Güssing

Synagogue built in: 1837
Earliest record of community: 15th century
Last rabbi: Jakob Grünfeld
Community members: 1840: 520; 1934: 74; 1938: 100
After 1945: Torn down in 1953
Today: A new town hall has been built on the former synagogue’s site
Summary: Jews first lived in Güssing—a small town in the Burgenland region—in the 15th century. The local count, Phillip Batthyány, followed the example of Count Esterházy and took the town’s small Jewish community under his protection. This encouraged Jews from nearby Rechnitz to settle in Güssing. An influx of these Jews between 1728 and 1732 increased Güssing’s Jewish population from just 11 families to 80 persons in total.

Thereafter the town’s Jews steadily grew in number. By 1750 they were 274; at the turn of the 19th century there were 500; and by 1858 Güssing’s Jewish inhabitants numbered 750 in all and constituted 40.5% of the town’s total population. Like that of many other small Jewish communities, Güssing’s Jewish population eventually went into decline. By the beginning of 1938, the community had shrunk to just 140 members.  

The Güssing synagogue built in 1750 was replaced by a new, modern synagogue in 1837/8.The new building was rectangular in shape and had large bow windows framed by double pillars. The ceiling of its interior was classically decorated. The Torah ark was flanked by columns and the ladies’ gallery stretched around three sides of the interior.

A Jewish school opened in Güssing in 1855. This school provided Jewish religious tuition in German, as well as the nationally required secular subjects. The school building housed the community’s mikvah (ritual bath).

In 1868/9, Güssing’s Jewish community decided to join the national “neolog” (conservative) movement. The Jews of nearby Jennersdorf were members of the Güssing Kultusgemeinde (Jewish congregation). Jakob Grünfeld, who officiated from 1905 to 1938, was last Güssing’s rabbi.  

After the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria to Germany in 1938, Güssing’s Jews were attacked and their possessions stolen. Some were transported to Yugoslavia; others escaped to Vienna. The synagogue was used by the Nazis as a gym and as a venue for hosting festivals. Photographs have been found that show the extent of the profane uses to which the synagogue was put.

In 1953 the building was torn down and a new town hall was erected in its place.
Fate of the synagogue: Inappropriately used as gymnasium & festival hall
Located in: Burgenland