Ephrussi Palace on the Ringstrasse

Ephrussi Palace on the Ringstrasse

I just finished reading Edmund de Waal’s beautiful, unusual book “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” and I highly recommend it. It is family history traced carefully, thoughtfully, and at times obsessively through the history of a collection of very old Japanese netsuke (tiny, detailed sculptures originally intended to hold the knots of the kimono sash). But it is also a highly personal view of the rise and fall of a Jewish banking family, the Ephrussi, who in Vienna met both the height of their wealth, power and cultural achievement in Vienna, and also the destruction, terror, plunder and murder of the Holocaust. Many of the family escaped to places across the world, while others died in the camps. The palace they built is now the headquarters of “Casino Austria” and directly in front of its imposing wooden doors is the mash-up of Wurzel stands, souvenir stands, and bus stops at the Schottentor Ubahn station. Across the Ringstrasse stands the original 19th century University building where students still rush in and out, mostly unaware of all this history. Reading the book prompted many deeper realizations about Vienna in Freud’s time, and also many questions. Such as: What must Freud have thought, as he walked along this very section of the Ringstrasse, striding purposefully from his quite nice but thoroughly bourgeois and rather dark apartments on Berggasse, past this palace of the heights of Jewish wealth, to a solidly middle-class lunch at the Landtmann Café a few blocks further along. Did he feel pride that Jews had attained so much in such a short time since the official persecutions had ended? Was the evidence of Jewish achievement (and assimilation) a bulwark against the fear of anti-Semitism, or was he aware of its fragility even in the early part of the century? Did he feel envy? Following his own theories, he must have had considerable ambivalence. By 1938, with the Anschluss, all such distinctions between rich and poor Jews had been erased – the Freuds and the Ephrussi escaped that same year to Britain with the intervention of aristocratic non-Jewish friends, and both families also had to leave many of their members behind. This stately building, like Berggasse 19, has so many stories to tell, both wonderful and tragic.
Palais Ephrussi with Votivkirche


About pcooperwhite

Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York NY
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2 Responses to Ephrussi Palace on the Ringstrasse

  1. Pingback: Paris, Dreyfus, and Vienna – the coincidences which led me to De Waal | The Daily Norm

  2. George Strong says:

    In 1933 a genocidal group of thugs centered around an exclusive, dogmatic and illicit ideology seized control of Weimar Germany. In 1938 the group seized Austria where, in Vienna, they acted out the naked violence embedded in National Socialism. The world stood stood quiescent. America retreated into isolationism; hearing nothing, speaking nothing, doing nothing. Three years later the world was sunk in a worldwide catastrophe . De Waal brings down that story, that is made up of so many parts that the whole is well nigh beyond the grasp of a single mind, to a poignant, informative and personal level. Read “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” and then look around at what is taking place in our world today . . . and act !

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