumpel Emmerich, Fr. Meir Preßburg (ben Mich. Lazar ben Simon Michl) Golda T. 02/27/1794 5th row 264
Jehuda Löb ben Ascher Anschel Jafe-Margulies (Schlesinger) 5th row 19

Eisenstadt was called *Asch* in Hebrew because the two Hebrew letters A(lef) and S(chin) are derived from E(A)eisenStadt. Thus, Asch may imply the family name Eisenstadt or an origin from Eisenstadt viz: Meir b. Isaac Eisenstadt [MaHaRaM A"Sh].

Read about the Eisenstadt Jewish community in these three short articles:
Jewish Encyclopedia, Beth Hatefutzot and the Jewish Virtual Library

Finally, look at my FLICKR pictures here.


  1. Such an interesting cemetery - great article and photos!

  2. Haydn's Creation is one of the most glorious and magnificent masterpieces ever created in human history, IMHO. Do you happen to know if it was ever translated and performed in Hebrew, or if any such recording exists? i would love to hear it in Hebrew. Thanks!!