Vienna’s Center for Shoah Research

Der Standard (12/31/08 – 01/01/09)

The institute named after Simon Wiesenthal, which is temporarily in operation, will be promoting research on the Shoah.

Vienna –The new institution bearing the name of former “Nazi hunter” Simon Wiesenthal who died in 2003 will be up and running in January. The offices will be initially housed on the premises of the Jewish Community Vienna because Palais Strozzi in the Josefstäder Straße must first be adapted to house the facilities. The Vienna City Council awarded the new institution funding in the amount of 1.3 million Euros.

“Whereas research conducted by institutes in the United States and Israel focused on the search for Nazi perpetrators, the mandate of the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies will be rather to create a contact point for Shoah research by bringing renowned researchers to Vienna,” stated Ingo Zechner, newly chosen director of the institute.

Until now such an emphasis was lacking in Austria, said Zechner. Particularly from a central European perspective, one will be able to “connect the research conducted on Nazi perpetrators with that regarding the Shoah and their victims,” added Bertrand Perz from the University of Vienna’s Institute for Contemporary History. The anti-Semitism in Austria which finally led to the annihilation of the Jews during the Nazi era was founded on a pseudo-scientific basis.

There is still a great deal of research material in the archives which lies fallow and until now was used only when processing restitution claims. This includes that portion of the archives of the Jewish Community Vienna transferred to Jerusalem sixty years ago which one wants to bring back to Vienna as microfilm, as well as the “Herklotzgasse” archives, rediscovered in year 2000. In addition, there are documents of the Jewish Community Vienna originating from NS times, mixed together with older material, such as “Sigmund Freund’s evaluation of his religious tax.”

Thus, it is this pool of material, together with the Wiesenthal collection, about 8,000 documents in Vienna including records on NS perpetrators and NS crimes, which are to be merged and consolidated. This was the plan which the man who would have been exactly one hundred years old on December 31 created together with the help of others.

Simon Wiesenthal, born 1908 into a Jewish family in Buczacz in Galicia, studied architecture in Prague. He worked as a civil engineer until 1941 and was arrested by the Germans who were on the march in what is today known as Ukraine and brought to a concentration camp.

Punishing the Perpetrators

Subsequently, he survived twelve concentration camps and swore to himself to assure the perpetrators be prosecuted. After having been freed from the concentration camp Mauthausen, he worked for the “U.S. War Crime Service.” In Linz his office was situated merely two houses away from the residence of Adolf Eichmann, considered one of the main persons responsible for the murdering of six million European Jews. Eichmann later received the death penalty and was executed in Israel.

Wiesenthal succeeded in getting hold of a series of NS perpetrators, among them numerous Austrians. “Official” Austria, influenced by former Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and the Waldheim Affair, avoided him for many years. Only beginning with the 1990s did one honor him. With the founding of the Wiesenthal Institute, it is now time to think about taking further steps, said Perz; namely “about creating a university professorship for Holocaust research.”