A Holy War and Revenge for Kishinev

Austrian Rabbis Justify the First World War

in European Judaism

During the First World War Austrian rabbis played a major role in constructing a meaningful justification for the war that enabled both soldiers and those on the home front to endure the bloody conflict. Because Austria's main enemy in the first two years of the war was Russia, the 'evil empire' that persecuted its Jews, Austrian Jews, and rabbis in particular, saw the war as a just and holy war to liberate the Jews of Austrian Galicia, occupied by the Russian army at the beginning of the war, and also those of Russia itself. The war thus was a war of revenge for Kishinev; that is, for the pogroms in Russia. Such a definition of the war meant that Jews could fight both as loyal, patriotic citizens of Austria and also for a specific Jewish cause at the same time. In their sermons and writings, rabbis cogently expressed this wartime ideology, which persisted even after the Central Powers defeated Russia. Then rabbis, indeed Jewish spokesmen in general, understood the war in terms of guaranteeing the survival of the Habsburg Monarchy which protected the Jews from anti-Semitism and the dangers of nationalism.