Twenty-Five Years of Working Toward Reconciliation

Der Standard (04/04/2006)

Jewish Welcome Service celebrates its anniversary. Heinz Fischer congratulates.

Vienna – “It’s everything that I wanted, and it turned out well,” said a visibly moved Leon Zelman Sunday evening while taking stock of the twenty-five years of the Jewish Welcome Service (JWS).

At the ceremony on the anniversary of the organization in a well-attended event in Vienna’s City Hall, Zelman claimed that it was the “moral responsibility” that served as the motor propelling his commitment. It was the duty to point out to people that the persecution of the Jews didn’t begin with the concentration camps but much earlier. And Zelman, who, himself, was haunted by NS terror and survived numerous extermination camps, is proud of his achievements.

Twenty-five years of JWS included the project, “Welcome to Vienna,” which invited some 4,000 Austrians expelled from Austria during National Socialism back to Vienna. Moreover, the JWS continues to organize exchange programs for young people between Israel, the USA and Austria, and is involved in a number of other special projects.

Federal President Heinz Fischer thanked Zelman for his life’s work: Through his dedication, he has helped the victims to close in peace with a country that has treated them so badly. Zelman’s commitment helped pave the way toward reconciliation, stressing “that we must take care of those who survived.”

“An Embarrassment”
Fischer then added, emphasizing that it is “an embarrassment” that it took so long when coming to terms with the past and asking for forgiveness. The Federal President held Austria’s politics in the past as responsible for the “simplified black and white version” after the war. Zelman and the JWS contributed considerably over the past twenty-five years to “really getting to the bottom of the problem.”

Vienna’s Deputy-Mayor Sepp Rieder also thanked Zelman for JWS’s “success story.” Through his commitment, Zelman emphasized taking historical responsibility and contributed greatly to reconciliation.