Hidden Belief or Double Identity? The Image of Marranism in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Berlin 2009/03/23 Anna L. Staudacher

Double Identity – Marranism in Vienna? Ad fontes!

“Resigners”, Converts and Reverts in Vienna 1782-1914


Ad fontes! Notices of resignation, “declarations” in the context of converting to Christianity, declarations of converting back to Judaism, books of conversion, baptismal registers, books of resignation  ... and other sources have been preserved and critically incorporated: 16,000 notices of resignation by adults for themselves and their children were handed in at the magistrate of the City of Vienna, at the archives of dioceses and parishes: there exist “declarations” which were personally signed. There were requests to change one´s name, reasons for which had to be given in detail, together with “Rekursen”, by way of which appeals were lodged against rejections; all are found at Viennese archives – overly rich sources, across all classes, which make a close look possible, already published. Forthcoming: Der Austritt aus dem Judentum in Wien von 1868-1914 (Resignation from Judaism Between 1868 and 1914).


Marranism in the stricter sense of the word, forced baptism and sticking to the belief of the forefathers, all this did not happen in Vienna during the 19th century, apart from a few individual cases: with one exception, concerning the poorest of the poor, Jewish maids whose children were baptised by force in pre-March because otherwise the office of foundlings, created by Emperor Joseph II., would not take them, whose mothers had to accept baptism in order of receiving at least some information about their children – denominationally raped motherly love. Here, concerning one or the other case, we may assume that life was still going on according to Jewish customs and laws, as returning to Judaism was possible only from 1868 on. Cross-denominational weddings of Jews and Christians did not happen in Austria until the year 1938, which means: until the year 1868 any such wedding was Christian, mostly Roman Catholic – marranism in a Catholic marriage?


However, the baptismal registers document a kind of marranism in the wider sense, but under different circumstances: Jewish parents from the upper class had their children baptised in secrecy, secured Catholic education by help of Catholic governesses, went on with their lives as Jews within the Jewish community. Later, after the introduction of “Notzivilehe” (emergency civil marriage), with one partner staying to be Jewish and the other having to resign from the Church, it was often that children were baptised right after their birth – if this was Jewish households with Catholic servants may be left open.


Rather frequent weddings among converts may be called marranism in the wider sense, an expression of double identity. If we turn to the sources, they give evidence to weddings among converts having been specific only for that educated upper class which for the time being has been in the focus of research: artists, writers, scientists, industrialists. One knew each other from the past, was friends with each other, fell in love, married. This was only a small part of an educated middle and upper class which itself made only three to eight per cent of all converts. With the others, it was precisely a projected wedding to a non-Jew which resulted in resigning from Judaism, even after the year 1868, after the introduction of “Notzivilehe”.


However, sources on those returning emphasize again and again that due to outer circumstances one had felt to be forced to accept baptism, but that over the decades one had not stopped living as a Jew. Such exceptions should be interpreted with some reservations, as they were meant to support the intended goal of returning to Judaism. Furthermore it is obvious that before officially changing one´s denomination one does not live according to the old denomination anymore – and that thus one leads a Jewish life even before officially resigning, that one has already been keeping customs and laws for some time – this has not got anything to do with marranism. On the other hand, also “baptism candidates” again and again emphasize in the same way, for which there is also evidence from sources, that they had been living as Christians, for years and decades, before accepting baptism.


In the past year, at a congress of the GSA (German Studies Association, St. Paul) Gerald Stourzh suggested the neutralization of positively or negatively occupied terms in the context of Jewish-Christian converts and also noticed an increasing tendency to tie converts and “resigners”, even children of converts who were born after their parents´ conversion, to Jewishness while following the pattern of the Nuremberg Laws – for example by listing them in Jewish biographical encyclopaedias. When using an emotionally occupied term, let us take care not to juggle names!


Wien, am 16. Februar 2009

Anna L. Staudacher

Übersetzung: Mirko Wittwar