November 2003

Dear Readers,

November , 2003 

The year 2003 is a commemorative one for Austria: we celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Jewish Welcome Service, forty years of the establishment of the Austrian- Israeli Society, and we commemorate the victims of the "Night of the Broken Glass" sixty-five years ago. A symbolic tribute has recently been paid in New York City to former slave and forced laborers and their descendants.

Other articles in this issue include a self-interview with the Austrian-born "father of the birth control pill," and an open letter about the plight of the once famous Jewish theater in the Nestroyhof in Vienna.

Read about the recent visit of the Israeli Foreign Minster, Silvan Shalom, to Vienna; Austria and Israel’s plans to revive their trade relations and stimulate investment; a ninety-seven year-old Austrian-born painter who was recently rediscovered in Seattle, Washington; and the warning by the Association, "European Jews for a Just Peace," against the eviction of Yasser Arafat. 

Yours sincerely,

Christoph Meran
Austrian Press and Information Service

Twenty-Five Years - Jewish Welcome Service Offers Vienna the Opportunity for Reconciliation

Austrian Press Association (09/17/02)

Vienna - For twenty-five years Leon Zelman has been in charge of the Jewish Welcome Service caring for former Viennese who were expelled by the Nazis from their hometowns. In September of this year ninety elderly people were received in Vienna’s City Hall by Deputy-Mayor Sept Rieder. He and Zelman emphasized the need for the awareness of history. The Deputy-Mayor thanked Zelman for his many years of service. Zelman made mention of the first meeting twenty-five years ago and thanked Former Mayor Leopold Gratz who made it possible at that time.

Rieder thanked also the guests who followed up on the invitation, travelling all the way to Vienna to attend, since by doing so, they had "given the city the opportunity to offer reconciliation". He also thanked Zelman for his efforts in building bridges of mutual understanding. Vienna has undergone much change since the time the guests remembered it from their childhood, said the Deputy-Mayor. And he hoped that the visitors would also visit the beautiful sites of present-day Vienna.

Gertrude Pollak, whose maiden name was Advokat, was among the Jewish guests. Like many others, she visited places that she could still remember as a child. She discovered, for example, that the Kindergarten in the center of Vienna, in Rudolfsplatz, which she had attended thirty years ago, still existed. "I was rather moved when so many of those memories came back to me," she said.

Rieder and Zelman both rebuked once again the statements made by Carinthia’s Governor, Jörg Haider, in early Spring. At that time Haider spoke of people who, "in the course of wartime confusion had emigrated." This statement according to Zelman was "disgraceful." Rieder added: "I can only characterize that as an historical lie." The expression 'emigration' is a lie; at best one can speak of a successful escape from one’s own death," said Rieder.

Forty Years of Austrian-Israeli Society

Austrian Press Agency, Originaltext Service (APA OTS) (10/27/03)

Rieder: Four decades of reconciliation and international understanding.

Vienna - "The Austrian-Israeli Society (ÖIG) is more than many other bilateral friendships because their very existence and significance reflect the complicated relationship between Austria and Israel, including the historical dimension," explained Deputy-Mayor, Dr. Sepp Rieder, on the occasion of the fortieth celebration of the ÖIG. Its socio-political profile makes the ÖIG unique and has provided for numerous shifting reactions between sympathy and repudiation in public opinion and politics during the past four decades. Since September 1999, Dr. Rieder is the first President of the ÖIG.

Rieder reminded one of the most horrifying incidents in the history of the society, that of the murder of City Counsellor, Heinz Nittel, who from 1978 until his violent death on May 1, 1981, was President of the ÖIG. "Nittel paid with his life the price of taking a stand and committing himself to reconciliation and international understanding. It is important today to be aware of the socio-political demands in the relations between the State of Israel and Austria, also during a phase of calm such as at the present, expressed by the fact that Jerusalem wishes again to send an Ambassador to Vienna," said Rieder.

ÖIG founded on July 16, 1963

The Austrian-Israeli Society was founded on July 16, 1963 at the Austrian Cultural Center on Josefsplatz. In founding the society, politicians from both parties, representatives from Christian and Jewish life as well as personalities from economics and culture came together, moved by clear, political ideas. The ÖIG sees itself as a collection of Austrians who wish to document the positive relationship they have with the State of Israel and its people. The main topic on the agenda has always been and still is confronting anti-Semitism. The ÖIG is always open for all those who are prepared to work for the reconciliation and friendship between Jews and members of other religious communities, thereby contributing their part to human understanding and bridging the gap between borders, world views and social backgrounds.

"Remaining Always Vigilant"

Die Presse (11/10/03)

Austria and Germany Commemorate the Victims of the “Reichskristallnacht”

Vienna/Berlin - On the occasion of the "November Pogrom" carried out sixty-five years ago by the National Socialists, Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg emphasized that it is also essential to remain vigilant in the future and "to educate the youth in a democratic fashion." It is not enough "to look back only to the past," claimed Eisenberg.

Austria and Germany commemorated the victims of the Reichskristallnacht" (Night of Broken Glass"), the expression coined by the Nazis. During the nights of November 9 and 10, 1938, the Nazis launched a pogrom against the Jews throughout the entire German Reich, to which Austria also belonged at the time, and murdered them, brought them to concentration camps, destroyed their houses, apartments and businesses. In Vienna alone, forty-two synagogues and prayer houses were destroyed.

Viennese Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schönborn spoke of the "abyss of human guilt." Viennese Elder Archbishop Cardinal Franz König, in a greeting delivered to the participants of the ecumenical "Mechaye Hametim" commemorative worship service in Vienna’s Ruprechtskirche, referred to the word of the prophets: "Israel, I haven’t forgotten you."

There were also worship services conducted in Germany. In Munich the cornerstone was laid for a new synagogue. Federal President Johannes Rau reminded the public that violence used against minority groups would not be tolerated.

The ceremony, attended also by the Head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel, took place under high security. In September a number of neo-Nazis, who had planned an assault on the celebration, were arrested. 

Austria’s Gestures of Reconciliation for Former Forced Laborers

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (10/15/03)

As a "symbolic gesture," Austria presented six former forced laborers, that is, their descendants, with checks. "We are not interested in reconciliation or compensation, because nothing can make up for the years stolen," said the head of the fund’s curatorship, Ludwig Steiner, at a ceremony at the Austrian Consulate General in New York.

Together with the Secretary General of the Reconciliation Fund, Richard Wotava, Steiner participated in the event, along with Moshe Jahoda, head of the victims’ organization, Claims Conference in Austria. Both men were presented the checks personally in the presence of the new Austrian Ambassador in Washington, Eva Nowotny. "This is an important moment for us. For that reason I have come from Washington to attend the ceremony," told Eva Nowotny, the Austrian Press Agency (APA). "That we are able to present the checks personally at a small public ceremony in the presence of representatives from the media has a publicity effect which is very important for the Fund." She explained that "we need to reach as many people as possible who might be eligible for compensation," since the time limit for submitting an application is set for the end of the year 2003. After that, the Fund will be dissolved.

The Austrian Ambassador to the United Nations, Gerhard Pfanzelter, was also at the ceremony. "As UN Ambassador, I am continually confronted with questions on reconciliation and compensation. Today’s ceremony is particularly encouraging because it reveals how much we have done that has been recognized by those who have been involved," said Pfanzelter to APA. "As Austrian Ambassador to the UN, where almost every country represented is faced with a problem from the past, it is a moment which is especially inspiring."

The six recipients were Henry Aron, Fred Hainbach, Alfred Paschkes, Joseph Schabes, Josephine Zwirn and Dorrit Erika Woolf, all residing in the greater New York area. The amount of the check was dependent on the category assigned to the work carried out by the forced laborer. Those who bore the greatest burden of slave labor received a check in the amount of USD 7,000. Forced laborers working in the industrial sector were awarded USD 3,000 and those in the agricultural sector received USD 2,000. 

The Reconciliation Fund has processed more than 100,000 applications of former NS forced or slave laborers. More than 8,000 cases are still being reviewed. Steiner said that new applications are continuing to come in. 

Only Scientists Publicly Deny their Striving for Fame*

Der Standard (10/29/03)

Born in 1923 as the son of Jewish physicians, Carl Djerassi grew up in pre-war Vienna and fled the Nazis for Bulgaria in 1938. He immigrated to the United States in 1939 where he received his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin in 1945. After some years of working in research, he produced the first oral contraceptive for women in 1951 by isolating the sexual hormone progesterone from yucca roots and became known throughout the world as the "father of the birth control pill." In 1959 he began teaching and researching at Stanford University. This year he is 80 and is still writing. Austria’s government would like to bestow upon him Austrian citizenship.

Why am I still writing? The answer: To be able to synthesize the inner life of a chemist. What is typical of this chemist? What is unusual? Typical was my decade-long obsession with research and the accompanying preoccupation with own notoriety. Striving for recognition is not unusual. But only scientists deny publicly their desire for recognition and claim research as such to be the ultimate goal.

I have dedicated five decades of my life to research, published hundreds of scientific articles and received my share of fame and reward, and yet my ambition for every bit of recognition continues to grow. Ambition - both nourishment and poison of the most successful researchers - transforms us, however, to workaholics early in life, putting in up to 80 hours per week.

As a chemist I was, more than anything, interested in the opinion of dozens of top researchers. It was only ambition and not publicity that could enhance or destroy my reputation. This attitude placed me on the same slippery precipice upon which so many researchers stand, carrying on with their contempt for publicity to its dangerous extreme. Nonetheless, equally bad is that most researchers fail to reflect on themselves. We improve analytical capabilities in order to be able to analyze the world, but not ourselves.

My transformation into an atypical researcher was perhaps my wish to explain to the public in an untraditional way how we researchers do it, not only what we do.

It fascinates me to tell stories rather than only pass on information, and the wish to become a literary smuggler led me to write "science-in-fiction" novels where everything is true what I describe.

Thus, I became aware of how limited the formal written discourse of researchers is since we don’t allow ourselves dialogue. And in present-day theater, there is so little serious science that "science-in-the-theater" is still an unexploited goldmine. 

No wonder that my first theater piece, An Immaculate Non-Conception, concerns the limits of research in the area of reproductive medicine. My second piece, Oxygen, concerns the Nobel prize and the nature of discovery, and Calculus revolves around one of the most bitter struggles for priority in the history of science, the struggle between Newton and Leibniz.

Even as I took the literary path, I was unable to strip away the soul or baggage of the scientist. One of my secret wishes is to read my obituary, perhaps the final confirmation of having strived for recognition. But only because I cannot read my obituary does not mean that I can’t write a theater piece about this obsession: Ego was finished on my 80th birthday.

* abbreviated version

Jewish Theater in the Nestroyhof

Open Letter by Warren Rosenzweig, Artistic Director of the Jewish Theater of Austria (09/09/03)

The following is an open letter written by Warren Rosenzweig whereby he asks the City of Vienna and the federal government of Austria to enable the reestablishment of the Jewish theater in the Nestroyhof:

As many people are now finally aware, Oskar Marmorek’s long overlooked Judgendstil jewel at Praterstrasse 34 in Vienna houses a once famous Jewish theater in its courtyard. Concealed from public view and consciousness for decades, the theater in the Nestroyhof has an audience again for the first time since it was closed in 1938 by the National Socialists. But the audience waits outside.

Vienna’s Leopoldstadt, once the center of Austrian Jewish culture, was also the home of a dynamic and creative theater community of which the Nestroyhof is the last remaining remnant. Thanks to a recent report in a nation-wide television broadcast (Oskar Marmorek’s Jewish Theater on "Treffpunkt Kultur") about the initiative of the Jewish theater of Austria to rescue it from renewed destruction, the all but forgotten architectural masterpiece is currently in the public eye. But it is more than a nostalgic appreciation for Jugendstil at its finest that gives the rediscovered courtyard theater its unmistakable status and allure in the landscape of Viennese culture. It embodies a rich but tragically disrupted history and it proposes a viable future.

Vienna is famous still today for the great Jewish heritage that was criminally obliterated in 1938. It was a heritage that belonged then, even as it does now, not only to Austrian Jews, but to all Austrians. Today, the Nestroyhof signals hope and opportunity for progress and the possible revitalization of interactive culture. Yet there has been no indication that the few people who have the power to enable its reestablishment have any such intentions. On the contrary, at the same time that the building is officially preparing to come under landmark protection, it’s unique, historically meaningful center - its Jewish theater - is being offered on the open market and the government isn’t even in the bid.

A 21st century Jewish theater would introduce a new era of artistic and cultural enrichment, diversity, and interaction for Vienna. It could contribute significantly to the growing economy of the city’s central, yet culturally neglected 2nd district - its commerce and its tourism and could inspire international admiration and attraction. The rescue of the spectacular theater in the Nestroyhof would require public action and investment. But since the cost of re-establishing the courtyard stage is modest for such a promising endeavor, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine its feasibility, if not its exigency.

Through the Jewish Theater of Austria, creative dialogue with contemporary Jewish identity already has an audience for the past four years. The Nestroyhof offers an ideal, if long delayed opportunity that, if missed, may not appear again. The large audience that now awaits the new fate of the theater in the Nestroyhof, simultaneously conscious about the past and the future, will only increase with the reopening of doors that should never be closed again.

Warren Rosenzweig, Artistic Director 
Jewish Theater of Austria Website: 
Vienna, September 2003

St. Gilgen Celebrates Gift from Lisel Salzer

Pazifische Rundschau (06/05/03)

With the return of 23 oil paintings and 200 sketches dating from Lisel Salzer’s creative period at the Zinkenbacher Artist Colony from 1932-1938, St. Gilgen in Austria celebrated on July 12, 2003 a double success: that of receiving the generous gift donated by the artist as well as the good fortune of having found her again. 

After so many years, the idea of stumbling upon a survivor of the Viennese group of artists who spent their summers in the Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie during 1925 to 1938 seemed purely utopian. But that is what happened. And it was Christina Steimetzer, head of the Museum der Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie in St. Gilgen, who found Lisel Salzer in Seattle, Washington. At 96 years of age, she still lives in her own home since having arrived in Seattle in 1950. 

Despite her near blindness, she is determined to remain as long as possible in control of matters. Among other things that includes sorting through her mail and using envelopes as pieces of scratch paper. One day the child of a visitor to Lisel Salzer’s home colored the back side of such an envelope and took it home with her. Later the mother was astounded when she discovered that inside was a letter regarding Lisel’s participation in the Zinkenbacher Malerkolonie. Thus, the Museum’s Association in St. Gilgen received the collection thanks to this coincidence. 

Lisel was honored with a three-day visit by the Director of the Museum Association from St. Gilgen, Ms. Steinmetzer. She, thus, lived once again through recollection that happy, creatively-rich chapter of her life in Austria and was exceedingly touched. Lisel Salzer felt that "her paintings wished finally to return home," and presented the works from her Zinkenbacher years to the Museum’s Association in St. Gilgen.

Lisel Salzer was born in Vienna in 1906. After having completed the sixth grade where she had experienced her first "boring" art instruction, she entered the Women’s Academy. She had already discovered her love for music and theater and now began to devote herself to her talent for art. She was particularly interested in painting portraits: the most influential teachers who promoted her career were Ferdinand Kitt in Vienna, André Lhote in Paris and Oscar Kokoschka in Salzburg. She immigrated to New York in 1939 where she married Dr. Frederick Grossman. It was in her adopted home of Seattle where many people learned to appreciate her paintings. Since 1945 she had experimented with the old Limoges method of using enamel - fused glass on copper - and created true gems, which one could often admire at the Frye Art Museum and the Four Corners Gallery. Even the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Washington State Capitol Museum exhibited Salzer’s works. In 1962 she was exhibited in the Northwest Designer Craftsmen section of the Seattle World’s Fair. After the death of her husband, she returned periodically to Austria. It was there that she learned of the death of her parents in Theresienstadt. Nonetheless, good memories outweigh the bad. One wish was fulfilled - that of purchasing a Steinway grand piano by auction at the Dorotheum.

For some year Lisel’s eyesight has been progressively failing and that has cast a shadow over her joy of artistic creativity. But she still is able to enjoy her flowers and plants, the view of Lake Washington and the mountains, her art collection, music, and occasionally a delicious tidbit or visit with old friends. Without a doubt, the exhibit in St. Gilgen gives her much joy. 

In 1997 Lisel became the first honorary member of the Austrian-American Council Chapter in the State of Washington.

European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP) Against Arafat’s Eviction

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (09/16/03)

For security in the region and because the Israeli people are endangered, retaliation attacks must cease.

Vienna - The "European Jews for a Just Peace" (EJJP), an association of eighteen Jewish organizations from nine European countries, have criticized the Israeli government for having endorsed the eviction of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, calling it a "disastrous decision." It is a decision that could endanger the security of the region and that of the Israeli people, according to a broadcast of the EJJP.

Moreover, this decision makes "forming a new stable Palestinian government impossible and rules out the possibility of renewing discussions of the already damaged Road Map in the foreseeable future." Chances of further deterioration of the situation are growing and there is an escalation of violence. "For this reason we, therefore, call upon the government of Ariel Sharon to rescind the decision and to stop the violent attacks of retaliation being conducted in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip," appealed the EJJP.

"We call upon the international community to prevent such happenings which represent a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This act should be fiercely confronted, as well as the goal of liquidation contained in the warnings issued by Israel. The EU, as member of the socalled "Middle East Quartet," has a particular responsibility to clearly speak out against this development."

Israel Wishes to Expand Trade with Austria

From "Information aus Österreich," Federal Press Service(10/20/03)

The Austrian-Israeli Trade Commission (AICC) wants to revive trade relations between Israel and Austria and stimulate investment. Due to lack of knowledge by Austrian managers as to the potential for export to Israel, the Austrian domestic economy is missing out on a volume of sales equivalent to 150 million Euros, said David Ungar-Klein from the AICC. Austria’s Federation of Austrian Industry (IV) sees, above all, great potential in mutual research projects. The European Union (EU) is Israel’s most important trading partner, having a share of 33% of the entire volume of trade, compared to that of the USA (28.6%); Austria’s share is 0.97%. Austrian exports to Israel amount to a total of 141 million Euros with major products being mechanical and electrical machinery.* Other countries have been reported as having reacted faster and more efficiently to the structural changes made within the Israeli economy. Because of Austria’s acute knowledge deficit regarding Israel’s economy, the AICC has started the campaign, "Export Market to Israel 2003."

*Source: Austrian Trade Commission, October 2003

"A Good Day for Austria and Israel"

Ferrero-Waldner Meets Israel’s Foreign Minister Shalom in Vienna

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (11/19/03)

Today the chapter is finally closed on sanctions imposed upon Austria

Vienna. "This is no usual visit of an Israeli foreign minister to Austria. With today’s visit we are definitively closing the chapter on sanctions imposed upon Austria," emphasized Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner during the joint press conference following bilateral negotiations with her Israeli colleague, Silvan Shalom.

"The best prerequisites for redesigning and intensifying friendly relations with Israel have now been provided. Foreign Minister Shalom and I have discussed a number of initiatives which we have developed in the spirit of our renewed cooperation, particularly in the economic and cultural sectors," said Ferrero-Waldner. "Of special importance to me are the events planned during the coming year marking the 100th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl. Theodor Herzl is an important link connecting Austria and Israel. Foreign Minister Shalom and I both wish to actively support these events."

The potential for trade and exchange of goods has by far not been exhausted. For that reason mutual visits by leaders of government accompanied by delegations from the economic sector will be arranged in order to strengthen the mutual interests of businesses in Austria and Israel. In this regard, the Foreign Minister mentioned the visit of the President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKÖ), Christoph Leitl, planned for the beginning of next year. "In the cultural area, we will intensify the exchange of visits and planned events. One first step in that direction was taken by State Secretary Franz Morak some weeks ago with his visit to Israel," according to the Foreign Minister.

In regard to the situation in the Near East, Minister Ferrero-Waldner emphasized that Europe and the Europeans have great interest in finding a solution, not only as direct neighbors to the conflict but also because of their historical and moral responsibility. "Due to our history, we possess certain sensitivities that must be brought to bear on the matter. We live in a continent that is very limited in space, with many languages and ethnic groups. Conflicts of ethnic minorities are not foreign to us. We should offer our experience in order to achieve positive results for such conflicts, not only for the Palestinian conflict, but also throughout the entire Islamic world."

At the close of the press conference, both Foreign Ministers lay wreaths at the Albertina Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial on Judenplatz in Vienna.