Austrian Press Agency (Press Release), January 26, 2018
Vienna – “Remembrance amounts to more than just a look back. Remembrance shapes a demand for the here and now –the language that we use and the actions that we perform,” emphasized the President of the National Council (the Speaker of the Austrian House of representatives), Wolfgang Sobotka, today during the parliament’s annual event to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.
According to a resolution by the United Nations, January 27, the day the concentration- and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated in 1945, is the international day of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. On initiative of then President of the national Council, Barbara Prammer, the Austrian Parliament, too, has been observing this commemorative date since 2012. In maintaining this tradition, President of the National Council Wolfgang Sobotka hosted a commemorative event at Palais Epstein. A discussion with contemporary witnesses moderated by Danielle Spera, the director of the Jewish Museum Vienna and including Victor Klein, Herbert Löwy, Frit Rubin-Bittman and Alfred Schreier formed the focal point of the evening. The Jewish prayer for the souls of the departed, “El Male Rachamin,” was sung by Rabbi Mordechai Fiksler.
The music for the event was provided by young musicians from the University of Music and Applied Arts Vienna. They performed works by Bruno Walter, Walter Arlen, and Ernst Toch, all three were expelled Jewish composers.
Sobotka: History will catch up with those who do not face it.
“Commemoration can only make sense if the remembrance of the countless victims of the national socialist racial mania teaches us that we should treat for the past and the present – in the way how we as diverse humans treat each other with respect and tolerance,” President of the national Council Sobotka said.
The President of the Natioanl Council rejected all attempts to rewrite, reinterpret or to relativize Austrian history. According to Sobotka, this specifically includes the demand for penal accountability in any case of racist, anti-Semitc or national socialist expression.
In this context, he appealed to politicians: “Everyone who bears responsibility in politics today is asked to actively engage with Austrian history and the history of his respective political party, to face it honestly and without prejudice, to listen to the contemporary witnesses, to think about it and to reflect on our responsibility for today and tomorrow. He cannot and does not want to acquit anyone from this obligation. “Because history will catch up with those who do not face it.”
Once more, the President of the National Council brought to mind that Austria was not only a victim. “Austria was a perpetrator, Austria was guilty, both of misdeed and inaction.”
The absence of the Jewish Community Vienna (IKG) shows how deep the wounds still are today.
Specifically, the President of the Austrian National Council regretted the absence of the President of the IKG, Oskar Deutsch. “This shows how deep the wounds still are today,” said Sobotka. “President Deutsch, as well as other representatives of the IKG are and remain invited.” Their seats are being kept reserved for and are available to them; should their seats remain vacant, he would also see this as a contribution to Austria’s commemorative year.
Among the guests, Sobotka welcomed his colleagues from the Presidium, the Second President of the National Council Doris Bures and the Third President of the National Council Anneliese Kitzmüller, as well as the President of the Federal Council (the Austrian Senate), Reinhard Todt. The federal government was represented by Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, Minister for Social Affairs Beate Hartinger-Klein, as well as State Secretary Karoline Edtstadler and State Secretary Hubert Fuchs.
In addition, Sobotka welcomed official Austrian representatives including the President of the Supreme Court, Eckhard Ratz, the President of the Supreme Administrative Court, Rudolf Thienel, as well as the President of the Court of Auditors, Margit Kraker. Among the attendees were also active and former members of parliament, including the party whips Andreas Schieder, Walter Rosenkranz and Matthias Strolz. Many members of the diplomatic corps, including representatives of the Embassy of Israel joined the event as well. I addition, guests also included representatives of churches and religious communities, former members of the federal government, the Office of the Public Ombudsman and representatives of Austrian commemorative initiatives. A special thanks by the President of the National Council was directed at the Secretary-General of the Austrian National Fund, Hannah Lessing.
Contemporary Witnesses remember the dark years
Director Danielle Spera introduced Victor Klein, Herbert Löwy, Fritz Rubin-Bittmann and Alfred Schreier as members of a special circle of gentlemen, who have been meeting once a week in a Viennese Café for years to discuss topics from the past and the present. The “Wednesday Circle” brings together some of the last representatives of the Jewish bourgeoisie, who have substantially framed Vienna and Austria before 1938. Despite the different life journeys and worldviews, they all have their love for Vienna and their belief in Austrian democracy in common.
The witnesses reported on their experiences as persecutees of the NS regime. Herbert Löwy, born 1929 in Vienna, was required to wear the yellow star and was refused access to formal education. He educated himself autodidactically, survived in Vienna as a so-called “submarine (U Boat)” and in 1945 became one of the founders of the re-established Hakoah sports club.
The physician Fritz Rubin-Bittmann was born in a basement in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district to Jewish parents in 1944 and was adopted into a non-Jewish famil, which save his life. Alfred Schreier, born in 1929 survived the war with his parents in Italy. In 1945, he emigrated to the United States and has just returned to Vienna a few years ago. Victor Klein was born in 1927 in Munkács (Mukatschewo), which then was in Czechoslovakia. He and his family were deported to Auschwitz; he witnesses his liberation in the Ebensee concentration camp. During the 1950s, he moved from Budapest to Vienna.