Matan Beseter: A Memorial for the Jewish Community of Laa an der Thaya
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[2000.05.27] A Cemetary in Mistelbach, Assaulted, The cemetary has been severely damaged by what appears to be a tragically misguided attempt at restoration. Photos are now available available.
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This page is a source of information about the Jewish community of Laa/Thaya, whose members were murdered or driven away after the Anschluss (the joining of Nazi Germany and Austria during World War II.) The information and other articles presented here are here directly, or indirectly as a result of the research Magdalena Müllner has been doing since 1992.

This page is also a memorial, since the town Laa/Thaya has no memorial and is unwilling to allow a memorial for the members of its former Jewish community. This page takes its name from the inscription on the only surviving artifact from Laa's synagogue, a donation box bearing the Hebrew text meaning "a hidden (or secret) gift."


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Laa an der Thaya

Laa/Thaya is a small town directly north of Vienna, Austria, and on the border to the Czech republic. Its role as border crossing since the fall of the monarchy, 80 years ago, has been important in defining its character.

Laa gained importance in the region when it was granted market rights 600 years ago, but has largely lost its importance since the second World War. The market right allowed a town to hold an open market on certain dates. Since few towns received this right, those that posessed it became economic and political centers for their respective regions.

Three structures still exist from medieval times: the castle, the church, and a section of the town wall. A stone cannon ball from the Swedish wars in is still lodged in the town wall today. Surviving documents prove that Laa's Jewish community goes back at least to the middle ages.

An old saying claims: Laa and Venice are sister cities: "Venice lies in the sea and Laa lies in the mud." Before Empress Maria Theresia ordered the draining of the swamps, Laa was inaccessible for much of the year. A small part of the old swamp still exists today and is called "the jungle".

There has always been a sense of pride among Laa's residents because they lived in a town and not just some unimportant village. This pride lead to the founding of the gymnasium, (academic high school) which was among of the first to admit women. Laa remains important as center of education even today.

Magdalena Müllner

Magdalena Müllner is currently studying German and English at the University of Vienna. She writes of herself:

I was born on the 25th of August, 1975, in Laa an der Thaya, Austria. When I was about 1 year old my parents moved to Mistelbach, which is 25 kilometers from Laa. In Mistelbach, we lived very close to the Jewish cemetery, though I probably did not notice at the time. My younger sister Elisabeth was born in Mistelbach. When I was 7 years old we moved back to Laa, where I attended the 2 remaining years of elementary school and high school.

During my early high school years, a special interest in Judaism and the Shoa arose. When I was 16 I first heard that a Jewish community had once existed in Laa a.d. Thaya. (see "Living with lies") I started asking people who still live in Laa about who they remembered. Within less than a year, I came into contact with a Jewish woman who was born as a member of the Jewish community of Laa. Many others would follow.

In 1992 I entered a writing contest held by the Jewish Welcome Service. I was one of 20, of 1000, who won a trip to Israel with my essay "Living with lies".

In 1995 I gave my first speech about my research in the Holocaust memorial Museum in Washington D.C., where I was visiting a survivor from Laa. In 1996 I was again in the United States to speak at Oberlin College (Ohio), Beachwood High School (Ohio), Adas Israel Sunday School (Washington D.C.) and the Austrian embassy (Washington D.C.).

My stay in Oberlin changed my life very much because I met my boyfriend Benjamin, who attended my lecture there. Together we have started restoring the Jewish cemetery in Mistelbach and have made this web page.

The friendships I have found by getting in contact with former Jewish residents of Laa have become very precious to me.

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Magdalena Müllner
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Last modified
2000.05.27 19:57