The legendary former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, died at 95 in Jerusalem on 2 January 2007. The Old Austrian born in Hungary and raised in Vienna occupied the city’s top position for almost thirty years (1965 to 1993). He had been re-elected six times. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed Kollek as the “builder of modern Jerusalem“. One of his main concerns had been to promote the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Arabs in the city. This was also the mission of the “Jerusalem Foundation“ founded by him.
Kollek was laid to rest in a state funeral on Herzlberg in Jerusalem on 4 January 2007. Besides Kollek’s family and thousands of mourners from Israel and all over the world, President Moshe Katzav, Prime Minister Olmert as well as numerous ministers participated in the ceremony. Austria was represented by Secretary of State for Art and Media Franz Morak.
Teddy Kollek was born as the son of a banker in the village Nagyvaszony near Budapest on 27 May 1911. His father named him after the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl. He spent his childhood and youth in Vienna, where he soon joined the Zionist youth group “Blau-Weiß”. In 1935, three years before the “annexation” of Austria to Nazi Germany, he emigrated with his family to Palestine, which at the time was under a British mandate. During WWII. Kollek was performing intelligence missions in Europe to save Jews from NS annihilation. In 1965 the Social Democrat became mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, whose eastern part, including the historic city centre, was conquered by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967. His right-wing Conservative opponent Olmert succeeded him in this office in 1993. In the same year Kollek was awarded a honorary doctorate of the University of Vienna, in 2001 the City of Vienna granted him the honorary citizenship.
Austria reacted deeply affected to Kollek’s death. In his words of condolence to Kollek’s family Federal Chancellor Schüssel expressed “deep mourning and respect” for the deceased. “With Teddy Kollek’s death not only the life of an extraordinary person and politician has come to an end but also part of the Israeli-Austrian history. Unlike any other, Kollek symbolised the eventful past of the two countries as well as the unsparing efforts to achieve understanding and reconciliation”, Schüssel reminded of the commitment of Kollek, who had been born in Old Austria. Secretary of State Morak described Kollek as “an important and eminent politician and bridge builder. Teddy Kollek has rendered a great service by establishing relations between Austria and Israel“, said Morak. Kollek had always stayed in contact with his former home country. In the past few years cultural cooperation had been intensified, e.g. in the context of the Chamber Music Festival or the Herzl Museum. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn praised the meritorious service of Kollek to exchanges between Christians and Jews and reminded of the fact that the restitution of the Austrian Hospice to the Catholic Church was “mainly an achievement of Kollek”. Deep mourning was also expressed by the Jewish Religious Communities in Austria.
“He was a great man, a great conciliator, somebody who did not know hatred”, Vienna’s ex-mayor Helmut Zilk paid homage to his deceased former counterpart. He was proud to have succeeded in reconciling Kollek with Vienna and to have been his friend. Kollek had paid several visits to Vienna and had been a honorary citizen of the federal capital. In 2006 Zilk received the Teddy Kollek Prize for meritorious service to the City of Jerusalem. Vienna’s incumbent Mayor Michael Häupl and SPÖ leader Alfred Gusenbauer were alsod deeply shocked by his death. With Teddy Kollek the world lost a “truly great human being and exemplary politician who had made untiring efforts to bring about peace between the Jews and Arabs“, said Häupl. As a “great humanist”, Kollek had stood for credibility, solidarity and justice, emphasised Gusenbauer.
© Federal Chancellery Austria