January 31, 2003
With this second issue of Jewish News from Austria, I would like you to know that we have created a link on our homepage at www.austria.org where you can find an electronic archive of current and previous newsletters by clicking on "Jewish News from Austria." Our other newsletter, a bi-monthly publication entitled Austrian Information which has been issued for many years, can also be found on the same homepage.
All six articles in the current newsletter are arranged in chronological order beginning with the most current news and going as far back as October 2002. Enjoy reading about the most recent Austrian and Austro-American initiatives and contributions to Jewish cultural life.
I wish you a peaceful and healthy 2003.
Austrian Press and Information Service
Student Project Commemorating Holocaust Victims
In early January, a five-month-long student project was initiated by two Austrian journalists, Andreas Kuba and Josef Neumayr, commemorating the 80,000 Austrian victims of the Holocaust.
Organized by the association, "Dealing With Recent History," it is supported by the Jewish Community in Vienna, the Austrian government, and several private organizations.
Under the auspices of Austrian President Thomas Klestil, Austrian students between the ages of 13 and 19 (with help from their teachers and historians) will research the lives of each of the 65,000 members of the Austrian Jewish Community along with the 15,000 members of other communities which were murdered by the Nazis. An elaborate internet platform was set up that will ultimately publish the results of the project. The establishment of this permanent database will ensure that the lives of all Austrian victims of the Holocaust will always be remembered and that the Nazis could not erase the cherished memory of the victims. The documentation of the project will ultimately become part of the Shoah Center planned for the City of Vienna.
This is the largest student project of its kind ever undertaken in Austria dealing with this dark chapter in Austria’s past.
The project will culminate in a multimedia event on the "Heldenplatz" in the afternoon and evening of May 5, 2003 the Austrian National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism. The 80,000 Austrian students who have been involved in the research will participate along with Simon Wiesenthal, former Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, President Thomas Klestil, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and other prominent Austrians.
The estimated cost of the project and event on Heldenplatz is $500,000. The Austrian National Bank, the City of Vienna and OMV, the largest petroleum company in Austria, will each contribute $100,000. Donations will also be made by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber and the Federation of Austrian Industry.
For further information please e-mail Andreas Kuba at firstname.lastname@example.org or Josef Neumayr at email@example.com. They can also be reached by telephone at 01143/699/19422425 or 01143/676/5394995.
This text was written by Consul Norbert Hack from the Austrian Consulate General in New York. The Austrian Consulate General in New York can be reached by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Altenberg: A Life’s Extract
PRESSE news (12/02):
Peter Altenberg (1859-1919) represented the typical coffee house poet and intellectual active in Vienna at the turn the century. He was both admired and ridiculed: a Bohemian and an aesthete, an admirer of landscapes and beautiful women, master of the aphorism and health devotee. An exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Vienna offers a glimpse of Vienna as seen through the eyes of this eccentric, author of countless letters, and friend of artists like Karl Kraus, Arthur Schnitzler and Gustav Klimt. He spent the greater part of his life in hotels and bars, skilled in living off his friends and forever in need of money.
The photo collection that decorated the walls of his hotel room has been reconstructed for the exhibit. It provides an insight into Altenberg’s activities as a part of the Jugendstil milieu: a sensitive writer, amateur psychologist, an aesthete and a collector of picture postcards, photographs and pictures. This collection, together with his commentary, should be considered a work of art.
The documentary of the life and works of Peter Altenberg entitled "Peter Altenberg: A Life’s Extract" can be viewed at the Jewish Museum in Vienna from January 22-April 23, 2003. A parallel exhibition entitled, "Peter Altenberg. In Search of a Writer" is being shown at the House of Literature in Vienna.
For more information, consult http://www.jmw.at.
Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin: An Exhibition of Art and Hope
"Rave" weekend supplement of Daily Breeze (12/13/02)
San Diego Jewish Times (11/28/02):
The Friedl Dicker-Brandeis Exhibition, showing the life and works of the Vienna-born Bauhaus graduate artist and art teacher who taught children at the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp, opened on November 12, 2002 at the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The first full-scale exhibition of this early founder of art therapy is on display, along with the works by her students who perished at Auschwitz. Attending the event were Austria’s Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg as well as more than 400 invited guests, among them leading representatives of the City of L.A., the Jewish Community and survivors of Terezin.
The exhibition, which has previously travelled to Austria, the Czech Republic, Japan, France, Sweden and Germany, and been viewed by over 300,000 people, will be on display until September 1, 2003. Organized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and co-sponsored by Austria, the Museum will organize art classes and tours for pupils as well as educational workshops for teachers based on Friedl’s teaching principles. These will be held by world-renowned art therapists, some of them survivors of Terezin, from Austria, Switzerland and the United States. In addition, various documentary films about the concentration camp will be shown at the Museum of Tolerance Theater.
The exhibition reveals the life and work of one woman who used art to help children deal with despair of the Holocaust. During the Holocaust, some 15,000 children were deported to Terezin. Ten years after the concentration camp was liberated, two suitcases filled with 5,000 poems and drawings by these children were discovered. When the survivors were interviewed, they all talked about one woman--Friedl Dicker-Brandeis who helped them to cope with the horrors they had to face on a daily basis. From the grimmest possible surroundings, she helped her students reveal a story behind each work of art--stories of ingenuity, courage, defiance, hope and rage. Through her guidance, these child artists managed to express and affirm their own existence.
Dicker-Brandeis is considered by many art critics to be the equal of her early 20th century contemporaries. The Bauhaus’s famed architect, Walter Gropius, said that had she lived, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis would have been the most important female artist of the twentieth century. The museum’s project director, Regina Seldman Miller, claimed "When we had the show at the Bauhaus Museum in Berlin, her work was next to the permanent collection. People kept walking back and forth from Kandinsky and Klee to her, and you could see how well her work stood up to theirs. She had come into her own by the time she was in Terezin."
The Austrian Consulate General of Los Angeles contributed $5,000 from their cultural budget to finance the exhibition. An additional $5,000 will be provided by the initiative "Art Against Violence" from Austria’s Federal Chancellery.
NS Compensation: Difficult Search for Victims’ Heirs
Austrian Press Agency (10/31/02)
Currently two problems appear to stand in the way of implementing the NS Compensation Agreement which the Republic of Austria has concluded in Washington on January 17, 2001: the difficult search for heirs of Austrian Nazi victims, and the two pending class-action law suits in the USA which still remain open. Both issues are delaying payments from the Restitution Fund. The General Secretary of the Austrian National Fund for Victims of National Socialism, Hannah Lessing, is searching worldwide for people eligible for compensation before the time limit on claims runs out on May 28, 2003.
To this day some 7,000 restitution claims worldwide have been submitted. Contrary to expectations, that is a very low number because of the somewhat "complicated questionnaire" with very detailed questions regarding assets and line of succession. Another reason is that the children of these victims are scattered throughout the world and cannot always be found. "We don’t wish to leave anything untried in finding as many people eligible as possible," added Hannah Lessing during a conversation with the APA on a trip to the USA.
With lectures in the USA and in other countries Mrs. Lessing is trying to reach particularly the heirs of those Austrian NS victims who died before the Republic of Austria had undertaken compensation. "Whether the children still have any connection with Austria is often the question." Early November she travelled to New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco, followed by two weeks in Montevideo, Uruguay.
At a round table in the US State Department, Mrs. Lessing spoke also with the US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ambassador Randolph Bell, and his predecessor, former US Deputy Treasury Secretary and representative of the NS Restitution Negotiations, Stuart Eizenstat about the actual problems. Two class-action suits submitted against the Republic of Austria are still pending before the American courts which are being represented by the lawyers, Jay Fialkoff and Herbert Fenster. Until legal peace has been established, The Republic of Austria is unable to disburse payments for NS restitution agreed upon in the Washington Agreement.
The US government will try to have the complaints be withdrawn reported Mrs. Lessing upon conclusion of talks. It also lies in the interest of the American government and the former negotiator that there is legal peace and that restitution payments can begin. Meanwhile one asks oneself daily, "What does it mean for us to have no money for paying out restitution?" The answer: "The clock is ticking and former victims are dying every day."
State Museum Returns "Painting Stolen by NS"
Neues Volksblatt (11/29/02):
Together with historians from the University of Linz, the State Museum of Upper Austria sifted through its inventory the last few months in search of "NS Stolen Art."
In regard to one of the paintings it has now been determined that the grandchild of the rightful owner lives in the USA: the painting "Fowl" by the Dutch painter, Melchior Hondecoeter, dating from the 17th century, is in the process of being transported across the Atlantic.
The 2.5 x 2 meter large painting originates from the second half of the 17th century. Before Austria’s Anschluss to Hitler’s Germany, it belonged to a Jewish woman living in Vienna, and was "confiscated" by the Gestapo from her apartment in 1938. In 1942 it was commissioned by Hitler to be bought at an auction from the "Wiener Dorotheum" for the planned "Museum of the Führer." Afterwards the work was deposited in the region of Linz. At the turn of 1944/45 it was then brought, along with other art works, to an underground tunnel in Bad Aussee to avoid being damaged by bombing attacks. However, along the way, something bizarre happened: the transport was caught in a snow storm. Finally the paintings were stored in a guest house in Steeg am Hallstätter See. There they remained until the Americans arrived. They were found and turned over to the State Museum of Upper Austria to be held in safekeeping.
This was an odyssey which was cleared by historians, and the rightful owner, living in the United States, will soon be in possession of the painting. The Governor of Upper Austria, Josef Pühringer, will try to expedite the return. The costs involved in transporting it to the USA will be covered by the State of Upper Austria, said the Head of the Cultural Section, Manfred Mohr. Sixteen other paintings from the State Museum are momentarily being examined.
Pröll Demands "Active Tolerance"
Der Standard (10/18/02):
Klosterneuburg – In a speech given by the Governor of Lower Austria, Erwin Pröll, at the Municipal Museum of Klosterneuburg, he spoke of "active tolerance" which means not merely "tolerating people of different faiths" but rather "decisively speaking out against racism and hatred of foreigners." The occasion was the unveiling of a commemorative plaque which is to be erected there where the Synagogue of Klosterneuburg once stood.
A member of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), Governor Pröll spoke before a very special audience: ninety-two Austrian Jews expelled during the time of the Nazis, along with their families and relatives, who upon invitation from Leon Zelman’s Vienna Jewish Welcome Service, visited their old native country. Pröll assured them that politicians like himself, born after WW II, conscious of the burden of history and the moral responsibility connected to that history. He reassured "that no one forget these crimes against humanity."
The plaque is a reminder of the synagogue which was heavily damaged in 1938 and cleared away in 1991, and at the same time of the 300 Klosterneuburger Jews, among which many died as victims of Nazi terrorism. This was initiated by a member of the Municipal Council, Martina Enzmann. As Zelman claimed, it was Pröll’s mediation which allowed the project to materialize.