The Jewish Danube

Dining on the ship
Dining on the ship | Larger

The trip began as a riverboat cruise on the enchanting Danube River which flows through 10 European countries. The Uniworld River Beatrice wound its way along the Danube sailing from Budapest to Passau, staying two nights in Vienna and winding through the charming villages of Durnstein and Melk, located in Austria's picturesque Wachau Valley.

That's how the brochure described the trip, but it provided an opportunity for much more! The itinerary was a vast vehicle to explore Jewish heritage sights.

The ship provided daily complimentary excursions for all the ports of call, complete with transportation, guides and headset systems. Most of the tours were in the mornings, giving passengers' free time to explore regions on their own in the afternoon and evening hours. 

In the port of call in Linz, Austria, my husband and I arranged for a tour guide to pick us up at the ship and to transport us to the Mauthausen Memorial, approximately a 30-minute drive from the ship's dock.

The lessons of the Holocaust are being taught daily to busloads of students at the Mauthausen Memorial on the grounds of the former Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The Memorial receives 200,000 Austrian and foreign visitors annually. The majority of the students are brought to Mauthausen by their teachers.

Linz is a city that is surrounded by many tourist and cultural attractions; opera houses, state theaters, musical festivals, botanical gardens, the Ars Electronic Center, an interactive museum of the future, and the Schlossmuseum Linz, a museum with technology and nature collections.

It is also the destination where composer, Anton Bruckner, lived and influenced the world of music and Linz is one of the best places in the world to enjoy a Linzer Torte cake. Yet, this city is also the place where its inhabitants have to confront the horrors of the Holocaust.

And the Mauthausen Memorial is a daily effort by Austrians to portray this horrific period of history and hopefully prevent the Holocaust from happening again to any people from any nation.

The Memorial is located 17 miles from Linz and 80 miles west of Vienna.

Students learn about the Holocaust
Students learn about the Holocaust at a tour
of the Mauthausen memorial in Austria.


When we arrived at the Memorial, we observed two busloads of students touring the camp. Audio guides to the Memorial site are available in different languages at the entrance. There is also a visitor's center that contains information about the camp and testimonies of the former inmates.

We opted for a guided tour which must be booked in advance at Our tour guide at the Memorial was Daniel Tscholl, who was extremely knowledgeable about the history and daily occurrences of the camp as well as the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust.

"I take many school groups through the camp and I ask them questions," Tscholl said. "How could this happen? Why did this evil take place?"

Tscholl pointed to an area of lush green grass at the Mauthausen Memorial.

"A soccer field was located here on the grounds of Mauthausen and hundreds, perhaps thousands of Austrians came here to cheer for their favorite team," Tscholl said. "They saw the inmates. What did they think was happening in this place?"

As we followed in the footsteps where more than 100,000 inmates perished at the camp, it was hard to imagine and even harder to write about the evil that was perpetrated in this place.

Almost 200,000 people were deported to Mauthausen. They came from many nations and memorials from 18 countries have been erected on the grounds of the Mauthausen. The tour includes a visit to the prisoner's barracks, crematoriums, SS Headquarters, and gas chamber. There are no gruesome photos of prisoners during the camp tour. You are asked to use your imagination concerning the events that occurred as you walk along the long camp corridors surrounded by stone walls and barbed wire fences.

The Memorial is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is closed on Dec. 24, 26, 31, and Jan. 1.

We also visited other Jewish sites in Linz and received an outstanding tour by guide, Johann Gutenbrunner, Gutenbrunner, a Christian, was born 30 miles from Linz and is well informed about the Jewish community and the area.

Gutenbrunner made arrangements with the Jewish community for us to attend a special Shabbat service at Linz's only synagogue on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, referred to in Austria as "Reich-Pogromm-Nacht." The national pogrom of death and destruction of Jewish property and the rounding up of Jews in Germany, Austria and other European countries took place in 1938.

It took three congregants standing on the bimah of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Linz (IKL) synagogue, several minutes to recite the long list of the names of Jews in the community who perished in the Holocaust at the commemoration service.

A gathering of approximately 30 men and women attended the service. The Jewish community of Linz now numbers about 50. George Wozasek, president of the Jewish community, talked about the unfinished Austrian Jewish lives that were ended during the Holocaust.

When we entered the synagogue, two policemen stood in front of the synagogue to ensure the safety of those attending the service.

"There were approximately 500 Jews living in Linz before the Holocaust," Gutenbrunner said. "The synagogue was built in 1877 and was destroyed during the pogrom on Nov. 9, 1938."

The synagogue where the services took place was erected on the spot where the previous neo-Romanesque style house of worship had stood. The IKL synagogue built in 1968 has cement walls with no windows and plain wooden benches with separate seating for men and women. Not elaborate, but a place where the Jewish community can assemble and pray in peace in Linz in 2012.

For information on Linz, visit:

Budapest, the beautiful city on the Danube River is now the place that 100,000 Jews call home. It was a fascinating port of call. The city is divided by the river. Buda is on one side of the Danube and Pest is on the other. The Jewish quarter is located in Pest and is easily explored by taking a walking tour.

The Dohany synagogue located in the Jewish quarter is one of the largest in Europe, seating 3,000. Adjacent to the synagogue is the Hungarian Jewish Museum, built on the site of the birthplace of Theodore Herzl, the originator of the idea of a Jewish state. Herzl was born in Budapest and lived here until he was 18.

The magnificent Dohany synagogue is decorated with Oriental murals, gilding, stained glass windows, elegant chandeliers and carved dark wooden seating. There is also a balcony where women worship.

The Holocaust Memorial Tree
The Holocaust Memorial Tree by sculptor,
Imere Varga is located in the courtyard of the
Dohany Synagogue in Budapest.


The museum was built in 1932 and the collection was removed and hidden during World War II. The artifacts range many from historical and religious items to cultural memorabilia. Jewish life from birth to death are represented in the museum including beautiful handwritten ketubahs (marriage contracts) and menorahs used throughout history.

In the courtyard of the synagogue is the Holocaust Memorial Tree by sculptor, Imre Varga. The weeping willow tree is cast in steel with leaves engraved with the names of victims of the Holocaust. The tree is dedicated to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who perished in the Holocaust and to the heroes of all faiths who risked their lives to help Jews during the horrific event.

The Bronze Shoes Memorial
The Bronze Shoes Memorial

The Bronze Shoes Memorial by Gyula Pauer is located on the banks of the Danube River in Pest. The memorial is dedicated to Hungarian Jews who were pushed into the river to their death by the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, a nationalist socialist party which led in Hungary during the Holocaust from October, 1944 to March 1945 causing the death of thousands of Jews. Here, you will see shoes in bronze, from tiny toddlers to adults spread out upon the embankment with wreaths and candles, placed in many of them.

The main Chabad synagogue is located in Pest, but visitors should notify the rabbi in advance if you plan to visit the synagogue. Our tour guide, Gabriella Kormendi, of Milk and Honey Tours, provided an introduction for us with the guard who stands inside the entrance to the synagogue. We had to show our passports, explain who we were and go through a screening to be allowed entrance. If you are planning to visit the synagogue, visit

Rabbi Boruch Oberlander is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Budapest. We also visited the rabbi at his home a few blocks from the synagogue. Judaism is having a revival in Budapest. There are 120 children in our Chabad Jewish school, five Jewish homes for the aged and two Jewish community centers.

Our visit to Vienna was also breathtaking. As we walked along the streets of Vienna, we marveled at its beautiful buildings, magnificent opera houses, theaters and mouth-watering Viennese desserts. Even the Austrian National Library in the city is a magnificent structure housing thousands of books on mahogany bookcases, marble statues and gleaming tiled floors.

During the Holocaust, two thirds of Vienna's Jews were expelled and more than 65,000 perished in concentration camps, but the community is currently confronting its past and welcoming Jews.

Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg, chief rabbi of Vienna and spiritual leader of the City Temple, (the only synagogue to survive the November 10, 1938 pogrom) said the Viennese government has helped to rebuild Jewish facilities.

Eisenberg was born in 1950 in Vienna and his father was the chief rabbi of the Jewish community before him. Eisenberg has been the chief rabbi for 25 years.

"The non-Jewish population and the government is more open today to what happened to its Jewish community during the Holocaust and most people realize they have a responsibility to help us rebuild the community," Eisenberg said.

"The government helped us to build our two day schools and our old age homes," Eisenberg. "The government is not anti-Semitic and is committed to helping Jews," Eisenberg said.

The registered Jewish population of Vienna is 7,500.

"Thirty percent of our population is from the former Soviet Union, another third is from Eastern Europe and another third are young people who were born here after the Holocaust," Eisenberg said. "Our population remains constant."

The rabbi said the community also has an additional number of non-affiliated Jews, ranging from 3,000 to 8,000.

"We can't be sure of the exact number of unaffiliated Jews," Eisenberg said.

The City Temple is located at Seitenstettengasse 4. My husband and I arranged for a guided walking tour and we were glad we did because the synagogue is on a side street and not easy to locate. From the outside the synagogue looks like a house.

Our guide, Daniel Karasz of Milk and Honey Tours, led the way, and made introductions for us so we could enter the synagogue. A guard was just inside the entrance and we had to go through a metal detector to enter. Make arrangements ahead of time if you wish to visit the synagogue.

"This was the first modern synagogue in Vienna," Karasz explained. "It was built in 1825 and had to be built to look like a house so non-Jews would not know it was there. Emperor Joseph II gave Jews the right to build the synagogue with the restriction that no one could see what it was from the outside.

The City Temple was designed like a magnificent theater by architect, Josef Kornhausel.

"The architect mainly built theaters and the acoustics are excellent and it sounds like a theater during services," Karasz said.

The City Temple also has a memorial for Vienna's Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Just a short walk from the synagogue is the Judenplatz Museum, which displays artifacts from Jewish Vienna in the Middle Ages. In 1995, archaeologists discovered the walls of a large medieval synagogue underneath Judenplatz. Inside of the museum are excavations from the ancient Jewish house of worship, a model of the medieval city and many historical objects.

In the square outside the Museum is the Shoah Memorial which was inaugurated in 2000. The Memorial by Rachel Whiteread, resembles a library turned inside out. The books represent the unfinished lives of the victims of the Holocaust. The base of the memorial is inscribed with the concentration camps and other places where the 65,000 Austrians perished during the Holocaust.

Another brief walk will take those interested in Jewish culture in Vienna to the Jewish Museum Vienna. The Museum has a large collection of Judaica, representing Jewish life and religion. Torah crowns, Menorahs and other ritual objects from private houses and synagogues that were used prior to 1938 are on display along with photographs and historic documents.

There are two Jewish sections in the city and there are kosher restaurants, bakeries and butcher shops.

"One of our grocery stores also has a kosher section," Eisenberg said.

The Jewish Welcome Service sponsored by the City of Vienna invites former inhabitants to return to the city.

"The community brings about 100 survivors here during the year to visit the city and to welcome them back to Vienna," Eisenberg said. "The Holocaust survivors are getting older and there aren't that many anymore, but during their visit here the mayor of Vienna often meets with them and welcomes them back."

For more information about the Jewish community in Vienna, email or visit

The City Temple in Vienna, Austria
The City Temple in Vienna, Austria is the only
synagogue in the city to have survived the
pogrom on Nov. 9, 1938.
| Larger

The River Beatrice underwent a complete refurbishment in 2009. It has an elegant two-story lobby with a white baroque chandelier and plenty of open spaces for the 160 guests.

Three decks, with a sun deck atop, the ship is spacious for a riverboat. The main lounge is outfitted with large picture windows, a full-service bar and ample space for enrichment lectures and entertainment. Entertainment consists of local entertainers and a piano player which plays in the afternoon for tea and in the evenings for dancing. There is a dance floor in the middle of the main lounge. Open seating allows guests to mix and mingle in the dining room with oblong tables of six along the windows and round tables in the center.

Lounge area on ship
Lounge area on ship | Larger

Breakfast and lunch are buffets with an excellent salad bar in addition to hot entrees from the locale where the ship is visiting. Dinners are served by an attentive wait staff and wine, beer and beverages are included. A Captain's Lounge also doubles as a fine dining alternative restaurant, library and game room. The ship has two computers and internet service is free. There is a spa, fully-equipped fitness center and free laundry room. The sun deck which runs the length of the ship has padded chairs for each guest as well as tables.

Staterooms are 150 square feet with ample closet space and drawers and have telephones, safes, climate-controlled thermostats, umbrellas, dual control outlets and bottled water. There are 14 suites with butler service. All staterooms are the same size, but the more expensive cabins on the higher decks have French balconies. The lower decks have portholes. All rooms have flat screen televisions. Wi-Fi is free on the ship.

Our room was small but adequate. The marble shower in the bathroom was glass enclosed and there was excellent lighting in the room and an extra lighted mirror.

The staff was very attentive and willing to please.

This was my third riverboat cruise and I have to rate it as the best because of the high level of service and the excellent quality of food served. The entire staff spoke English and was very willing to please guests.

The passengers were mainly seniors but there were some younger guests and 12 of them took advantage of the free bicycles on board to ride alongside the boat between ports. A car rode alongside in the event a biker got too tired to finish the journey.