Let´s Dance! The Viennese cafetier Otto Pollak

  • performance
  • music & media
  • holocaust
  • heritage
  • cultural history
  • social history

Café Palmhof was located at Mariahilferstrasse 135 in Vienna’s 15th district and was operated from 1919 by Otto Pollak (1894–1978) and his brother Karl (1889–1943). The two brothers made Café Palmhof a popular Viennese meeting place. During the day it was run as a coffee house, while concerts, dances and social events, such as the 1933 “Fräulein-Wien-Wahl”, took place in the evenings. Many musicians performing in Café Palmhof are forgotten today, but were stars back then. Live radio broadcasts by RAVAG (Radio Verkehrs AG) regularly emanated from Café Palmhof. In 1938, the coffee house was “Aryanized.” The Pollak family fled first to Gaya in Moravia, Otto and Karl’s birthplace. From there, the entire family was deported to Theresienstadt in 1943. As a disabled war veteran—he had lost a leg in the First World War—Otto Pollak was spared from further deportation. Three days after his arrival, Karl was deported to Auschwitz and murdered there. Otto and his daughter Helga survived Theresienstadt. The Palmhof was restituted in the early 1950s, but Otto Pollak declined to continue the coffeehouse. Today there is a supermarket on the premises.

Not only does the exhibition tell the story of Café Palmhof, but also of Otto Pollak’s life. His biography exemplifies Jewish participation in Vienna’s cultural and social life. The exhibited documents and objects from the estate of Otto Pollak bring his personality and the social environment to live and are reminiscent of a Vienna that Ludwig Hirschfeld describes in his legendary travel guide “Was nicht im Baedecker steht” (“What Isn’t in the Baedecker Guide”) (1927).