V. The Theater Today –
Preservation & Desecration

Unlike other Jewish theaters in Vienna, the theater in the Nestroyhof survived 20th Century destruction by a series of lucky accidents. When the stage and auditorium were converted into a supermarket after WWII, the market owners simply built an internal shell of added walls and a low drop ceiling, effectively preserving the balcony, glass roof, and sumptuous architectural detail, while hiding it from view for decades. Even the thousands who bought their groceries there, year after year, were unaware that they were pushing their carts down the aisles and on the stage of the great old Jewish theater.

The last supermarket tenant moved out in the late 1990s and the space remained empty and sealed off from public access. It was rediscovered a few years ago when an opening in a section of the wall between the drop ceiling of the former supermarket and the original glass roof of the theater revealed, among other things, the balcony, boxes, and balustrades that run along all three sides of the auditorium. The drop ceiling of the former supermarket was finally removed in spring 2003, revealing a spacious, elegantly designed interior with a central auditorium and balcony level large enough to seat 250 people or more. Most of the original architectural detail is still intact.

From the ground floor, a stairway leads underground to a large subterranean hall and adjoining rooms that the architect situated directly beneath the theater. These subterranean rooms may have formerly served as a Zionist center or social club. The walls and ceilings were covered with murals, painted as early as 1907. Today, only the ceiling mural in the main subterranean hall, as well as a large section of a mural on one of its walls, and scattered remnants of the original paintings still remain – the rest has been destroyed.

Another highly disturbing feature of the current condition of the basement concerns my discovery, several months ago, of the appearance of a number of coal drawings and engravings depicting “Hakenkreuze,” or “swastikas”, of varying sizes, on several walls and a prominent column located near the portal to the main hall. Most of the markings were probably drawn or engraved by the same hand in June 2004 and were conspicuously positioned in a part of the basement, directly below the theater, that was accessible neither to the public, nor to the tenants of the Nestroyhof. Until at least as late as November 18, 2004, after I released this information to the press, no attempt had been made to remove the swastikas, although the coal drawings could have easily been removed with a damp rag from the brick, plaster, and cement surfaces on which they were drawn.²

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