First Austrian Holocaust Memorial Center to Open in Synagogue in Graz

Source: Der Standard, November 5, 2014

An Institution especially for students and young people

Graz/Vienna - Graz gets the first Holocaust-Memorial-Center of Austria. The “Holocaust Gedenk-und Toleranzzentrum Steiermark” will be located on the lower ground and the upper floor of the synagogue of Graz, as Ruth Kaufmann, president of the Jewish Cultural Association in Graz revealed during a presentation of the project last Wednesday. The center is scheduled to open in November 2015.

The target group

“The first Holocaust center of Austria in the city of “national uprising”, Graz, shall serve as a reminder of the numerous victims of the Shoa. It shall tell the story of Jewish life in the past and the present and communicate age-appropriately the sensitive subject of the Holocaust” according to Ruth Kaufmann. The target group should be students and teenagers: The synagogue is visited by about 5,000 students a year.

“We tried to comply with the request of teachers to find a way to better communicate the topic of the Holocaust to the students. We were, however, aware that this sensitive subject requires a professional exhibition and a well-founded concept,” so Kaufmann. From 2010 to 2013, she was the head of the Jewish Community of Styria, Carinthia and South-Burgenland until they were consolidated with the Jewish Community of Lower Austria and Vienna.
A fictive and real story of life

A crucial part of the “Holocaust Gedenk- und Toleranzzentrum” will be an exhibition that, based on the life of two boys between 1938 – 1945, shows aspects of the Jewish life in Graz before the “Anschluss, the “Night of Broken Glass" and until the mass murders in the concentration camps.

“We tell the story of two Jewish boys living in Graz: Daniel and Bertl. Bertl is able to escape while Daniel has to hide, is betrayed and murdered in a concentration camp”, explained Thomas Szammer, son of Ruth Kaufmann, cultural anthropologist in Vienna and education officer of the Jewish Community of Vienna.

“Daniel," the fictional persona, serves as a symbol for the millions of Holocaust victims. “Bertl” is a real person, who represents the destiny of the survivors: Berthold Kaufmann, the 90-year-old father of Ruth Kaufmann, was able to escape from Austria in 1939 and is now one of the last Jewish survivors born in Graz.

Workshops for students and teachers, symposia and the creation of teaching materials and Holocaust research in partnership with other expert institutions are planned to take place in the new center. Furthermore, memorial events and the placement of “stones of remembrance” shall take place at the outside section of the center, which shall serve as reminders of the murdered Jewish community of Styria. Experts estimate between 1,700 and 2,500 victims.

Background

Kaufmann estimates the founding costs of the center to be around “400,000 to 500,000 Euros.” The state of Styria and the city of Graz support the project but private donations from Austria and other countries. During the “Night of Broken Glass,” November 9 and 10, 1938, the synagogue in Graz was also among those burned down and destroyed. In 2000, the Jewish house of prayer was reconstructed at its original place. Since then, it has served as the center for Jewish culture in Styria and is owned by the Jewish community of Vienna, which oversees Vienna, Lower Austria, Burgenland, Carinthia and Styria. However, the community is getting smaller: In Styria, Carinthia and Burgenland the community consists of only around 80 members.