Treasure Trove: As children head back to school, David Matlow explores a perilous time for Jewish students

As school opens this week, we have the opportunity for a brief moment to consider the experience of Jewish students going back to school in Vienna in 1938.

After the Nazi Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in 1938, a young Viennese rabbi, Wolf Gottlieb, sought permission from the Nazi authorities under Adolf Eichmann for the Jewish community to open a special “school for emigration”. Since Eichmann was interested in the forced emigration of Austria’s Jews at the time, the idea was approved and JUAL, or the Youth Aliyah School of Vienna, was opened in a Talmud Torah building that the government had closed.

Work und Weg (Work and Way) was an exhibition that opened on Sept. 1, 1940 at the school. The exhibit showcased the skills of the students who were desperately preparing to leave Austria to engage in manual work in Palestine. It offered an extremely rare opportunity for Viennese Jews to attend a cultural event which the Nazis otherwise prohibited. 

The Youth Aliyah organization had three foundational elements: work, study and communal life. By the end of the Second World War, it had rescued 15,000 children from Germany and Austria including hundreds of JUAL graduates. 

This is a small advertisement (with the map of Israel in the background) with “Work and Way” signaling that agricultural work was the path to leaving Austria at this most perilous time. Note the expressions on the faces of the two students. The school gave its students hope that upon graduation they would be permitted to emigrate.