Jewish Student Corporations in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and its Successor States 1882-1938

Dissertation by Arik Shoihtman
Institute for History/University of Vienna
Supervision: PD Dr. Martha Keil

Studentenverbindungen are a specific form of a student fraternity ⎯ otherwise known as corporations ⎯ found in German-speaking countries. After the 1867 constitution and civil rights act, Jews started to attend universities throughout the Habsburgian realm without the need to convert their religion. Parallel to academic studies, many Jews were accepted into various student corporations (Studentenverbindungen). 

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Taking part in a student corporation was very common at that time and besides being a way of socializing, participation offered opportunities for networking. Furthermore, the awakening of patriotism made many declare themeselves as Germans or Austrians of Mosaic religion willing to fully integrate into society. As a response to the growing anti-Semitic climate that prevailed in the Burschenschaften in the 1880s, Jewish students started to establish their own student corporations. With the foundation of Kadimah in Vienna in 1882, followed by the establishment of several similar corporations throughout the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, a whole spectrum of Jewish student corporations started to take shape with similar corporations emerging all over the Habsburgian empire. They typically adopted the style, traditions, social codices and paraphernalia of their Austrian counterparts, many of which were adapted to fit Jewish heritage or invented anew. Embracing the concepts of bearing arms, honour and other traits of the Verbindung which articulated the essence of their existence, the Jewish student corporations played a decisive role in modern Jewish history and helped to forge the Jewish modernity.

The dissertation will deal with the following research questions:

  • What was the background and what were the reasons that led to the establishment of Jewish student corporations (including internal and external)?
  • What kind of Jewish student corporations existed?
  • What were the general political and Jewish national ideas that prevailed in the Jewish student corporations and what was their contribution to Zionist ideology?
  • What were the social traits of the Jewish student corporations? (Duelling, brotherhood, male-association, life-long bond) and how did those traits infuse their new Jewish identity and herald the arrival of the Jewish modernity?
  • What customs and traditions prevailed in the Jewish student corporations; what are the distinguishing features of their student traditions (Studentisches Brauchtum)?
  • In 1938 most of the active corporations were dissolved by the authorities and erased from the association registrar (Vereinsregister). In addition, the dissertation will include a chapter discussing the aftermath, heritage and contribution of the corporations. How did they influence early Israeli history?

 For answering these questions the methods of the Performance Theory will be used, and, as a special variation, the tools of Body Performance will be implemented for the analysis of the physical aspects of their performance.

 The sources – documents of the corporations as well as personal memories – are available in the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem, in the Austrian State Archive in Vienna, in the Jabotinsky Archive in Tel-Aviv and in Budapest at the Association of Hungarian Jews. The Institut für Hochschulkunde in Würzburg keeps the Oskar Scheuer’s Studentica collection, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora Beth Ha-Tefuzot has a significant collection of photographs on the topic and the Leo-Baeck Institute offers several digitized primary sources e.g. the Kadimah collection. The “Österreichischer Verein für Studentengeschichte” in Vienna offers several sources as well.

Information: |mail: Arik Shoihtman|

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Members of "Kadimah" a Zionist students association. Cracow, Poland, 1936 (Courtesy of Dr. Michael Neuman, Israel) Photo Unit Number: 15843 © Beit Hatfutsot

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