Adolf (Abraham) ALTMANN was born in Hunsdorf (Hunfalu, Huncovce), in what was then the Upper Hungarian Komitat of Zips (now in Slovakia), on September 8, 1879. He was a progressive rabbi with a Ph.D. in history from the University of Bern and he based his two volume History of the Jews in the City and State of Salzburg from Earliest Times to the Present on his doctoral dissertation.
He began his service as rabbi in Salzburg when the small Jewish community was still attached to the official Jewish Community Organization of Linz in Upper Austria and it was under his leadership that the Jews of Salzburg were finally able to get their own official Jewish Community Organization established for Salzburg in 1911.
Dr. Rabbi ALTMANN was an active promoter of religious Zionism and a keen judge of people who knew how to promote the recognition of Jews as a people in the multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire with sensitivity so as to build bridges to members of other faiths and engage them peacefully. But in the end Rabbi ALTMANN was a victim of the Antisemitism that he had so strenuously opposed in word and writing.
In 1903 Rabbi ALTMANN married Malvine Weisz who had been born in Kaschau (Kassa, Košice), about 100 kilometers/60 miles away from Hunsdorf (and now also in Slovakia), in 1879. The couple had six children:
Alexander (Sandor) who was born in Kaschau on April 16, 1906;
Erwin who was born in Salzburg on January 20, 1908;
Hilda who was born in Salzburg on March 18, 1909;
Manfred who was born in Salzburg on October 20, 1911;
Edith who was born in Salzburg on June 31, 1913; and
Wilhelm who was born in Meran (South Tyrol) on April 1, 1915 when it was still Austrian (it was given to Italy after WWI).
The grave of daughter Edith, who died at eight months of age on February 4, 1914, can be found in the Salzburg Jewish cemetery in Aigen that had been established in 1893 and which has been restored from its devastation by the Nazis.
The ALTMANN family had local citizenship rights in the city of Salzburg and from August 1907 on they lived on the third floor of 11 Faberstraße. This building was one of the big city style »Heller-houses« that were built near the palatial »Faber-houses« on the Rainerstraße in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Gründerzeit.
In virulently Antisemitic Salzburg the »Heller-« and »Faber-houses« were often called »Jew houses« because of their Viennese Jewish developers and the approximately 24 Jewish families who lived in them. In 1901 the Salzburg Jews had managed to open their own synagogue on the Lasserstraße, a few minutes walk from these named houses.
Many Jewish families had settled in Salzburg on the initiative of the antique dealer Albert Pollak who lived with his family in one of the »Faber-houses« and had lived in Salzburg since 1867, and about 50 of them had managed to get local citizenship rights in the city. For that reason Albert Pollak is rightfully considered the founder of the Salzburg Jewish community. But it was legally just a branch of the Upper Austrian Jewish Community Organization for decades until Rabbi ALTMANN took the lead.
It was only because of his efforts and the high esteem he had from the Imperial and Royal State Presidium for his patriotism, loyalty to the Kaiser, and scholarship that an independent Jewish Community Organization was authorized by the government for Salzburg that was able to have its own finances and keep its own birth, marriage and death records.
Rabbi ALTMANN dedicated the first volume of his History of the Jews in the City and State of Salzburg to »the first board of trustees for the newly created Jewish Community Organization for the Duchy of Salzburg elected on May 28, 1911 and in honor of the first Israelite of the resettlement of Jews in Salzburg Mr. Albert Pollak, K. K. [Imperial Royal] Court Antique Dealer«.
Albert Pollak was honorary president of the Jewish Community Organization of Salzburg. Its first elected president was the Coal dealer Rudolf Löwy, who lived with his family in one of the »Heller-houses« and had his business there. One member of the community council was the religion teacher Gustav (Gutmann) Schwarz who lived with his family in a »Faber-house« and whose daughter Bertha was the wife of Hermann KOHN who had served as synagogue cantor since the beginning of Rabbi ALTMANN’s tenure as rabbi in Salzburg.
Hermann KOHN also experienced the growing Antisemitism in Salzburg when he and Bertha wanted to set up a kosher restaurant near the »Heller-« and »Faber-houses« at 10 Haydnstraße (Antisemitic local authorities refused to allow them to do so until they were overruled by higher authorities in Vienna.
The Jewish community of Salzburg thus had its own cemetery, a synagogue with recognized representatives and also a kosher restaurant: a successful development of Jewish life in a peaceful period of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. But this peaceful era didn’t last. Walther Kölbl was an expressionist painter and standard bearer in the Archduke Rainer 59th Infantry Regiment who had been born in Salzburg in 1891. He was one of the first Salzburg Jews to give his life for »God, Emperor and Fatherland« after the outbreak of the First World War.
Rabbi ALTMANN, who had praised the monarch Franz Josef as an emperor of peace on the occasion of his 60th jubilee, believed as a loyal patriot that the war had been forced on the monarchy and that it was a defensive war. In addition, like so many of his contemporaries, he viewed Italy’s joining the war against Austria-Hungary in May 1915 as a betrayal of their long-standing alliance.
In the four war years Dr. ALTMANN’s legal residence remained in Salzburg, but he served as an army chaplain (»Field Rabbi«) at the front in the Dolomite mountains and as rabbi for the Jews of the South Tyrol town of Meran which was close to the front lines (Meran was officially affiliated with the Jewish Community Organization of Hohenems in Vorarlberg, near the Swiss border).
The family lived in the Villa Lauenburg in Meran’s Untermais neighborhood and that’s where Wilhelm, the youngest of their children, was born on April 1, 1915. Thanks to his written memoirs we know about the activities of Rabbi ALTMANN during the war. Particularly notable was his effort to collect some two dozen written citations of the patriotism and drive of Jewish soldiers, these included some by Field Marshalls and Arch-Dukes.
Rabbi ALTMANN used these citations to counter the rumors that circulated during the war that »the Jews« were slackers who avoided wartime dangers and were only engaged in war profiteering [similar Antisemitic rumors were widespread in Germany, England and the United States during WWI and other wars as well]. The enemies of the Jews from their own ranks had marked them as scapegoats even before the war ended.
The ALTMANNs lived through the end of the war and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in Meran and they moved back to Salzburg for the beginning of the Austrian Republic. During these traumatic events for Austria they experienced the sharp rise in aggressive Antisemitism that swept the country – some Salzburg officials even tried to reinstate the 1498 expulsion of Jews from the State.
Rabbi ALTMANN’s son Manfred, one of the three members of the family who survived the Holocaust, later wrote about that phase of his life:
At that time we lived in a lovely building on the Mirabellplatz that had been divided up for emergency housing. My siblings and I were in some scenes in a Mozart film that was shot in the Mirabell-garden. But the mood in the Jewish community was unsettled. The attacks in the press and in every day life make the anxiety worse.
My father tried in his way to step in publicly and revive his old good relations with the authorities, schools and the university. But there was a big difference. While the pre-war years were not free from serious problems, an openly vicious struggle against the Jews developed in the postwar period under the influence of anti-Semitic circles. We children were even affected at school.
The position of rabbi had been vacant since the end of the war and Dr. ALTMANN was asked to take over again, but he didn’t intend to stay long. In September 1920 he was offered the position of Chief Rabbi in Trier Germany and it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. His work over nearly 18 years in what was probably the oldest Jewish community in Germany put him at the center of German Jewish culture and the leading figure among German Jews at the time, Rabbi Leo Baeck, called him »the greatest and noblest rabbi and leader of traditional Judaism of his time«.
Manfred ALTMANN, who had been born in Salzburg in 1911, wrote the following about the last years of his parents:
In spite of the great danger my father and my mother, who had won the hearts of the community since their arrival by their understanding and care, stayed to lead their dwindling community in Trier until the end of March 1938. Then they fled to Den Haag in Holland, where a large part of our family had already taken refuge. My father continued his literary work and his teaching in his exile in Holland.
On the occasion of his 60th birthday [on September 8, 1939] Dutch newspapers showered him with praise. My parents had to move to Groningen after Holland was occupied by the Nazis in 1940, and in 1943 they had to go from there to the ghetto in Amsterdam. The two loyal life partners spent the rest of their time together in the Westerbork and, Theresienstadt concentration camps until they were sent to Auschwitz on May 16, where they both found their end.
Before the two of them suffered their deaths they lost one of their four sons, their daughter, their son-in-law and their two grandchildren in the gas chambers. Their youngest son with a Doctor of Engineering degree from the University of Delft, the Meran born Wilhelm, was only 27 years old when he was arrested by the Gestapo as he tried to join the French Résistance. He was deported from the concentration camp at Drancy to Auschwitz and he was murdered there on September 30, 1942.
Their Salzburg born 34 year old daughter Hilda and her Dutch husband Maurits (Max) van Mentz were murdered in Auschwitz on September 7, 1943 – three days after their two sons born in Den Haag, the 11 year old Benedictus (Benno) and the 10 year old Robert. They were followed by the 62 year old Malvine and the 64 year old Rabbi Adolf ALTMANN who were gassed in Auschwitz on July 7, 1944.1
After the liberation in 1945, the survivors found that not even the Jewish cemeteries had escaped destruction, including the one in Salzburg/Aigen. The search for their daughter Edith ALTMANN’s grave in Salzburg was unsuccessful, though her headstone has been restored in the Salzburg/Aigen cemetery.
Three brothers were able to flee to freedom and survived: Dr. Alexander ALTMANN, chief rabbi in Manchester and professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts; Dr. Erwin ALTMANN, director of Social Services in Los Angeles; and Manfred ALTMANN, Doctor of Law, businessman, chairman of the Institute of Jewish Studies and Honorary Fellow of University College London, who died in London in 1999.
Manfred ALTMANN appreciated the memorials to his father in Trier and Salzburg. He welcomed his father having been honored by their naming streets after him in both cities, and the initiative to republish his father’s book, the History of the Jews in the City and State of Salzburg. Thanks to his surviving sons the memoirs of the Imperial and Royal Field Rabbi were published for the first time in 1993.
In his numerous activities with various political factions Marko M. Feingold, the president of the Salzburg Jewish Community Organization, has shown his awareness and appreciation of the life affirming precedents set by the organization’s rabbi and founder Dr. Adolf ALTMANN – Ein ewiges Dennoch, a perpetual reminder of truth – which was the title he chose for his 1993 edited history of the Salzburg Jewish community since the late 19th century.
1 Josef Janisch was a certified Austrian civil engineer who had been born in Salzburg on April 22, 1909. He was one of the supervisors involved in building the gas chambers and crematoria in the Auschwitz extermination camp. After the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, because he was an SS Hauptsturmführer (equivalent to an army captain), he was interned for a while in the US prison camp for SS men and Nazi Party officials at Camp Marcus W. Orr in Salzburg (known locally as the Glasenbach Camp because its personnel were stationed in the Glasenbach Barracks).
He was later released and despite his having been active in the SS Central Administration at Auschwitz he was never made to answer for his crimes – neither by the US occupation authorities nor by any Austrian courts.
Certified Engineer Janisch continued to live with his mother on the Rudolfskai in Salzburg until he suffered a fatal accident on July 26, 1964.
- Salzburg City and State archives
- Private archive of Manfred ALTMANN in London
- Adolf ALTMANN: Geschichte der Juden in Stadt und Land Salzburg (originally two volumes, 1913 & 1930), Salzburg 1990 (new edition)
- Manfred ALTMANN (ed.): »K. u. k. Feldrabbiner Dr. Adolf ALTMANN an der Kriegsfront (1915-1918)«, wartime memories notebook in: Marko M. Feingold (ed.): Ein ewiges Dennoch. 125 Jahre Juden in Salzburg, Vienna 1993
- Gerald Steinacher: »Rabbi Adolf ALTMANN: Salzburg, Meran, Trier, Auschwitz«, in: Jüdische Lebensgeschichten aus Tirol, Innsbruck 2012
Translation: Stan Nadel
Laid 02.07.2014 at Salzburg, Lasserstraße 8