Muzicant: Vienna Jewish Community Working on an Immigration Model for Jews

Austrian Press Agency (09/20/2009)

Vienna – Vienna’s Jewish Community (IKG) is working the next few years on the goal of inviting Jewish citizens from abroad to come to Austria to live. “When the crisis has calmed down somewhat and we again are back to normal economic growth, the religious community will begin trying to provide possibilities for immigration within controlled parameters,” said Jewish Community President Arial Muzicant in an interview with the Austrian Press Agency. The conflict with the Wiesenthal Institute has meanwhile been resolved, and also a solution to the question of Jewish cemeteries is currently within view.

The Jewish Community wants some 500 to 1,000 Jews per year to integrate in Austria. “Today the Jewish Community has 7,000 members and the goal must be to raise the number to 25,000 within a certain time frame. We have the infrastructure”, said Muzicant.

The current dilemma is that “the number of Jews in Austria is decreasing because many are leaving the country. At the same time the number of people who are registered with the religious community is increasing. People appear to feel being represented.” Muzicant bases his assumption on the fact that the number of Jews in Austria during the past twenty years has decreased by some 5,000 whereas the number of Jews who are registered with the religious community increased by some 1,500.

“We are considering models which allow us to bring to Austria people who are easily integrated in the society and, above all, in the economy,” said Muzicant. “That means people who within a short period of time are also in the position to take care of themselves by integrating into the working world.” These people most likely would come from Western- as well as Eastern Europe and would also then become a member of the religious community. Muzicant: “Due to the country’s excellent infrastructure and due to our good reputation there is also a real wish by some living in Europe to come to Austria.” Currently a commission headed by Ilan Knapp is working on the project.

In the case of Vienna’s Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI), the situation has meanwhile calmed down after the resignation of the seven member board. “I regret that there were differences, but I think that it was a mistake on both sides to allow the whole thing to escalate. Basically, it was friends who were arguing.

In terms of the religious community it was never a question whether all or only a part of the Jewish Community’s relevant archives from WW II would be lent out or that researchers, historians and other interested persons would be allowed access to the archives.

The Wiesenthal Institute, however, must be aware of the fact that the Jewish Community has certain security requirements that need to be met when microfilming or digitalizing material, that the Jewish Community is the sole owner of the archive and that it must remain so, no matter if it concerns removing originals from the archive or simply making copies,” explained the Jewish Community president. In any case, no one in Austria would ever understand bringing an early end to the Wiesenthal Institute only because of a dispute over microfilming rights.

As to the renovation of Jewish cemeteries, there has been some progress after a  somewhat lengthy debate. The Jewish Community received last fall an invitation from Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann and Vice Chancellor Josef Pröll to sit together at a roundtable meeting. Muzicant said that “it’s coming to a solution which sees administering the maintenance of all Jewish cemeteries.

This does not, however, mean renovating devastated cemeteries such as Währing. And when money is lacking, then one should take it into consideration next time when balancing the budget,” said Muzicant who referred back to the suggestion made by former Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. In any case, Minister of the Interior Maria Fekter agreed to security measures for the new center in the Prater. Muzicant: “Progress is in the making.”

The Jewish Community also is moving forward in terms of a project located at Vienna’s Handelskai: there the SC Hakoah will share various amenities such as the sports facilities and kindergarten with the Austrian Trade Union (ÖGB). “We are now neighbors,” said Muzicant. “That means that we will be cooperating with one another, enriching ourselves, and I find that also an excellent development. The ÖGB is indeed a fine neighbor.”