Witnesses Against Forgetting

Ana Marija Cvitic

Der Standard (08/11/2007)

Students trying to come to terms with the Holocaust: For the sixth time “A Letter to the Stars”

“Of course we receive bomb threats before the events, but we don’t allow it to bother us,” says journalist Andreas Kuba when speaking with the daily newspaper, Der Standard. Together with Josef Neumayr, he initiated the project, “A Letter to the Stars.” At the time he had a CD-ROM with 65,000 names of former NS victims at his disposal.

The basic concept underlying the campaign was that the victims were mentioned by name, representing no longer an “anonymous mass of people,” something which he was very happy about.

Students come to terms with the Holocaust by confronting the NS period together with one of the remaining last witnesses who were persecuted at that time. Personal encounters with Holocaust witnesses help young people to more easily understand and relate to what happened,” tells Kuba.

The first event presenting “A Letters to the Stars,” took place in May, 2003 on Vienna’s Heldenplatz. Serving as a symbol, white balloons attached with letters were let go, floating upward into the sky. In 2006, 80,000 white roses were given to pupils to place on the steps of houses where former Jewish citizens once lived and worked.

“It often happens that young people who used to think…’oh no, not again the Holocaust,’ begin to become extremely interested in the topic.” That is also our goal, explains Kuba.

At this year’s project, under the motto “38/08,” Austrians who as young people and children were persecuted during the time of the NS period were invited to serve as witnesses. Altogether 250 people are coming. Each witness will visit a particular Austrian school, accompanied by someone, for example, a grandchild. 

Schoolchildren will be able to take them to former sites of their childhood. Teachers will introduce the survivors to today’s new Austria. The encounters will be filmed by video camera and will appear on the internet under, “Last Witnesses.”

The second part of the project is called, “Just Think.” On the homepage of “A Letter to the Stars,” school children will select a name of a victim and incorporate it, together with some biographical excerpts, into pieces of art. The art works will be placed on exhibit at an event attended by survivors who have been invited to participate. The event will take place on May 5, 2008, on Heldenplatz and will serve as a symbol against racism and inhumanity.

All of the costs for the event will be covered by the public sector as well as members of the political parties – ÖVP, SPÖ or the Greens. “As for the FPÖ and the BZÖ, we are distancing ourselves from them by refusing to ask for their support. They might perhaps support the project out of image reasons, but they aren’t entitled to that. It would be disgusting.”