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The VWI building stands on an important archaeological and historical site in the city, in the bend of the so-called Rabensteig, named as such in 1862, and on the site of the former ramparts of the Roman fortress of Vindobona and the medieval city walls. Few Viennese buildings evince such a construction heritage consisting of important details from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period as does Rabensteig 3. Before the renovation of the building, its history was researched by the architectural historian Paul Mitchell, Elisabeth Hudritsch from the Federal Heritage Office (Bundesdenkmalamt), the conservator Hans Hoffmann, as well as Constance Litschauer from Stadtarchäologie Wien, who then also supervised the renovation from a scholarly point of view.

 

The oldest medieval aspect – a retaining wall – dates from the twelfth century. By 1300, a multidimensional stone structure had emerged on the site, including three cellars and a massive upper storey with a pronounced entryway in the form of a pointed arch. Over the following centuries, the building was further expanded, partly under the patronage of the influential Pempflinger family. The building is clearly recognisable on Bonifaz Wolmuet’s 1547 city map, which was based on the first city surveys. Wolmuet, an architect, was also responsible for the single-column room in the northwest of the property, which was created as a vault for the salt trade and has been preserved to this day.

 

Later, further vaults were added, considered modern for the time, including a columned hall which unfortunately has not been preserved, and a column presumably made from Roman materials in the cellar. During restoration work, numerous painted and sculpted wooden beams were uncovered dating from the fourteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries – a rarity in Vienna.

 

The present-day building only emerged in the Josephinian era, when the bag-maker Anton Steinwalter erected a four-storey tenement building, which presumably constituted a capital investment. Alongside eight dark two-room apartments, the building consisted of twelve multi-room, middle-class apartments complete with tiled stoves, kitchens, and privies. The building survived the renovations of Josef Kornhäusel, who in 1823 created the surrounding block containing the community synagogue and the Kornhäuselturm.

 

The restoration of the building also allowed for conservationist measures to be taken: Unique elements of the building were uncovered, restored, and partially integrated into the functionality of the institute building.

 

The building, which was lovingly and meticulously restored by architect Thomas Feiger, now houses all activities of the institute across five storeys: research, documentation, and education. The ground floor houses a reception area which also offers access to the library of the Jewish Museum Vienna. A small library – by definition an institution that stores, categorises, researches, and exhibits a collection of important and informative objects – commemorates the work and impact of Simon Wiesenthal and thereby represents the foundation of the institute.

 

The VWI archive, with its materials from the Wiesenthal collection and the Holocaust-relevant parts of the IKG archive, is located on the first floor, the timber beams of which were statically strengthened to support the mobile shelves. The second floor contains the library stack-room, the offices of the documentation department, and not least of all the reading rooms of the archive and library. The third floor is dedicated to research, housing the fellows who now – after the cramped conditions of the old offices – command a sprawling space for their work, for their internal communication, as well as for the presentation of their research projects. The Research Lounge, a large room in the heart of the third floor, offers sufficient space for the methods and sources seminars as well as for smaller lectures and colloquia. The top floor finally houses the offices of the team of the VWI.

 

The interior design of the building was overseen by Alex Kubik, commissioned by the VWI, who achieved an unobtrusive elegance through implementing the old office furnishings along with new but sleek design elements. With a mural of Simon Wiesenthal’s portrait extending over three storeys in the central air well, the mentor and initiator of the institute has been secured a permanent intellectual presence in the building.

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