Salzburg: Remembering the “Wandering Jews“

Der Standard (06/15/2007)

Thomas Neuhold

In summer 1947 some 5,000 Jews succeeded in crossing the Krimmler Tauern into Italy. “Alpine Peace Crossing” will commemorate this historical event.

Salzburg – “There were poor people who didn’t even have a rucksack; there were small children who were carried in wooden crates on peoples’ backs, and the house was often full. During the night I cooked flour mixed with water for the poor children...” These were the memories which Liesl Geisler, innkeeper of the Krimmler-Tauernhaus, wrote down on paper before she died in 1985 describing what many native people in the area called euphemistically, the “Wandering Jews” - the flight of thousands, mainly East European Jews, across the Krimmler Tauern mountain pass.

These were the emaciated survivors of the concentration camp who, empty handed and unequipped, were collected in a camp in Saalfelden, Pinzgau, and came every second night in a truck to Krimm. From there they began the upward climb to Tauernhaus which lay over 1,600 meters above sea level. The following day they camped in and around Tauernhaus; it was used to collect their strength before the nightly crossing. Historians estimate that in the summer of 1947, some 5,000 such people managed to cross the 2,634 meter-high pass over into Italy. From Italy they continued on to Palestine.

Flight of a Quarter Million People
Altogether in the years between 1945 and 1948, about a quarter of a million East European Jews, driven by anti-Semitic riots, fled to the Western zones. Half of them made their way to Tyrol and Italy through Salzburg. When French officials in Tyrol began at the end of 1946 to send the illegal Jewish groups of refugees back, the Jewish refugees aid organization, Bricha, decided for the more difficult solution of crossing the Krimmler Tauern pass in Southern Tyrol’s Ahrntal.  

Sixty years after the exodus, there will be a commemoration of the Alpine Peace Crossing from June 28 - 30. Upon the initiaitve of Ernst Löschner, who was born in Pinzgau and is the Director of BNP Paribas Austria Bank, about 200 participants will make their way across the Tauern, among them also contemporary witnesses who had already surmounted the crossing in 1947. As an overture to the crossing, a commemorative stone in Saalfelden will be unveiled: the point of departure for the flight of “displaced persons” over the mountains was the camp, Givat Avoda, located on the grounds of today’s Wallner barracks.

Broad Support
Support for Löschner’s initiative is wide-spread. It will take place under the auspices of Federal President Heinz Fischer and the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. The honorary committee is composed of members coming from all of Austria’s religious groups, representatives of the federal government, contemporary witnesses as well as artists, journalists and representatives of numerous industrial and economic firms in the region.

Apart from commemorating the refugees’ ordeals, Löschner wishes to have the event serve as a warning for the present: “It is a crossing dedicated to all people today who are fleeing political, racist or religious persecution wherever it is manifested in the world.”