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Architectural Aesthetic and Imperial Politics: Four Synagogues in Vienna and Breslau

Sun, December 16, 10:00 to 11:30am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Waterfront 3 Ballroom

Abstract

This paper compares Jewish communal architectural aesthetics in the cities of Vienna and Breslau (Wrocław) from the 1820s to the 1870s. In that period, the Jewish communities of each municipality constructed two synagogues of architectural and cultural note, the building, dedication, and social significance of which will be analyzed in this paper. Two aspects of the construction of these communal synagogues are tied directly with questions about imperial claims and ambitions within Europe’s continental empires. First, in what ways do these synagogues represent the political and aesthetic preferences of their respective imperial societies? Did Jewish choices regarding communal construction projects reflect broader trends in Prussian or Habsburg culture? Second, in what ways did the cultural and religious linkages between the Jewish communities of Vienna and Breslau superseded imperial-specific aesthetic differences? Within architectural history, there are obvious stylistic differences between Prussian and Habsburg buildings. But that distinction is much more difficult to draw when it comes to separating the daily lives of Jews in these two municipalities. Though Vienna and Breslau were in different empires, they drew many of their immigrant populations from overlapping provinces, and Jewish religious and intellectual leaders often spent part of their lives living in the other imperial setting from the one into which they were born. This paper proposed to examine the cases of Breslau and Vienna as a way of engaging with questions about imperial cultures and the entanglement of communal religious decisions within broader plans of imperial urban aesthetics.

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