September , 2004
The Holocaust Memorial sites of Yad Vashem in Israel and Mauthausen in Austria have exhibited exemplary cooperation. Austria's Minister of the Interior, Ernst Strasser, announced the intensification of exchange, particularly in educational training.
The largest Holocaust research project in Austrian schools is entering phase II in which personal encounters between pupils and survivors will take place.
Three weeks before his death, the Austrian Federal President Thomas Klestil commemorated the 100th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl. In a remarkable speech, Klestil warned against the ‘poison of intolerance which has found its way back into language.’ In honor of the founder of Zionism, the city of Vienna renamed a pedestrian zone "Theodor Herzl Platz." On the same day, Austria, Israel and Hungary simultaneously issued a commemorative stamp.
Who hasn’t heard about the famed collection of anecdotes entitled, "Die Tante Jolesch," by the great Austrian writer and narrator, Friedrich Torberg? With "Vienna "City of Jews. The World of Tante Jolesch" the Jewish Museum in Vienna dedicated an exhibition to Viennese Jewish life in the 20s and 30s.
Read about the conference "Remember Baghdad" in Vienna; the escape of a 12 year-old Austrian from Nazi-occupied Salzburg, and the return to Austria of a former forced laborer.
You will also find an article on the efforts to revive the Lieben Prize, an award for outstanding physicists or chemists, which was founded in Vienna in 1862.
Austrian Press and Information Service
Success Story of the First Zionists
Die Presse (6/23/04)
Herzl Conference in Jerusalem
Scientists and politicians from Austria, Israel, Canada and the United States came together in Jerusalem on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl to discuss his legacy. Austria’s Minister of the Interior, Ernst Strasser, spoke as a prelude to the discussions: He talked to a great number of Israelis largely originating from Austria in commemoration of Herzl and his place of birth and of the events planned by the Austrian parliament in September, which also Israel’s President Mosche Katzav is expected to attend.
Minister Strasser emphasized his understanding for the fact that "most Austrian Jews who survived the Nazi years never have returned," but at the same time expressed his great respect for "those who remained [in Austria]." As an Austrian, he is "proud of the Zionist, Theodor Herzl, and of the lively Jewish Community," although that "may sound like a contradiction."
Dr. Strasser visited the Holocaust Memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The collaboration that exists between it and Austria’s Holocaust Memorial in Mauthausen serves as an exemplary model of optimal cooperation, particularly in the area of education. "I am still deeply touched by the continuing efforts being undertaken in documenting and researching the worst crimes of human history," he said. Minister Strasser, responsible for the memorial of the former concentration camp Mauthausen, announced the "intensification" of exchange between both memorials, especially in view of educational training.
Ambassador Hengl said he hopes that Herzl will build a "bridge between Israel and Austria." Not only Zionism has its birthplace in Austria," but also the Star of David, "symbol and flag" of the Jews, and the Jewish state as well have their origins in Vienna.
A rather odd ending to the first evening: Frank Stern (Ben Gurion University) showed a silent film by the Austrian actor and regisseur, Rudolf Schildkraut, from the year 1921. "The Wandering Jew or The Life of Theodor Herzl is a "pure success story of the first Zionists," said Stern. According to him, nothing in it corresponds to the truth.
A Letter to the Stars
Jewish Welcome Service Vienna (05/09/04)
(Taken from a Press Release)
" We cannot undo what Holocaust survivors were forced to suffer. But today we can build bridges, reach out to them and give them back a piece of home by creating new encounters....."
The project, 'A Letter to the Stars," is the largest Holocaust research project in Austrian schools today. It began as a private initiative by the journalists, Alfred Worm, Andreas Kuba and Josef Neumayr.
In the course of 2003, more than 15,000 students researched and put in writing the individual life stories of Austrians killed by the National Socialists. The students’ work can be read on the Internet at: www.LetterToTheStars.at and a selection has been printed in the book, 'Letters to the Stars. Students Write History."
Part II of the project is meant to create the opportunity for personal encounters. Young Austrians will write to people - or their descendants - who were expelled from Austria, managed to flee "in time," or who survived in concentration camps or in hiding. The students’ assignment will be to write the individual life story from the information they obtain. This work will also appear on the Internet, and a selection will be published in book form.
The Jewish Welcome Service Vienna and its director, Leon Zelman, are closely cooperating with the project, and so we kindly ask you whether you have already been hosted in Austria or whether you have signalled your interest in being hosted - to support the project and reply to the enclosed letters. By doing so, you would give Austrian youth the unique chance to learn first hand about this period in history and gain some comprehension of it.
This project is being carried out by the Jewish Welcome Service Vienna and sponsored by the City of Vienna. All questions can be directed to Vienna, Austria: 011- 43-1-7983955 between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (MET).
A Century After Herzl Vienna Re-imagines Zion
Former Austrian President Thomas Klestil
This article is taken from a speech given by the late Austrian President on the occasion of the opening of the Fifth International Theodor Herzl Symposium in the Vienna City Hall on June 14, 2004. The speech was translated by Ruth Weinberger and appeared in the American weekly, "Forward" (N.Y.). President Klestil died on July 6, 2004.
At the turn of the last century, a wave of culture washed over Vienna, carrying central European society into modernity. The contribution of Austrian Jewry to this heritage was significant - from Enlightenment to Liberalism to Art Noveau. It was in this milieu that the modern Jewish state was envisioned by Theodor Herzl, the 100th anniversary of whose death we commemorate on July 3, 2004.
We Austrians are proud that 1,800 years after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, the idea of creating a Jewish state was born in Vienna. It was an idea that tremendously moved the world and has engaged it ever since. This pride, however, is mixed with the bitter knowledge that Austrians played a key role in the Holocaust, the worst crime ever committed against the Jewish people. The unparalleled and inexcusable humiliation, persecution and murder of our Jews has left a permanent scar on the collective Austrian conscience. These scars are painful to this very day and remind us how easy it is to destroy humanity and tolerance. Today, more than ever, we must remind ourselves that humans are the root of all inhumanity.
The 100th anniversary of Herzl’s death comes at a time when we sadly cannot talk of peace among the nations. The scourge of international terrorism, not to mention numerous regional conflicts, has made peace no more than a far-fetched dream in many parts of the world. Prosperity has proved equally elusive as globalization has not led us to the paradise on earth that so many had envisioned.
While Herzl’s legacy is embodied in the Jewish state, I firmly believe it has a relevance that extends beyond the borders of Israel to the global issues that confront us today. His vision was one based on tolerance and peaceful interaction between different religions, a vision he worked tirelessly to realize. His pragmatic idealism can serve as a guide as we work to reconcile enemies and to promote social justice.
Our efforts must begin with an acknowledgement of the hatred in our midst. Today, 100 years after the death of the father of the Jewish state, anti-Semitism is often disguised as anti-Zionism.
Let there be no doubt: The poison of intolerance has found its way back into today’s language. There is daily proof that the vocabulary of the barbarians’ dictionary has not disappeared. To the contrary, the words of hatred are creeping evermore into discussions on Israel. The problem is far more than just semantic. Language is not only clothing for thoughts but also a tool for forming people. The language of hatred is not only derived from resentment, it is also the cause of resentment.
The bar must not be allowed to sink any lower in regard to the acceptance of racist or anti-Semitic comments - not in Austria, not in Europe, not anywhere. Language is never innocent. Language can heal and it can kill. Language can change lives, for better or for worse. As we remain vigilant against the words of hatred, let us also speak the language of peace. Although the current situation in the Middle East may seem to push Herzl’s vision of coexistence to the edge of the horizon, we all know that we must work together to resolve the conflict. In the tradition of Herzl’s pragmatic idealism, Austria, as part of the European Union, should take part in effective peacekeeping missions in order to silence the voices of violence.
It is my personal conviction that a long-lasting peace can only be the product of honest and peaceful dialogue. Judaism, with its dialectic tradition, is a wonderful premise from which to begin. It is upon the foundation of dialogue that bridges between people can be built. Bridges create trust, and trust will eventually lead to peace in Israel. I cannot think of a greater way to honor the memory of Theodor Herzl.
Vienna Has a New Theodor Herzl Square
Austrian Press Agency (APA) (07/02/04)
Renaming the Gartenbaupromenade - Demonstrations and a Massive Array of Police
Vienna - Amidst a massive array of police, Vienna’s Gartenbaupromenade was ceremonially renamed on July 03, 2004 Theodor Herzl Platz on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Jewish writer and founder of Zionism. The selection of the small but prominent pedestrian zone in the inner city on the Ringstraße expresses respect for Herzl’s ideas and impact on history, said Vienna’s city councillor, Andreas Mailath-Pokorny, in his speech.
His influence is a "part of this city" and for that reason one has chosen a central place. Inasmuch, the renaming of the Gartenbaupromenade is "a symbolic act," emphasized Mailath-Pokorny. Israel’s Ambassador to Austria, Avraham Toledo, said that "this beautiful square" is last but not least chosen due to its being in the vicinity of the daily newspaper, Die Presse, for whose predecessor, the Neue Freie Presse (New Free Press), Herzl had long written articles.
The President of Vienna’s Israelite Religious Community, Ariel Muzicant, was also pleased about the honor bestowed upon "a great Viennese and great Austrian." Muzicant said that with his vision, Herzl changed the world. Muzicant referred to him as a great humanist, whose opponents would denigrate his vision by comparing it with the current day conflict in the Middle East."
Some of these opponents gathered in front of the Marriot Hotel not far from the square. About 20 people participated in a demonstration, primarily orthodox rabbis chanting "Zionism is Atheism." They went on to say that this is an insurgence against God’s Will. Since the Jews were not to have a state of their own before the arrival of the Messiah, the founder of the idea should not be honored with a square.
The search for an appropriate location in the Viennese inner city for Theodor Herzl Square has been long. The initial favored place in front of the Albertina was decided against because the monument there is dedicated to all groups of victims against war and fascism.
Postage Stamp in Memory of Theodor Herzl
Austrian Press Agency (APA) (07/06/04)
Vienna - On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl on July 3, 2004, the postal services of Hungary, Austria and Israel issued a commemorative stamp. The project was initiated by the Viennese Association "Friends of Israeli Stamps," said the Secretary General of the Israelite Religious Community, Avshalom Hodik. The three countries had a special significance for the founder of Zionism: He was born in 1860 in Pest, Hungary, left primarily his mark in Vienna, and had a vision of a Jewish state which became reality with current day Israel.
The stamp is identical in all three countries except for the denomination and particular country. It depicts on the left side the head of Herzl with a full beard; on the right side of the stamp is the title of his publication, "The Jewish State" in three languages - Hungarian, German and Hebrew.
"To this day, there has never been a collaboration of this kind between national postal services issuing a stamp," said Hodik. This will make the stamp a collector’s item. "Friends of Israeli Stamps" have tried to achieve this goal for the past ten years. In Austria the stamp has a value of 55 cents.
Vienna - City of Jews
The World of Tante Jolesch
Illustrierte Neue Welt (April/May 2004)
Vienna, City of Jews - The World of Tante (Aunt) Jolesch is the title of the latest exhibition of the Jewish Museum Vienna (Wien 1., Dorotheergasse 11) from May 19-October 31, 2004. During the era of the First Republic (1918-1938), there were more than 200,000 Jews living in Vienna - almost 11 percent of the entire population.
Vienna’s Jews formed an important segment within the population. They were visible in all aspects of public life and had a marked influence on many areas of culture and politics. They were not by any means an isolated, homogenous group and were no less dispersed among the various social and political classes than the rest of the population. There were reformers and visionaries, hotheads and dreamers, speculators and fortune hunters, poor devils and patrons of the arts.
This world between the two world wars comes to life in the exhibition once again, depicting various aspects of the Jewish experience. There was no such thing as "the Jews." There were the devout immigrants living in impoverished quarters, the intellectual elites and bohemians meeting in coffee houses, and elegant liberal bourgeoisie in ostentatious salons.
The exhibit showcases the history of the Jews in an era before the Holocaust cast its deathly shadow over the city.
For those interested, see: www.jmw.at
Time of Change
Die Presse - Schaufenster (05/04)
The exhibit, 'Vienna, City of Jews - The World of Tante (Aunt) Jolesch", describes the city during the 20s and 30s as providing the medium for political, social and cultural utopias. Does this require a new way of looking at the entire era? "Die Presse" spoke with museum curator, Joachim Riedl.
Apart from Warsaw, Vienna witnessed the largest community of Jews within Europe living in its city during the time of the First Republic. "Viennese Jewish life...," wrote the historian in 1933, "is an integral part of Vienna. It participates in all of the precariousness of the Viennese, with whose spirit it has mixed for so long. Vienna - City of Jews depicts the Jewish experience in this city at its peak, along with the political, social and cultural effects it had on the society," says museum curator, Joachim Riedl.
Schaufenster: Vienna, City of Jews can be traced back to your initiative. What made you chose the topic?
Riedl: The idea originated from my irritation at the debate over Restitution and the idea that the majority of the public believed that the issue involves a former Jewish population in Vienna made up of primarily four to five dozen wealthy families and a few famous names - from Mahler to Freud - rather than a largely representative segment throughout the entire population. Only a few are aware of the fact that the Jewish community at that time consisted of more than 200,000 people - a number in no way to be overlooked.
Schaufenster: So, do you wish to show who these people really were?
Riedl: The goal of the exhibition is to show what happens when a society thinks that it must radically separate itself from over one-tenth of itself. All that is remaining is an historical vacuum. Nothing grows afterwards. This segment of the population would equal the population of a city almost the size of Graz, with all its intellectual, cultural, crazy and criminal energy. We are trying to offer a view of what has been lost.
Schaufenster: Has this lack of growth led also to not having noticed the gaps?
Riedl: It is practically the central idea of the exhibition to correct a major misunderstanding which still exists. The era of the First Republic is looked upon today as a period carrying within itself the seeds of early and inevitable misdeeds, comparable to a child suffering from progeria. The main thesis of this exhibition is that it was exactly the opposite case. The years 1918 to 1938 were a time of change and upheaval.
Schaufenster: Do You mean that the end of the Monarchy did not carry within itself the collapse of the First Republic?
Riedl: The fall of the Habsburg Empire was an act of liberation to an extent which would hardly be possible today, that set free unbelievable intellectual, cultural and political energy. Everywhere reforms and changes were being initiated.
Schaufenster: You describe that also as the "search for the new man?"
Riedel: The search for radical newness in all areas - in art, science, and politics. A new wealth arose and suddenly there were investors like Bosel who defined matters. New medias were created - cinema, radio, the popular press, and new cultural politics, such as that of David Josef Bach, influential to this day. Also Social Democracy took itself to be not so much of a party but a cultural and educational movement that aimed at change - Austrian Marxists like Breitner as director of the region’s bank, stood verbally left of Lenin, but were pragmatic and rational in their policies. In science, the first hormone substance, "Progynon," was developed and the biologist, Kammerer, wanted to turn genetics upside down. It was also the time of the sexual revolution, more radical than the 1960s.
Schaufenster: Does this allow us to conclude that in its entirety, the exhibition is less about the Jews than about the city?
Riedel: The problem is: Who is a Jew? There were 200,000 members of the Israelite Religious Community. But what about those who because of anti-Semitism were made Jews? The trouble is that we would actually have to use a definition that in itself is racist and anti-Semitic in order to be able to find the historical truth.
Schaufenster: How does the exhibition handle the topic?
Riedel: We don’t explicitly assign labels as here, Jew, and there, not. The biographies at the end of the exhibition give enough hints.
Schaufenster: According to which criteria were the twenty-one stations of the exhibition selected?
Riedel: There is neither a chronological nor biographical order. We approach the topic on hand through certain key events that are central to the topic: politics, social change, psychoanalysis, entertainment, financial speculation, philosophy, journalism, etc. Persons appear due to their dramaturgical and not only their historical significance. "Incompleteness" [of information] is an essential element of the exhibit. One need not expect a "best of" the one hundred greatest Viennese Jews.
Fled From Salzburg
Salzburger Nachrichten (05/15/04)
As a young twelve year - old boy, Fred Friedman fled Salzburg in 1938 from the National Socialists. He now has returned to report his experiences.
St. Johann - With the invasion of the Germans, Fred Friedman ended his youth in Salzburg in 1938. The Jewish family succeeded in fleeing to the U.S.A. Upon invitation by the high school in St. Johann, Friedman has now returned.
Friedman was born in Salzburg in 1926. His family lived in the Haunspergstraße. "From my room I could see the Lehener Bridge as the German troops were coming," tells Friedman. Suddenly, the situation worsened for the Jews: "Friends turned around and threw stones at us. I was thrown out of school and was not allowed in the swimming pool. Many Jews failed to sense the danger, but friends told us, "You have to leave."
Friedman’s father was for a short time in the concentration camp in Dachau, but he was saved by a friend. Later his mother said: "We are taking a trip. You mustn’t utter a word in the train." Friedman and his sister were registered together in a fake passport of a woman. They were permitted to go to Switzerland. Only some time later the mother was smuggled over the border. From Switzerland they fled via France, Spain and Portugal to the U.S.A.
"I have no hatred. Most people are decent," says Friedman today. While fleeing, they met by chance a soldier from Salzburg who recognized them. Nonetheless, he let them cross the border, thereby risking his own life.
Fred Friedman resides in Akron, New York and is the Austrian Honorary Consul for Buffalo and Rochester, New York.
Forced Laborer Submitted a Familiar Signature
Der Standard (07/09/04)
Guy Gault had only one piece of evidence that he had worked as a French forced laborer in Vienna: a letter from Federal Chancellor Raab, signed by his secretary, Ludwig Steiner. Today Steiner is head of the Reconciliation Fund and Gault visited him in Vienna.
Vienna - In 1942 Guy Gault was doing well in Austria and that was nothing to be taken for granted because as of that year he was a forced laborer in Vienna. But because he was so lucky in the Nazi firm to which he was assigned to work as an orthopedic specialist, he wrote a letter after the war to Federal Chancellor Julius Raab. In that letter he thanked him for the "memories of friendliness shown by the Austrian people."
It was this letter from Raab which was signed by his secretary at the time, Ludwig Steiner, which paved the way for Gault as a forced laborer to be compensated by the Austrian government.
Until now the story sounds like another one of the fates of 150,000 forced laborers with which the Reconciliation Fund has dealt over the past few years. But one small detail makes the story somewhat special: The letter of gratitude from Raab to the forced laborer was signed with a simple signature, "Steiner." And this "Steiner" was secretary to the Chancellor.
Today he is head of the Committee of the Reconciliation Fund. That is where Gault handed in his papers in order to receive compensation. Because he had no proof of his forced service in the orthopedic firm "Volkert," he sent in his letter signed by Steiner. And, Ambassador Steiner exclaimed, "I am familiar with the signature." Some months later the eighty-two year-old Gault, who lives in the southern part of France, was compensated with 2,543.55 euros.
The two men met together for the first time. Mr. Gault had so many experiences to tell from his times in Vienna, such as the burning of the opera house after its bombing - "it was on a Monday, I remember." And how he experienced the street fights between the Russians and the German Armed Forces. How a German solder first shot at a Russian and the Russian shot back, killing the German with a shot in the head.
He remembers well that he was able to move about because he didn’t have to work in a camp. He was even invited to dinner by the Volkert family. But very little did Guy Gault speak of his experiences with the Gestapo. They interrogated him because he had brought pamphlets with him about "Vive de Gaulle."
Basically he is very careful since one never knows. The French forced laborers are considered to this day as collaborators of the Nazi regime. He has experienced that his own Red Cross never concerned itself with people like himself. In fact, he was better looked after in Vienna. His application for compensation as forced laborer was concluded with the words: 'Vive l’Autriche."
Iraqi Jews Want to Be Arabs
Der Standard (06/23/04)
Conference "Remember Baghdad "Grates on the Zionist Narrative
Vienna - "he oriental Jewish Communities were not a part of the Zionist plan which essentially was a European, colonial one. Only after the creation of Israel did Israeli leadership turn their attention to the Arabic/Jewish Community." Abbas Shiblak, expert on Iraqi Jewry continues to comment on what happened then: "For me, as a refugee and a Palestinian Arab, the experiences of Iraqi Jews and all other Arabic/Jewish Communities are largely one of otherness" - loss, uprootedness and rejection.
If one believes the Jewish Iraqi participant in the conference, "Remember Baghdad," which was organized by the Austrian Institute for International Politics (OIIP) and numerous other organizations, then it was not a particularly happy return to the promised land. The preliminary events leading up to- and the circumstances surrounding the exodus of Jews out of Iraq, which were related to the other participants at the conference, differ considerably from those of the Israeli mainstream narrative: it was, above all, one of "transfer" run by Zionist leadership.
That the Jews had to leave behind their possessions - an historical view that involves only the Arabic countries - was, according to the sociologist, Yehouda Shenhav, deliberate: in order to protect Israel from Palestinian claims for compensation. Therefore, Israel supported no individual demands from Iraq made by the Iraqi Jews: "It was important that it remain "collective".
Even in Israel itself the Iraqi immigrant expected a "systematic cultural cleansing," said Nisim Rejwan with great bitterness at the conference. He left Baghdad in 1951. By citing quotes from David Ben Gurion and Golda Meier, the eighty year-old Rejwan highlighted the colonial arrogance felt by the Eastern Jews at the time of integration.
The author, Sami Michael, discovered that the ideological dictates of the Zionists made a neutral non-partisan depiction of the life of the Jews in Iraq impossible. Now these Jews want their history back. In fact, consideration is being made of a new museum, since the one in Tel Aviv fails to mention any Iraqi Jewish leader who defied Zionism.
There was a broad consensus at the conference that giving the term "Jew" an ethnic twist in the Arabic world results from the Israelis having put a stamp on the opposites of Jew/Arab: In Baghdad, there were Arabic Muslims, Arabic Christians and Arabic Jews. It was scarcely mentioned that the bitter history of European anti-Semitism and the Holocaust had started here: the Austrian listener should, however, not forget it.
The Arabic identity of the Iraqi Jews was celebrated at the beginning as well as at the end of the conference: Whereas the first part of the conference was dedicated to remembering times of division, the second day shared a sense of unity of "Oud Festival" (Arabic sounds) with Jewish and non-Jewish Arabic musicians from different generations playing music together.
The Lieben Prize – History Interrupted and Time Regained
BRIDGES, Volume 2 (7/20/04)
Part I: 1862 - 1944
In 1944, Heinrich Lieben, an Austrian Jew, was murdered in Auschwitz.
Seven years earlier, Heinrich Lieben had made what was to become the last contribution to the Lieben Prize, a unique scientific award established by his family in 1862, following the death of his grandfather, the Viennese banker Ignaz L. Lieben.
When the Lieben Prize was founded in 1862, the Austrian Academy of Sciences was entrusted with administering the prize, a well-endowed award for outstanding physicists or chemists in the territory of the monarchy. The prize had been created at the urging of Ignaz Lieben’s son, Adolph Lieben, a chemist who was then working in Italy. Adolph Lieben was severely hampered in his own pursuit of a scientific career in Austria because the Austrian Concordat limited the number of positions at the universities to Catholics. Later, Adolph Lieben became the first Jew to hold chairs in Prague and Vienna.
During its time, the Lieben Prize was one of the most prestigious awards in the monarchy. The prize turned out to be extremely successful at singling out young scientists who later became acknowledged leaders in their scientific fields: four of the awardees, Fritz Pregl, Otto Loewi, Karl von Frisch and Viktor Hess, went on to win the Nobel Prize. Other outstanding scientists amongst the awardees were the physicists, Lise Meitner, Felix Ehrenhaft, Josef Stefan and the mathematician, Josip Plemelj.
The Lieben Prize was on the verge of becoming one of the indirect casualties of the great inflation in 1923 when the capital for this award was lost. The Lieben family, itself, not in a comfortable economic situation at that time, decided, however, to continue funding the prize and gave 1,000 Austrian Shillings annually.
What the global economic crisis had failed to destroy, the Nazis accomplished with the cruel efficiency of the ruthless and ignorant. While the prize had reflected the diversity and the scientific potential within the monarchy and amongst its peoples, its abandonment bore witness to the closing of the Austrian mind and to the destruction of the country’s intellectual wealth which would be irreversible for decades to come.
Part II: 1971 - 2004
The scientists depicted in the black-and-white photos on the wall of the small meeting room at the Vienna University of Technology look serious and scholarly, just like the lay person imagines real scientists ought to look.
In this austere-looking room with the black-and-white reminder of scientific genius on the wall sits a group of men gathered around a table, on which some invisible hand has laid out cookies, tea and coffee. It is an unusually warm day in March 2004, and these men - among them Christian Noe, Dean of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Vienna, and Arnold Schmidt, the former president of the Austrian Science Fund - have agreed to talk with me about how they and others were able to re-create the Ignaz L. Lieben Prize.
One of the men is Robert Rosner, a chemist and science historian, who started the initiative to revive the Lieben Prize. Rosner left Austria in 1939 on a Kindertransport, one of the sealed trains that brought at total of about 10,000, mostly Jewish, children to England. After the war, Rosner returned to Austria where he received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Vienna and later joined a chemical company. Upon his retirement, Rosner returned to the university, earning a degree in Political Science and the History of Science. It was during his work on a book about the history of chemistry in Austria that he became fascinated with the story of the Lieben Prize and did more research on the prize’s history. His enthusiasm infected others, most importantly Christian Noe and Peter Schuster, the latter being the Vice-President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Together, they started to propagate the idea of reviving the prize, and they set out to find sponsors in Austria. Along came Alfred Bader.
In 2003, a symposium, entitled "Austria and National Socialism: Implications for Scientific and Humanistic Scholarship," took place in Vienna. Some of the participants were renowned scientists - among them Nobel Prize laureates Eric R. Kandel and Walter Kohn who had fled Austria as children. One of them was Alfred Bader, for whom the conference gave a strong signal that Austria was indeed committed to reexamining its own history.
Alfred Bader, a former Austrian refugee who now lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, remembers his youth in Vienna vividly. He talks about going to school with fellow refugee, Carl Djerassi, the inventor of the Pill: " went to school with Karl for eight years. His family had a ping-pong table, where I learned how to play." Bader’s youth was short-lived, though: at age 14 he left Austria on one of the first Kindertransporte for England. Bader later was deported to Canada as an "enemy alien." He stayed in Canada and studied chemical engineering at Queen’s University. After receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard University, Bader remained in the U.S. and eventually founded the chemical company, Aldrich, which is now Sigma-Aldrich, the world’s largest supplier of research chemicals. Since leaving Sigma-Aldrich in 1992, Bader has dedicated himself full-time to his great passion, the collection of Old Master paintings, which he started in his 20s. Alfred Bader has for many years now been a noted art collector and has his own gallery in Milwaukee. Most notably, he has been a generous philanthropist for many years.
"Bobby and I have been friends for 30 years," says Alfred Bader of Rosner - the two of them met when Robert Rosner was working for the Austrian chemical company Loba Chemie. When Bader learned about the Lieben Prize and about the intention to re-create it, he immediately liked the idea. Not a surprise really, since Bader had already funded numerous other scientific endeavors, amongst them the Joseph Loschmidt Chair at the University in Brno of the Czech Republic. Bader’s commitment to fund the award does, however, reflect a change in his perception of Austria. "When I first returned to Vienna occasionally after the war, the idea of establishing an award for Austrians was unthinkable. Whenever I met an Austrian older than myself, born in 1924, I wondered what that person had done in 1938. Yet most old Nazis have died, and I sense that the younger generations are better people." Bader tells the story of a friend of his, a devout Catholic and opponent of the Nazis who spent the war years in Dachau. "Whenever I visited him after the war we would talk about the Austrians, and we agreed that there were many good Austrians, but simply not enough of them." And then, of course, there were those whose motivation is hard to fathom, even today - like one of Bader’s former professors at the Gymnasium in Vienna: "He was a wonderful professor who was also a member of the NSDAP, but he treated the Jewish students very well. I visited him in 1949, and he told me that he had imagined the Third Reich to be something quite different."
Talking about his motivation to fund the Lieben Prize, Bader likes to tell the story of how one of his direct ancestors, Count Johann Carl Serényi, had participated in Vienna’s defense against the Turks in 1683 and of how his grandfather, Moritz Ritter von Bader, was knighted by Emperor Franz Joseph. And just in case one didn’t get it, he adds: "My roots are in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy." Apparently, the appreciation for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy "Bader was born after its demise - was instilled in Bader by his aunt and adoptive mother, Gisela Reich, who was an ardent patriot and supporter of the emperor. She was killed in Theresienstadt.
It is these roots that made Alfred Bader suggest to Robert Rosner that the Lieben Prize should be given to scientists from all those countries that used to be a part of Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Thus, molecular biologists, chemists or physicists from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria will be eligible. "The prize comes at a politically interesting time when the EU enlargement has brought the countries that formerly were part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy together in a modern European undertaking of incomparable scope. I think it is significant that the award was announced in all the different languages of those countries that were then part of the monarchy, and I hope that many scientists from these countries will win the prize," says Bader.
Back in the small meeting room at the University of Technology, the group of scientists and scholars have finished telling me the story of the Lieben Prize and have already started to talk about other history projects they plan - about how Austria needs more awareness of its history, of how there ought to be chairs for the history of science at the universities. They are an enthusiastic group, committed to and driven by a shared conviction that history has a lot to teach us.
After the two-hour meeting is over and everyone has left, Arnold Schmidt, who arranged the meeting, walks me around the meeting room and points out the names of the serious looking men on the wall. After many years of steering the fate of the Austrian Science Fund, the country’s key funding institution for basic research, Schmidt is still a busy man.
It’s not a bad world, I think, where people still take time for such things.
" Bridges" is a Quarterly published by the Office of Science and Technology at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. You will find a complete version of this article on their website (see above). A shortened version of this article will also appear in the publication "Nu" (www.nunu.at ), of the Israelite Religious Community in Vienna, Austria.