Sobotka: „Nobody can Replace What Was Taken From You“

Der Standard, November 9, 2018

German Original:

It is a different Austria today, the President of the National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, assured the survivors of the Shoah present during a commemorative speech on the occasion of the 80-year commemoration of the November Pogroms. The survivors came to Vienna upon invitation by the federal government.

„Austria has changed,“ Sobotka said on Friday and referred to the Tower of Names, a light installation at Vienna’s Uniqa Tower that displays the names of the murdered former Jewish residents of the area. The private initiative shows what an important matter remembrance is today, he said.

The event, held at the Hofburg Palace’s Große Redoutensaal - the temporary quarters of the Austrian parliament – took place in presence of Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen. Sobotka referred to the federal government’s planned option of Austrian citizenship for descendants of victims of the NS – regime as a late, but important step: „Nobody can replace what was taken from you: your home, your youth, your family.“ But it is the moral responsibility to give something back, said Sobotka, who also asked the Survivors for forgiveness: „With humility and respect, in the name of Austria, I ask for your forgiveness.”

„I was a Witness“

In his speech, Rabbi Arthur Schneier said he had hoped not to have to talk about anti-Semitism anymore. But he has just been to the Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 13 people were killed two weeks ago. „Now the cancer has returned and it metastasized, both in Europe and in the United States.“ In addition, Schneier warned not to be paralyzed by the past, but learn from it: „The present and the future pose too many challenges for us to solely focus on the past.“

Schneier also shared his own memories of November 9, 1938. „ I was a witness when SA troops pillaged and destroyed my home.“ He saw his Synagogue burn while the police and fire brigade stood by and only worried about the flames not reaching neighboring buildings. „Overnight I became an outcast. Most of my Christian classmates did not want anything to do with me anymore; in the classroom, in the park, and in the confectionary: Jews and dogs not welcome.“ He „met the beast within man“ at an early age, but also saw „the best“ in people. „I do sincerely believe that the best in man will keep the upper hand.“

Schneier managed to leave Austria with his mother in 1939 and survived the war in Hungary. In 1947 he emigrated to the United States.

„My Parents Have no Grave“

Kurt Y. Tutter, too, told his story in parliament. Tutter is the artist behind the initiative to erect a wall of names as a memorial. The parents of the Viennese-born Tutter were arrested in Brussels in 1942 and brought to a concentration camp: „ My parents have no grave and no tombstone. We would like to have a memorial in our native city where we can recite the Kaddish (a Jewish prayer for the dead).“ It is important for many Survivors to also mourn for those who have no descendants.

Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) thanked Tutter for his initiative. The memorial will become a reality soon, according to Kurz. By doing so, a lasting place of remembrance will be created. „It is our duty to remember and to act,“ the Chancellor said. It is an important task to support Jewish life and to ensure that anti-Semitism has no place in Europe. (Marie-Theres Egyed, November 9, 2018).