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The Life that Was

Jews had lived in Germany and Austria since Roman times. By 1871, Jews were emancipated and granted most rights of citizenship. A period of assimilation, including intermarriage and conversion, followed. Jews made vital cultural and economic contributions and many served alongside their countrymen in the First World War.

By the 1930s, there were 566,000 Jews in Germany and 185,000 in Austria. Most Austrian Jews lived in the capital city of Vienna and contributed greatly to cultural, scientific and economic life. The community was divided between middle and upper class Central European Jews who adhered to Liberal/Reform observance and more recent immigrants from Eastern Europe who tended to be working class and Orthodox.

German Jews constituted less than one percent of the population. Historically prohibited from many professions, Jews were disproportionately represented in commerce, law, medicine, journalism, academia and the arts. Germany was also home to a vibrant Jewish culture, which included Jewish educational institutes, rabbinical seminaries, and Zionist and other youth groups.

During the interwar Weimar Republic, German Jews were able to advance in politics within the democratic and socialist parties. But economic and political instability in the 1930s contributed to the rise of fascism and a resurgence of antisemitism in Germany.

A dossier of images relating to pre-war Jewish life. Dossier

A collection of images relating to pre-war Jewish life.

“We Had to Leave”
in the classroom


Leaving Europe
Students learn about the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria by engaging with the prewar photographs of former internees, and with internee video testimony about how life changed after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933.


The Life That Was


Dossier: The Life That Was


Nazism in Germany & Austria

Complete Teachers’ Guide to Enemy Aliens
PDF 7.8 MB

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