A commitment to Austrian-Jewish history has been central to the mission of the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) since its foundation in 1955. Approximately 30 percent of the archival and library holdings relate to Austrian-Jewish history. In recent years, however, we have seen an increasing interest in the history of Austrian Jews. In response to this trend, the Leo Baeck Institute maintains a collection devoted to this history.
The Austrian Heritage Collection (AHC), a program whose specific goal is to document the history of Austrian-Jewish émigrés who fled to the USA during the Nazi years, has been centered at the Leo Baeck Institute since 1996.
The project was founded in 1996 as a cooperation of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY), the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for the Victims of National Socialism, the Verein GEDENKDIENST, the LBI and the services of two young Gedenkdiener (interns sponsored by the Austrian government). This ambitious project has contacted thousands of survivors to make sure that their stories become part of the permanent record.
The aim of the AHC is to preserve this part of Austrian-Jewish history by distributing questionnaires, compiling a project database, collecting contemporary documents and conducting oral history interviews. Presently, there are more than 700 oral history interviews in the LBI’s Austrian Heritage Collection, and the number is growing fast. An additional and essential part of the project is the human contact it affords between young Austrians and émigrés.
The collected material in the Austrian Heritage Collection will serve as the foundation for research and analysis for future generations eager to learn about Austrian-Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust. Some of the interviews in the collection are also featured in the Austrian Heritage Archive. This bilingual (German/English) online platform presents contextualized testimonies and biographical documents of Jewish emigrants from Austria who survived National Socialism. The testimonies can be used as an educational tool as well as a source for academic projects.