December 25, 2007
With this issue of Jewish News from Austria, we are happy to provide you with a broad selection of articles which have appeared in the Austrian media in the course of the last five months.
Last month the Jewish Community Vienna held its elections, resulting in the re-election of current IKG President, Ariel Muzicant, and his "Atid" party. We bring articles on the elections and other news related to the Jewish Community Vienna. Other topics include recent cultural events, restitution-related questions and Federal Chancellor Gusenbauer's visit to Israel in September.
With my best wishes for a prosperous New Year,
Director of the Press & Information Service
Embassy of Austria
1. Recent Events and Cultural News
• Muzicant Wins the Elections Without a New Opposition (Die Presse 12/10/2007)
• Keyword: Jewish Community Vienna (Austrian Press Agency (APA) 11/19/2007)
• “Jewish Community to Double in Size” (Die Presse 11/06/2007)
• Foundation Stone Is Laid for the IKG’S Maimonides Center (Austrian Press Agency 11/05/07)
• “Linz09” to Include an International Conference in Castle Hartheim (Austrian Press Agency 11/30/2007)
• New Commemorative Plaque at Mauthausen’s Railway Station In Remembrance of NS Victims (Austrian Press Agency 11/20/2007)
• “Simon, Darling, Take Good Care of Yourself” (Profil 08/06/2007)
• Swedish Queen Silvia Opens an Exhibition On Josef Frank (Austrian Press Agency 11/22/2007)
• Between Hammer and Anvil (Profil 10/22/2007)
• Witnesses Against Forgetting (Der Standard 8/11/2007)
• An Impressive Opening of the Korngold Exhibition (APA 11/28/2007)
• Brandsteidl Confers the Fred Schneider Award (Austrian Press Agency 8/31/2007)
• Presentation of a New Book “1938: Address Servitengasse” (OTS 12/04/2007)
• City of Krems Restituted Two Paintings (Austrian Press Agency 10/10/2007)
• Gold and Silver (Profil 9/03/2007)
4. Austrian – Israeli Relations
• Chancellor Gusenbaur Paid Visit to Israel and Palestinian Regions (Austrian Federal Chancellery 09/17/2007)
• Gusenbauer Honored by Israeli Private University (Austrian Press Agency 09/07/2007)
• Israel and Upper Austria plan culture and science transfer (Austrian Federal Chancellery 12/03/2007)
Muzicant Wins the Elections Without a New Opposition
Die Presse (12/10/2007)
Jewish Community Vienna. Ariel Muzicant will become once more President following the elections despite a loss of mandate and a new party.
Vienna – Ariel Muzicant (55) will continue to head the Jewish Community (IKG) the next five years. His ticket, “Atid,” won the board’s elections on Sunday and on two other primaries during the past week. However, this time “Atid” was able to win only ten mandates (41.22 %) of the twenty-four members of the Jewishcouncil. During the last elections in the year 2002 it was eleven mandates.
The IKG’s newly elected board will meet January 8, 2008. Muzicant’s reelection as president for a third five-year period is purely a matter of form.
Muzicant is naturally “very satisfied” with the outcome because “that was really a hard-fought victory,” he declared on Monday. Muzicant remembers that the last 2002 elections mobilized a large segment of voters because the Jewish Community stood in conflict with the coalition government of Freedom Party and People’s Party. With the change over from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) to the Austrian Future Union (BZÖ) and the agreement with Wolfgang Schüssel’s government on restitution, the atmosphere between the coalition and the Jewish Community improved. Today’s elections produced nothing comparable to those of 2002 – confronted neither by political dissatisfaction nor any opposition candidate, says Muzicant. Much more he was afraid of a decline in voter participation to that of 40%. Actually, voter participation fell from 62.6% to 54.7%. Thus, given the odds, Muzicant speaks of the elections as being basically a “sensational success.” His “Atid” ticket won twice as many mandates as the second strongest ticket, that of the “Sefardim-Bukharian Jews” (five mandates) and five times as many as the third strongest ticket, the “Union of Social Democratic Jews-Avoda.” Muzicant plans first of all to hold talks with the second strongest group. “Atid” has worked with the “Sefardim-Bukharian Jews” over the past few decades.
Liberal Critics of Israel
In the line up was the young liberal ticket, “Gesher”, which achieved two mandates without difficulty and has, by way of comparison, an unusual program: Austria’s Jewish Community should judge the state of Israel more critically than it has in the past.
The Georgian Jews succeeded in achieving one mandate, and the block of religious Jews as well as the Misrachi-Zionist Union.
Keyword: Jewish Community Vienna
Austrian Press Agency (APA) (11/19/2007)
Political and religious representation of Vienna’s Jews – Currently about 7,000 members – President is elected every five years
Vienna – The Jewish Community Vienna (IKG) has existed for some 160 years and is electing its members of the board on Sunday. During the year of revolution in 1898, Kaiser Joseph I appointed individual, privileged Jews as representatives of the Jewish Community, thereby signaling an organized representation of Jews in Vienna. After a change in the by-laws beginning of 2005, the Jewish Community sees itself officially also as a political representation. It currently numbers about 7,000 members.
With the amendment of the by-laws, the powers of the President, who has been Ariel Muzicant since 1998, have been limited and the position is to be carried out on an honorary basis, i.e, “in addition to one’s profession.” The President is primarily the main representative of the Community and less the head of the administration. Furthermore, there are two secretary generals – one which is secular and one which is spiritual – and twenty-four Board Members.
The by-laws clearly define who is a Jew, and therefore, can become a member of the Jewish Community. It goes by the simple rule: Whoever according to the Halacha - that is, Jewish religious law - is a Jew, can be part of the Community. The decision lies with the Chief Rabbi, the practice used since the end of the war. A rule of thumb is: Whose mother is Jewish is a Jew. Moreover, there is the possibility of converting to Judaism which, however, demands many years of study.
Until the year 1938, the IKG had 180,000 members. With the invasion of Hitler’s troops into Austria, the IKG was dissolved, triggering the darkest chapter in the history of Jewish-Viennese relations. Some 120,000 Viennese Jews were forced to leave the country. About 60,000 died in concentration camps, but the IKG began flourishing again already in May of 1945. After World War II, the Jewish community consisted of some four hundred Jews who had survived by hiding in the underground or as forced laborers.
"Jewish Community to Double in Size“
Die Presse (11/06/2007)
Interview. Ariel Muzicant makes a bid for re-election as President of the Jewish Community Vienna on November 25. He is expanding infrastructure to accommodate up to 20,000 members. Currently, membership is at 7,500.
Die Presse: Will breaking ground for the new community facilities provide a new center for the Jewish Community?
Ariel Muzicant: Not for the administration, synagogue, etc. Within the framework of restitution, parcels of land in Prater were returned to us, two of which we have now bought. It is there that we are building the sports and recreation center, Hakoah, a school, a nursing home and a residence. The Jewish Community owned the Rothschild Hospital before 1938. After 1945, there remained only the hospital in the Seegasse; in the 19th district we built a nursing home with very modest means. Today we had to level it completely and build it from scratch; that just isn’t acceptable. We have selected a piece of property that is located in Prater close to the metro station that is in the middle of a new area of the city. There they are building some 20,000 offices, residences, businesses and a shopping center.
Some community members criticize the location of the nursing home.
Muzicant: We are building actually a multi-purpose structure: an out-patient clinic, a nursery, etc.
A clinic only for the nursing home?
Muzicant: For whomever, for the entire area. But also for Jewish citizens. We can take over the medical care for the area. We are negotiating with the local hospital whether we take over the medical care of this area, staffing the clinic with physicians.
How are the negotiations going with Minister of the Interior Günther Platter on security measures?
Muzicant: There has been an agreement concerning the financing. We didn’t get what we wanted, but the largest part, 1,250,000 Euros, in subsidies from the Ministry of the Interior for the building of security equipment.
How are negotiations coming along for restoring the cemeteries?
Muzicant: As to the cemeteries, everyone wants it but nobody does it.
In other words, everyone wants it but nobody wants to pay for it?
Muzicant: Exactly. We dug out a law dating back to 1948, so-called “Maintenance of War Graves Law:” Austria has to maintain the graves of fallen soldiers. Taken to the absurd this means that the grave of an SS person is taken care of, whereas the 350,000 Jews whose relatives were murdered have to maintain the graves themselves. We want not only a solution to the question of the Waehringer Cemetery, but a contractual ruling which regulates the future of our sixty-two cemeteries. We have forty-three cemeteries in good condition, which we often, in agreement with the communities, take care of. In Germany, the individual regional states have taken the task over completely. We need a roundtable meeting, together with the regions, communities, the Federation and the Jewish Community.
Isn’t that also the case when financing the Simon Wiesenthal Center?
Muzicant: Yes, but that is also not necessary. There was a meeting with Andreas Mölzer (FP-EU Mandatary) - whereby numerous extreme rightists met together, and whereby the lawyer, Herbert Schaller, maintained that there was no factual proof of the Shoa. History catches up with us again and again; that is proof why we need something such as this.
One could argue that there will always be people who fail to learn.
Muzicant: One cannot get rid of such people, but that there are people who really have no idea of the Shoah. They hear, “six million Jews murdered in machine-like fashion, that cannot possibly be true; that is exaggerated.” Therefore, I say that the Simon Wiesenthal Institute would do this country good.
Are you satisfied with how those lying about the Holocaust are being prosecuted?
Muzicant: That has functioned very well in Austria. I wished that there would be such laws in other European countries. What disturbs me is that those in politics don’t have the courage to say that the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is in comparison to the former FPÖ an extreme right group of former Nazis and neo-Nazis. It must be possible that Vice Chancellor Molterer and Federal Chancellor Gusenbauer both say that after the elections, we want nothing more to do with these people. It is interesting that even the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) has distanced themselves from them.
What is your relationship to the Islamic Jewish Community? After your warning of the increasing influence of militant Islamists, was it worse?
Muzicant: I expressed my feeling that much more has to be done to distance oneself loud and clear from every form of extreme Islamism. I believe that on the part of the Islamic Religious Community, more will be done in this direction. Right now in our community we have elections. Every voter has a vote, every vote is equal and, on this basis, one is elected. That has been the norm in Judaism for 3,000 years. I believe that also a broadening within the Islamic Religious Community would be good; at the same time, the Jewish Community is not entitled to give advice to the Islamic Community.
How many are entitled to vote during your elections? Are you the only favorite?
Muzicant: There are some 5,400 allowed to vote. I am, unfortunately, not going into the elections on November 25 as a favorite, head and shoulders above the rest; until now, however, I have no candidate opposing me. There are eight parties campaigning, but there is no one apart from myself who is campaigning for the position of president. That is not healthy. That is something very unusual among Jews and reflects that we had problems motivating people to participate in the elections.
How is the Community doing in terms of debt?
Muzicant: Two-thirds of all debts have been paid back. Since 2003 we have a balanced budget. If we continue on this path, the Community is soon debt-free. And, when we are finished with the campus, we will have today’s best infrastructure in Europe.
You are pushing for Jews to relocate to Vienna.
Muzicant: I don’t need that. Many Jews from within Europe are already coming to Vienna and are seeing what is happening.
How many new members are you then expecting?
Muzicant: We are satisfied if a few hundred come. It’s starting now. I’ve already put on the brakes because I have said that first of all I must get everything in order, and afterwards we can concern ourselves with these issues. We will be confronting those matters in 2008/2009. We are building a school for 600 children; currently we have 381. We are building a nursing home with 204 beds; currently we have 145. We are building larger infrastructure for a larger Community.
How large could and should the Jewish Community become?
Muzicant: I am fighting for 500 families per year to come to Vienna, initially from within the EU. I believe that the Jewish Community in Vienna has the potential to grow again to reach 15,000 to 20,000 members. Currently we have 7,500. In ten years we should be able to double the number. That would be a number which is capable of surviving. There are thirty-eight Communities in Europe. In twenty years about half will have disappeared. Vienna should not be one of them.
Foundation Stone Is Laid for the IKG’S Maimonides Center
Austrian Press Agency (APA) (11/05/2007)
Elderly and nursing home is being erected next to the Hakoah recreation area
Vienna – The newly created “IKG campus” in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt is growing. Today the foundation stone will be laid for the Jewish Community’s Maimonides Center. Directly next to the Hakoah Sports and Recreation Center located in the Simon-Wiesenthal-Gasse will be a modern Senior Center and nursing home. It will replace the current IKG residential building in the Bauernfeldgasse in Döbling.
According to the IKG, the Maimonides Center will be comprised of a spacious Therapy and Out-Patient Center, a nursing home with 204 beds and a residential building with 145 individual units. In addition there will be a 1,500 sq. meter garden, a Day Center, shops and a cafe. A synagogue accommodating 380 people will occupy a building together with a school.
“The combination of a kindergarten, a school and the Hakoah Sports and Recreation Center, together with a nursing home represents an ideal symbiosis and should promote all generations living together within our Community,” as stated in the brochure which was published at the beginning of construction.
The nursing home will be in operation beginning December 2009. All projects will be completed by 2011 or 2012.
Entire estimated costs involved in building the Maimonides Center are assessed at fifty million Euros, one part of which will be taken over by the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the City of Vienna will provide loans. The proceeds from the sale of the property in the Bauernfeldgasse will go for the project. Some 14 million Euros will be taken out as credit.
Before 1938, Hakoah’s sport facilities stood where it currently stands on the IKG Campus. The foundation was established in 1909. After aryanization, the athletes fled abroad, but shortly after the end of the NS era, Vienna’s Hakoah began flourishing again. The “Washington Agreement” provided the basis for restitution in 2002 of the NS confiscated area housing the sports facilities. The property allowing for building the Maimonides Center was purchased in 2006.
“Linz09” to Include an International Conference in Castle Hartheim
Austrian Press Agency (APA) (11/30/2007)
Foundation’s financial coverage is quite substantial
Linz – The program, Linz 2009 European Capital of Culture, is planning also another international conference in commemoration of former NS victims of euthanasia crimes in Castle Hartheim “Place of Learning and Remembrance,” located in Alkoven in the district of Eferding in Upper Austria. That was reported by the head curator of the Hartheim Castle Association and regional governor Josef Pühringer at the meeting in Linz. The preliminary title that was selected was, “Eugenics and Human Genetics.”
Between 1940 and 1944, the National Socialists murdered almost 30,000 physically and mentally handicapped in gas chambers as well as disabled concentration prisoners and forced laborers who had been designated as “unworthy of life” as part of their euthanasia program. In 1969 a remembrance room was created for the victims. In 1995 a committed group of people founded the Hartheim Castle Association with the goal of finding a worthy use of the Renaissance building, given its history. With strong support by the government of Upper Austria, the castle was restored at the cost of twenty-five million Euros, the memorial erected in 1969 was rebuilt and a permanent exhibition created entitled, “The Value of Life.”
The “Hartheim Castle Association of Place of Learning and Remembrance” has organized numerous events and exhibitions and carried out research. The first International Hartheim Conference, having as its theme, “Meaning and Guilt – Questions Asked to Life’s End” was opened by Federal President Fischer. Since 2003, visitors to Hartheim have numbered twenty thousand people, and the trend is on the increase.
In 2004 a decision was made by the regional government to establish a foundation with the goal of securing the future of the site of learning and remembrance through the interest accrued. For that purpose, it was necessary to raise some seven million Euros as foundation capital. Approval was soon met by Heinz Fischer as Federal President and patron of this initiative. Numerous well-known personalities and institutions from the public and private sector made contributions. Pühringer reported that some six million Euros had been donated and contributions are increasing. The foundation will intensify its fundraising in the coming year.
New Commemorative Plaque at Mauthausen’s Railway Station
Austrian Press Agency (APA) (11/20/2007)
In Remembrance of NS Victims
Names are engraved into fifty-one pieces of railroad tracks
Linz – A commemorative plaque which was unveiled on November 27 in Mauthausen serves as reminder of the victims of National Socialism. In the Mauthausen concentration camp, more than 200,000 people were held prisoners and almost half of them failed to survive the annihilation.
Prisoners to the Mauthausen concentration camp were transported by trucks and finally brought to Upper Austria by train. Almost seventy years following, there is nothing left as a reminder of the terrible martyrdom, explained the organization, “perspektive mauthausen.” With support of the Community and of the Austrian Federal Railway Company (ÖBB) the initiative was established to erect a commemorative plaque.
The idea was created as a project by students from the ÖBB workshops in Linz. The names of the prisoners engraved into fifty-one pieces of railroad tracks are to personify the masses of men and women who were transported from the railway station to the concentration camp three kilometers away.
“Simon, Darling, Take Good Care of Yourself”
Simon Wiesenthal’s office, two years after his death: The furnishings of his room were brought to Los Angeles; his archive conceals many unknown items which until now no one was aware of.
The iron door painted in white lacquer is still the same. Also the mailbox and the swastika that someone once carved into its surface are still there. Even the modest nameplate, “Documentation Center of the B.J.V.N.,” has remained: Only few know what the acronym, Bund jüdischer Verfolgter des Naziregimes,” conceals or that behind the door is the office of Simon Wiesenthal.
Salztorgasse 6 in the center of Vienna, 2nd Floor, Nr. 5: This very location once housed the main office of the highly feared Gestapo, which shortly before the end of the war was bombed and reduced to rubble. Today, in its place stands Leopold-Figl-Hof, a typical residential building from the 1960s. During the mid 1970s, Wiesenthal selected the site for his office.
There were the times when the journalists and camera teams shoved against each other in the narrow entryway in order to be the first to hear the sensational news from the man with a memory for detail - how, for example, at the end of 1963, Wiesenthal after years of searching was able to expose the Viennese policemen Karl Silberbauer as the man who arrested Anne Frank in Holland in 1944 and delivered her to her death. Today that is history. It’s piling up on top of the long bookshelves, and Wiesenthal’s small team of colleagues have been sifting through it for four years now. Currently, one’s about half-way through.
Only Simon Wiesenthal’s room is no longer there. His writing desk, containing each scrap of paper, the sagging couch, the wobbly Moroccan side table, the giant map, “Germany under Hitler Dictatorship,” even the wastebasket with the last packet of sour candies which he had had delivered from Meinl Supermarket – all that was declared as a museum’s piece; everything that was moveable was removed only weeks after his death on September, 2005. That room will now be reassembled and exhibited at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Apart from putting it on display, the attempt to materialize and exhibit Simon Wiesenthal’s fight against forgetting as an object has something touching about it. The Center in Los Angeles, which Wiesenthal named after himself in 1977 and contents of which have been somewhat controversial, is collecting 35 million dollars this year in donations. He, himself, received 7,000 U.S. dollars per month to subsidize his office. It was suspended after the removal of the memorabilia, something which Wiesenthal had agreed upon.
It was painful to see it being carried away, piece for piece, said Rosa Maria Austratt, who worked together with Wiesenthal for three decades: “That was his life which was piled up high; it was his second skin.” From his estate, Wiesenthal’s daughter, Paulinka, asked only for five of his drawings of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, together with a stamp.
In his former office, he is still referred to as “the boss.” The more his name takes on a meaning of its own when becoming an international trademark, the more one is determined to continue his work. One sorts through – page for page – from what remains of the almost sixty years of work done by Simon Wiesenthal. Alone the material on NS perpetrators and NS criminals extends to 35 meters in length, excerpts of which can be found on the new homepage at: www.simon-wiesenthal-archiv.at Only recently was the police report, “In Reference to Located Jews,” added. The discovery of the Lemberger hideout in June, 1944, was made by Wiesenthal and others.
Apart from a multi-faceted picture of the search for NS perpetrators, a considerable portion of the archive offers an account of society and its reaction to the man who sent a warning with unmistakable consequences. Thus, Wiesenthal was the first to collect witnesses of the circumstances involving NS forced laborers. It fell, however, upon deaf ears. And in the summary it becomes more than clear how often he sent facts to former Director General for Public Security in Austria Robert Danzinger regarding NS suspicious activity but virtually no answer was received. There are stories taken from everyday life, such as that of a railroad employee who wrote to Wiesenthal in 1965 about being mistreated by a colleague for being a Jew. Wiesenthal took also such matters seriously and went as far as contacting the Minister of Transportation. Wiesenthal’s extensive correspondence with embassies and politicians throughout the world is widely known to this day. With the exception of letters from people who requested that the contents remain confidential, he, himself, wanted everything to be made accessible. Therefore, like Wiesenthal did in respecting certain rules, so do his colleagues when maintaining his archive.
An entirely separate chapter is dedicated to affronts which were filed away in a so-called “Meschuge box.” They are collages by Wiesenthal in SS uniform, incitements, such as “Austria should also establish a watch list for Jews,” and a letter with a piece of soap.
Author and historian Tom Segev, living in Israel, is in the process of researching the Wiesenthal phenomenon. One of his most surprising finds is that Wiesenthal was the man “who de facto forced Israel to face the Holocaust in 1949, long before most people were prepared to confront it” (Segev). Wiesenthal had informed Yad Vashem at that time in Jerusalem that he would be sending urns containing ashes and earth taken from mass graves of murdered Jews. While the “ceremony involving the acceptance of the holy shipment” (letter from Yad Vashem) was being fervently debated, Wiesenthal cabled the unmistakable instructions to Jerusalem: “See that there is a place for me and the ‘sarcophagus’ on the plane.”
Segev speaks about when he worked in Wiesenthal’s former office: “I have seen his initial sketches from the days when he was freed - emaciated like a skeleton. After having gone through many of his documents, I found a letter: “Darling, Simon, take good care of yourself….we need you. Elizabeth Taylor.” In her warm, emotionally effusive style, Taylor expressed that Wiesenthal had become someone indispensable. Tom Segev claims that he is only at the beginning of his attempt to understand the man, Simon Wiesenthal, and his impact on history.
“So that knowledge follows remembrance of the Shoah, it is imperative that a research center of international distinction - which is now in the planning - be established.” In 2002 Simon Wiesenthal explained that he wanted to leave his archives in Vienna and requested that the City of Vienna and the Republic of Austria establish a research center in his name. In summer of 2005 seven institutions, among them the Jewish Community Vienna and Vienna’s Wiesenthal Archives - whose holdings provide the basis of the new center – founded the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies under the direction of the political scientist, Anton Pelinka. Beginning in 2007, a renowned international scientific council headed by Raul Hilberg was established, and only a few days ago Federal Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, together with Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer and the City of Vienna, issued a written declaration of intention to bring the project to fruition. Also, twenty-five Austrian personalities have emphasized their support in view of 2008, which is the 70th anniversary of Austria’s Anschluß by Nazi Germany and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Simon Wiesenthal on December 31, 2008.
Swedish Queen Silvia Opens an Exhibition
On Josef Frank
Austrian Press Agency (11/22/2007)
Vienna – Queen Silvia of Sweden and the wife of Austrian Federal President, Margit Fischer, opened Wednesday the exhibition, “Josef Frank - Architect and Outsider,” in the presence of Vienna’s Regional Parliamentary President Johann Hatzl, Deputy Mayor Renate Brauner, President of the Vienna Jewish Community Ariel Muzicant, Vienna Holding Director Peter Hanke and numerous other guests of honor at the Museum Judenplatz. The director of the Jewish Museum, Karl Albrecht-Weinberger, honored Frank as one of the most important architects and designers of the 20th century. The furnishings and textiles he created rank among the classics of European design and are loved and treasured to this day. The story of Josef Frank began in Vienna during the last turn of the century. At the time Vienna was strongly under the influence of many different cultures – including Jewish – and was the focal point of intellectual and cultural creativity. Born in Baden in 1885, Frank left for Vienna to study architecture with Carl König at the Technical University. Josef Frank soon left behind him the traditional style of his teacher and became a representative of the critically modern. Like many of his co-workers, Frank came from the assimilated Jewish middle class. In 1913 he designed his first single family houses, and in 1925 he founded, together with Oskar Wlach, the furniture store, “House and Garden.” Frank was a strong advocate of the “Settler Movement.” In 1930-1932, the Vienna “Werkbundsiedlung” was built under Frank’s direction.
Pressured by increasing anti-Semitic hatred in Austria, Josef Frank emigrated with his Swedish wife, Anna, in 1933 to Stockholm, where he designed primarily furniture and textiles. At the age of almost fifty, Frank was offered a designer position by Estrid Erikson at Svenskt Tenn. Frank’s cooperation with Estrid Erikson was decisive in determining his life-long success. When Norway and Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany, the Franks left Europe to live and work in the United States. At the end of the war in 1946, they returned to Sweden.
Vienna’s Jewish Museum presents the exhibition, “Josef Frank - Architect and Outsider,” in cooperation with Stockholm’s Jewish Museum and with the congenial support of Svenskt Tenn. On exhibit are some of the extraordinary examples of his work as an architect and designer. The exhibition shown in Vienna is supplemented by some of his works taken from the time he was living in Vienna. The exhibition was put together by a team of workers from the Stockholm Jewish Museum. It offers a catalogue, issued in Swedish and English, and costs 14.90 euro. The exhibition runs from November 22 through January 2008 in the Museum Judenplatz, 1010 Vienna, Judenplatz 8. For further information, see: www.jmw.at/
Between Hammer and Anvil
For thirty-two years Shoah regisseur Claude Lanzmann kept film material on Vienna’s NS history under lock and key. Profil held the only extensive interview with the regisseur about it.
An older, finely dressed man with thick glasses sits on the terrace of a hotel in Rome. He moves his lips, smiles gently, and nervously moves his third set of teeth up and down. One cannot hear what he says since the sound recording is silent. The cameraman is looking for an appropriate film crop and adjusts the focus. A clapperboard comes into view; suddenly there is sound; it sputters and crackles; the camera assistant knocks on the microphone with a piece of cardboard. The man sitting in front of the camera lens waits for his entry. He will tell about something he never wanted to talk about; namely, from his years when he was forced to be a functionary of the National Socialists in Vienna and later as “oldest Jew” in Theresienstadt; from his experiences serving Adolf Eichmann’s SS troops and Alois Brunner in the “Central Office for Jewish Emigration.”
The man’s name is Benjamin Murmelstein, and he was seventy years old at the time of the film shooting in 1975. In March 1938, at the time of the Anschluß by Nazi German, he was Rabbi in Vienna. Those new in power had approached him about administering the “emigration of the Jews.” Murmelstein cooperated. Although he could have emigrated, he gave into the insane logic of the NS in order to organize the evacuation of thousands of Austrian Jews – and to the extent it was possible, to free children and the elderly from the evacatuion and care for the exception cases.
Regisseur Claude Lanzmann, forty-nine years old at the time, was able to convince Murmelstein with some prodding to cooperate with him on a film. The filming was to benefit the documentary, Shoah, on which Lanzmann had just begun to work. It lasted ten more years before it was finished in 1985, having the length of an epic lasting nine and a half hours. The interview with Murmelstein, however, was missing in the final version since, as Lanzmann said, it no longer fit with the tone and style of his film. He no longer recalls how many hours he shot film material between 1974 and 1981 in order to distill the 566 minutes of his main work. “No idea,” said Lanzmann, throwing his hands up into the air. “Three hundred hours, perhaps even three hundred fifty. In any case, a great number.”
Indefatigable. Thirty-two years after the interview – Murmelstein had died in 1989 – Claude Lanzmann opened up insight into the material. Under the title, “The Last of the Unjust,” given by Benjamin Murmelstein, himself, the Austrian Film Museum showed the film on Sunday last week in its entirety in the presence of the regisseur. Murmelstein proved to be a brilliant narrator, whose “singular indefatigability,” was surprising, as historian and writer Doron Rabinovici so aptly described it. General suspicion surrounding the survivor hit Murmelstein directly after the war: “Why are you living,” he was asked during an interrogation in 1945. The “oldest Jew” has always been between a hammer and an anvil,” remarked Murmelstein laconically. “He is spared nothing.”
No Genius in Organization
Sunday morning Lanzmann appears a few minutes later than agreed upon to the meeting with Profil. In the bar of Hotel Ambassador, the lighting initially appears to be too strong, and the air conditioning too cold. Vienna is a good place to present his raw film material, he claims. He is aware of the fact that it also decisively corrects the historical Eichmann picture. Eichmann, a specialist in deportation, was a lousy organizer who learned everything from him, says Murmelstein in the film interview with Lanzmann: “He studied emigration from me.” Eichmann was everything else but a genius in organization, says also Lanzmann: “But the historians emphasize to this day that Eichmann was a pure product of the bureaucracy, that he couldn’t have cared less about the Jews. That isn’t correct: Eichmann was a fervent anti-Semite.” During the Kristallnacht, he personally witnessed Eichmann destroying the furnishings of the Jewish Community, recalled Murmelstein in front of Lanzmann’s camera. One could only “laugh about” Hannah Arendt’s depiction of Eichmann as “banality of evil,” when assessing the man.” He was much more corrupt and violent – he was “a demon.”
The discussion held in the film museum was sold out and left Lanzmann cool. He remains calm also when Secretary General of the Jewish Community Vienna Raimund Fastenbauer addresses the mistrust of many IKG members who have protested previously over the participation of the Jewish Community in this event. There is a staunch hatred by many Jews for Murmelstein, says Fastenbauer. Rudolf Gelbard, a survivor of Theresienstadt concentration camp, argued that Murmelstein was in no way hated by all of the prisoners; it was somewhat understandable that as “oldest Jew” he had to stage outbreaks of anger in order to make his work appear credible, allowing him to protect innumerable prisoners from deportation.
Before Lanzmann flies back to Paris where he is currently writing his autobiography, he is playing with the idea of “possibly” making his own film of the Murmelstein conversation. But to do that he has to do some filming, particularly in Theresienstadt. The question as to when and whether that will ever happen is something he doesn’t answer. Claude Lanzmann refuses to pin himself down to anything anymore. He will do what he can.
Opening of “Dichter Herbst“
One Hundred Years Ernest Dichter
Family Dichter and the Dichter Department Store
In commemoration of Ernest Dichter and the history of the Dichter family legacy, a group of Viennese artists spontaneously organized in October an event, entitled “Dichter Herbst,” as a gesture in honor of the family and as a contribution on the part of Austria to come to terms with its past.
The legacy of the Dichter family begins with Leopold Dichter, who in 1890 founded Vienna’s largest department store outside the Wiener Gürtel in the Grundsteingasse. Its history entails having been entirely rebuilt in 1935, followed by aryanization in 1938, restituted in the early 1950s and renamed, “OSEI” after its purchaser, Oskar Seidenglanz. After years of abandonment, the building’s space was used and developed by a group of painters, writers, musicians and graphic artists, who between 2005 and 2007 used the space for exhibiting their works. In the meantime, the area located at Grundsteingasse, has become a trendy district with artistic flair. Aware of the new dynamics of the area, officials are upgrading the streets so as to attract new residents to the community. Subsequently, the old department store was torn down in spring of 2007 to make space for a residential building, and the artists were compensated by having small galleries and ateliers built along the street.
As a farewell to the department store and before it was demolished, the artists organized the last of its (4) exhibitions, entitled “Collection Dichter,” in memory of Ernest Dichter (1907 – 1001), nephew of Leopold Dichter who worked as a window dresser during his youth in his uncle’s department store. During his early adult years, Ernest Dichter became a Viennese psychologist, then fled Vienna for the U.S. shortly before the Anschluß only to become known years later as the “father of motivational research.” Applying Freudian psychoanalytic concepts to business – in particular to the study of consumer behavior – his ideas strongly influenced the course of the 20th century advertising industry. The exhibition “Collection Dichter” included favorite themes, topics and advertising slogans devised by Ernest Dichter, such as Exxon’s famous, “put a tiger in your tank.”
Now, along the Grundsteingasse, various exhibit halls and public spaces commemorate the history of the Dichter family, serving as a homage to the family and revitalization of the area. Invited as honorary guests to the opening of “Dichter Herbst” in October were two additional family members, Walter Arlen and sister, Edith, who reside in Los Angeles. Both, together with their parents, lived in an apartment in the department store before having fled Vienna for the U.S. in 1939. Walter Arlen, born in Vienna in 1920, went on to become a composer, music critic (L.A. Times) and university professor. The event featured a performance of a Sonate for piano and violin Arlen composed forty years previously and which he heard performed for the first time. Also present at the event was Hannah Lessing, Secretary General of the Austrian National Fund and General Settlement Fund, responsible for restitution.
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.”
An Impressive Opening of the Korngold Exhibition
Austrian Press Agency (11/28/2007)
Vienna – “With this exhibition, my grandfather returned once again to Vienna,” explained Kathrin Korngold-Hubbard, the granddaughter of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, obviously touched in her speech at the opening of the exhibiton, “The Korngolds. Clichée, Critique and Composition.” Not only numerous members of the Korngold family, including grandchildren and great grandchildren, attended. Among the many guests of honor were also Barbara Schönberg Zeisl and her husband. State opera director Ioan Holender, speaker at the opening touched upon the significance of Korngold’s works and pointed out the fact that Korngold’s opera, “Die Tote Stadt,” counts as one of the most successful premiere productions in opera history. In the performances under the direction of Karl Albrecht Weinberger and music curator Michael Haas, father and son Korngold took center stage. Weinberger pointed out the exhausting restitution of Korngold’s possessions and Haas sketched a differentiated picture of the relationship between father Julius Korngold and his son.
The Korngolds – A Viennese Musical Family
There is scarcely any other family that mirrored Vienna’s musical life at the beginning of the 20th century better than that of the Korngolds. The father, Julius Korngold, was one of the most powerful and most highly-feared critics of his time. Theodor Herzl named him successor of Eduard Hanslick as music critic for the Neue Freie Presse, which was the most important German-language newspaper at that time. His son, Erich Wolfgang, on the other hand, was a musical prodigy who was often compared to Mozart. Works like the opera, “Die Tote Stadt,” belonged to the most frequently performed pieces of his time. With the expulsion of the Jewish composer, beginning in 1933 by Germany and then by Austria, Erich Wolfgang found himself in Hollywood. Different from many of his other comrades sharing a similar fate, he was able to build upon working successfully with Max Reinhardt, among others, who had him come to Hollywood back in 1934 for the production of Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” As composer of film music, Erich Wolfgang Korngold made film history by creating the “Hollywood Sound.” Awarded two Oscars, among others as well as for the legendary film, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, Korngold is considered today as one of the most successful and most important Hollywood composers. The exhibition focuses on the father-son relationship as the most important creative period of E.W. Korngold, his success as child prodigy, his triumphs as composer and worldwide also as writer of operetta arrangements, his cooperation with Max Reinhard, his success in Hollywood, but also his failed attempt to regain footing in Vienna after the war. Audio excerpts taken from Korngold’s music and film cuts illuminate his great success and allow also for a closer look at Korngold as a private man, his family and his friends.
The Korngolds. Klischee, Klritik and Kompostion can be seen in the Vienna’s Jewish Museum until May 18, 2008 (1010 Vienna, Dorotheergasse11).
Brandsteidl Confers the Fred Schneider Award
Austrian Press Agency (APA), OTS (08/31.2007)
Vienna – “It is of utmost significance that Vienna’s pupils are so deeply involved with contemporary history because one thing is clear: Only by confronting our own history can one establish a basis which will prevent the terrible events of the past from again being repeated. It is in this spirit that I could like to express to the awardees my deepest gratitude and respect for their committed involvement with historical issues,” declared the head of Vienna’s city school board, Susanne Brandsteidl on Friday within the framework of bestowing the “Fred Schneider Family Award.” The goal of this award - as designated by Fred Schneider, who fled to the U.S. during the Nazi dictatorship - lends expression to the close ties to his “old hometown of Vienna,” and awards once a year distinguished pupils who have shown particularly high quality and critical commitment in their final high school graduation thesis on topics of contemporary history.
At this year’s award ceremony, attended personally by the “award’s sponsor, Viktoria Fürnsinn, a pupil from a high school located in the Zirkusgasse won first place with her paper, “The White Rose.” Michael Matzinger, a student from a high school in the Rainergasse, won second place with his paper entitled, “Religiously-Motivated Resistance during the Time of National Socialism in Austria.”
For more information, see: http://www.wien.at/vtx/vtx-rk-xlink/
Presentation of a New Book: “1938: Address Servitengasse“
Austrian Press Agency (APA), OTS (12/04/2007)
Vienna –A book entitled, “1938: Address Servitengasse (A Neighborhood in Search of Traces)” was introduced during a presentation given at the Sigmund Freud Museum located in the Berggasse 19 in Vienna. Head of the 9th district, Martina Malyar, was present at the book presentation. The publication focuses on efforts made by a citizen initiative which is involved with the fate of expelled Jewish residents once having lived in the Servitengasse and wants to keep the memory of the victims of National Socialism alive. The event is open to the public at no charge.
Ninth District’s Museum Supports the “Remembrance Project”
Editors of the book are Birgit Johler and Maria Fritsche, and it appears under “Mandelbaum Publishers” (ISBN: 978 385 476-233-1) and costs 19.90 Euros. The group, “Servitengasse 1938” looks into the fate of of “missing neighbors” who disappeared during the NS era. The book, “1938: Address Servitengasse” will be published within the framework of a “Remembrance Project” divided into several parts. The committed working group is cooperating with the “Agenda 21 am Alsergrund.” Leading supporter of the project is the District Museum of Alsergrund, also with the research. For more detailed information, the district’s historians who have volunteered to work on the project can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
City of Krems Restituted Two Paintings by Kremser Schmidt
Austrian Press Agency (10/10/2007)
The paintings were returned to the heirs of the former owner living in the U.S. – They will be restored before being sent overseas.
Krems – Today the City of Krems has restituted two paintings by Kremser Schmidt from the Richard Neumann collection. “A great moment for the City of Krems,” said Mayor Franz Hölzl on Wednesday while handing over the paintings to the grandson, Tom Selldorff (79) living in the U.S.
Tom Selldorff was accompanied by his wife Carolyn and one of his two sons. According to information released by the City of Krems, the paintings will be brought to Vienna for restoration. Then, they will be sent by air to the United States and hung in the houses of the two sons in memory of Richard Neumann.
The case remained open for a long time. The Neumann heirs had asked that the paintings, seized during the NS era, be returned. The City refused, pointing to Neumann’s waiver of further claims in 1952 and to a recommendation by the Council on Art Restitution adopted in 2005.
At the beginning of the year, Hölzl commissioned an expert’s opinion on the matter. Robert Holzbauer, head of Provenance Research and of the Archive of Vienna’s Leopold Museum, recommended to the Museum of the City of Krems that the paintings be restituted. This spring, the City Council followed the advice of the historian that the paintings be returned.
Regarding the chronology: In 1998 Hölzl requested an expert to research the museum’s holdings thought to be related to ‘looting by the Nazis.’ One discovered two paintings by the Barock painter, Martin Johann Schmidt – “Hl. Florian” and “Hl. Josef von Calasanz” - which were sent in 1938 by the Collection Office Responsible for Seizure of Jewish Art Objects connected to the Art History Museum of Vienna (KHM) to the City of Vienna. As a result, the City of Vienna contacted the Federal Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments and the Commission for Provenance Research and tried also via ads in the newspaper in search of possible heirs. In October 2002, the law office of Freimüller/Noll and Partner named Thomas Selldorff as legal heir.
Richard Neuman was a manufacturer of textiles and owned a well-known art collection, which after the “Anschluß” was expropriated by the National Socialists. Neumann, himself, managed to flee to France, then Spain and on to Cuba. As Honorary Professor of the University of Havanna, he dedicated himself for many years to founding his own art museum and finally laid the foundation for the Palacio de Bellas Artes. He died in 1961 at the age of eighty-two in New York.
Gold and Silver
Hundreds, thousands stood in a long line, just as they did in front of foreign embassies waiting for visas to enter countries taking in refugees. Much like the harassment they witnessed standing before the “Central Office for Jewish Emigration” established by Adolf Eichmann when waiting to leave the country, Austrian Jews queued up before the Dorotheum in Vienna on an indiscriminately-set date in March 1939: The Central Pawn Office in the “Ostmark” was the “official acquisition office” of the German Reich for the jewels and precious metals which Jews were no longer allowed to possess as of that moment and, subsequently, were made as deposits for a trifling sum. The objects were everything from family jewelry to the family silverware (salt shakers) to ritual objects. Only the most personal items, such as people’s wedding rings, were exempted from having to be deposited. Alone in terms of pure silver, about fifty tons were amassed in Vienna compared to twenty tons in Hamburg. Documents no longer exist for Berlin.
Jehoshua Guvrin, attorney in Tel Aviv, summarized it back in the 1960s: “There are also Jews who reported that diamond necklaces…..were weighed together with the diamonds and that the value of the weight was said to be valued as that of broken gold and that ridiculous sums were paid for it. One man told me that he had deposited gold nuggets, and when he asked for a receipt confirmation, he was beaten by the officials and thrown out.”
Files Numbering 18,537Only now, however, has an extensive file been released containing names of those robbed of their possessions. Some 18,537 cards contain names and addresses of all of the persons, a list of the objects deposited, a rough description of the object, the particular “purchasing price” and the date. This so-called “Dorotheum’s File” was discovered in the Austrian State Archive. After months of compiling data and with support of the Dorotheum, it was scanned and brought electronically up-to-date by the staff of the Vienna Jewish Community.
On one of the card files was noted that a receipt was given for “table silver” weighing a total of 13.5 kilograms. According to its value today, the equivalent purchasing price would be about one thousand euros.
On the file cards of Julius R. of Praterstraße in Vienna-Leopoldstadt, for example, one finds: • 1/ “1 golden match box – 1 diamond 24 grams, Gold 40,-“• 2,3 “Gold and Silver 195,-“
Written in long hand on the card file of Julius R. was the amount of gold nuggets amounting to 71 grams; the silver weighed, according to what was registered, 5,000 grams; in other words, five kilograms. Together, according to today’s currency, that amount would be sold for about 700 euros.
Only now has the search been taken up to find the legal owners or heirs of many of the silver objects from that time which were purchased and then later sold via the Dorotheum. One finds, for example, on the Art Database under www.kunstrestitution.at of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria a magnificent samowar totaling 2,235 grams of silver which was purchased by the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Vienna, today called MAK, during the NS era at the Dorotheum.
Whereas silver was either melted down on the spot or sold, the largest part of the deposited jewelry went from Vienna directly to the Central Office of the City Pawn Office to Berlin after 1939. The Dorotheum intervened by contacting Berlin, such as the former Reich’s Ministry of Economics, in order to maintain a say in what was to become of it. For example, a letter reflects efforts were made toward influencing what happened to the embezzled jewelry “in as far as it failed to bring in foreign currency, and therefore sold abroad.” The letter also guaranteed “quick liquidation” in Vienna for sales “also of the largest amounts.”
Historian Stefan August Lütgenau writes in the report issued by the Dorotheum that the embezzlement of objects consisting of jewels and precious metals has, apart from its material significance, a special ideological implication because precious metals often had a cultural value. They were Jewish cult objects or heirlooms. Lütgenau: “The embezzlement is to be viewed not only as the plundering of material objects owned by a disenfranchised group, but much more - as the annihilation and obliteration of all of Jewish culture as a whole as well as of everyday cultural life of Jewish families, the results of which would lead to the annihilation of their lives.”
Two Percent of the Appraisal Value
The real value of the Jewish precious stones and precious metals “purchased” by the Dorotheum in 1939 cannot be given a number.
“It is forbidden for Jews to be given a free hand in purchasing, pawning or selling objects of gold, platinum or silver as well as precious stones and pearls. Such objects may only be bought from the public purchasing offices established by the Reich.” This passage laid the groundwork for the expropriation of Jewish valuables; in fact, allowed were to keep only teeth replacements, one’s own wedding ring, a watch (if valued less than 100 Reichsmark), and a set of four-piece silverware. This was made law on December 3, 1938 in the euphemistically so-called “Decree on the Mobilization of Jewish Assets.” It created the pseudo-legal opportunity to force Jews to sell their real estate and businesses, to deposit stocks, securities and numerous items of value in the “purchasing offices.” In terms of the “Ostmark,” the German Reich’s Ministry of Economics in Berlin designated Dorotheum with its subsidiaries as the only “public purchasing office.” At the time the surrender of valuables began on March 6, 1939, a time limit was set for some mere three weeks, but it lasted considerably longer. That it in reality was a matter of plunder rather than sales is clearly revealed by the minimal amounts paid out in exchange for the purchase: In compliance with the guidelines established by the Reich’s Ministry of Economics and the Pawn Office of the City of Berlin, they were committing fraud at a full two percent; in individual cases it reached six percent of the appraisal value. Records of the amounts paid out totaled altogether 3.23 million Reichsmark. The extent of gold and jewels is projected at up to 160 million Reichsmark. In reality, one cannot even begin qualifying the “sum of the value of the jewels and precious metals expropriated, conducted by the Dorotheum, according to the investigation commissioned by Vienna’s auction house. Historian Stefan August Lütgenau came to the conclusion that alone the silver collected in Vienna, weighing fifty tons, exceeded the amounts stolen in other urban cities within the German Reich. Gold weighed some 153.96 kilograms; platinum weighed about 2.97 kilograms. The Dorotheum received ten percent of the “sum of the purchases” as a commission. Most of the silver was labeled “Bruchware” and was melted down. The museums courted the artistic, highly valuable items, whereas parts of the jewels that were originally transported to Berlin came back to the auction house at the Dorotheum: There the entire proceeds finally was settled for 415,000 Reichsmark. The auction’s catalogue pointed out that Jews were forbidden participation in the auctions.
Dorotheum was privatized in 2001; from the proceeds some 32 million dollars went as a “symbolic act” to the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism.” Four years ago the Dorotheum established its own division for provenance research for the purpose of identifying NS looted goods for its auction.
Chancellor Gusenbaur Paid Visit to Israel
Austrian Federal Chancellery (09/17/2007)
Israel was the first stop on a the three-day Middle East trip of Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. On September 2, 2007 he paid a visit to the City Hall in Tel Aviv, where Prime Minister Ytzhak Rabin was assassinated in November 1995. Gusenbauer laid a wreath at his memorial in the presence of the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, as well as Rabin’s children.
That evening the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, a renowned Israeli private university, bestowed the Honorary Fellowship on the Chancellor. In his thank you statement he underlined Austria’s moral responsibility in view of the crimes committed against the Jews. “Many perpetrators of the Holocaust were Austrians. Many Austrians formed part of the Nazi machinery bringing death, suffering and destruction to Europe. Many Austrians preferred to look away when their Jewish neighbors were killed and suffered,” explained Gusenbauer. It had taken Austria many years to recognize its moral responsibility for the “darkest period in our history,” said Gusenbauer.
As far as the Iranian nuclear program was concerned, Europe was ready to engage in a dialogue if Iran was prepared to meet its obligations: “A nuclear Iran is not acceptable.” Gusenbauer stressed the humanitarian disaster in the whole region and especially in Iraq, with two million refugees, above all in Syria and Jordan.
Like the EU, Austria considered a two-state model the only solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “This does not give room for interpretation on Israel’s right of existence,” stressed Gusenbauer. “Fair” solutions were also necessary for Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem.
On the second day of his trip to Israel, the Austrian Federal Chancellor visited the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, where he laid a wreath and, deeply moved, stressed the need to be alert to anti-Semitism and racism. Gusenbauer wrote in the guest book of Yad Vashem that the memorial was a reminder of the “incredible horror of the Holocaust” and the responsibility to “learn from the past.”
After visiting the memorial, the Federal Chancellor held talks with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and politicians of the opposition.
Israel appreciated the “clear position taken by Austria” against the phenomenon of terror and the nuclear ambitions of Iran, Stated Israeli President Peres, who also underlined the “excellent relations” with Austria. An invitation to visit Israel was extended to Federal President Heinz Fischer in Vienna.
Gusenbauer described the talks between the Israeli government and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a “great hope.” An agreement by Israel with the moderate Fatah would strengthen its position among the Palestinians and weaken the radical Hamas.
Prime Minister Olmert described Austria as a “central country in Europe” and as a country of “central significance” in shaping Middle East policy in the EU. Both heads of government underlined the close economic, cultural and political cooperation between Israel and Austria. The Austrian Chancellor invited Olmert to Austria.
Gusenbauer concluded his Middle East trip on September 3, 2007 in Ramallah (West Bank), where he met with Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as well as chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. He welcomed the direct bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians also on this occasion. Moreover, he proposed inviting Syria and Lebanon to the planned international Middle East conference in November.
The Federal Chancellor emphasized Austria’s “profound solidarity” with the Palestinians. Austria was aware of the suffering of the Palestinian people and supported the peace process. Gusenbauer laid a wreath at the tomb of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
Gusenbauer Honored by Israeli Private University
Austrian Press Agency (09/07/2007)
Chancellor emphasizes Austria’s moral responsibility for the Holocaust
Tel Aviv – Federal Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer was accepted as “Honorary Member” on Sunday into the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya, a renowned Israeli private university. Gusenbauer, dressed in hat and gown, emphasized in his speech Austria’s moral responsibility for the crimes committed against the Jews.
President of the Center, Prof. Uriel Reichmann, explained upon greeting Chancellor Gusenbauer that he needs no speechwriter because he is so knowledgeable in political science and philosophy. The director of the Institute for European Studies, Avi Primor – former Israeli Ambassador to Germany – praised the Israeli Chamber Orchestra for the “courage” to play, of all things, Mozart for Austrians. Primor attested to the Chancellor a balanced view taken by Austria in regard to the Middle East conflict. This is essentially more balanced as that, for example, of Great Britain, from where currently the “worst anti-Semitic tones are being emitted.”
Outgoing Austrian Ambassador Kurt Hengl spoke of excellent relations between Austria and Israel, despite Gusenbauer being only the third Chancellor in thirteen years to visit Israel. In his ceremonial speech, Gusenbauer quoted the Viennese journalist, Theodor Herzl, word for word: “The massacre of the Jews was an urgent sign for the solution of homelessness by erecting again a Jewish state in Eretz Israel (Land of Israel).”
He continued his speech, which he held in English: “Many perpetrators of the Holocaust were Austrians. Many Austrians were part of the Nazi machinery that brought on the death, suffering and destruction of Europe. Many Austrians chose to look away when the Jewish neighbors died and suffered. These Jews were also Austrians like also many Roma, Sinti, Socialists, Communists, Catholics, homosexuals and others who were murdered by the Nazis.”
Austria needed many years until it was ready to accept its moral responsibility for the “blackest period of our history.” Israel was the first country with which the EU was able to conclude a plan of action when it came to cooperating on issues related to anti-terrorism, human rights, scientific exchange or questions on the environment, said Gusenbauer.