Eric Kandel Becomes Honorary Citizen of Vienna

Austrian Press Agency (06/02/2009) 

Vienna – Eric Kandel has been designated an “honorary citizen of Vienna“ by Mayor Michael Häupl at a ceremony honoring the seventy-nine year-old Nobel Prize winner in medicine as “a world renowned scientist“ and “warmly welcomed him to his native country.“ Born in Vienna, Kandel was expelled from the country by the Nazis due to his Jewish origins. Together with his family, he emigrated to the USA.  

Kandel explained in his speech that receiving the honorary citizenship is a “bitter, sweet moment“ for him since almost exactly seventy years ago he and his family were expelled from Vienna. He stated that he had a special relationship to the Austrian capital, although the USA is “ one hundred more times“ his home. He explained, however, that “ the yearning to complete my incomplete childhood led me again and again back to Vienna.“  

His reconciliation with Austria was made easier by two statesmen – Mayor Häupl and Federal President Heinz Fischer - both of whom embody democracy “ to the highest degree.“ He was critical, however, of the slogans depicted on posters from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) in the run up to the EU elections, emphasizing at the conclusion of the ceremony that “the language used is incomprehensible.” He also stated that the disturbance at Ebensee caused by the neo-Nazis was “ unacceptable“ and “insulting“ as well as the anti-Semitic remarks spread at Auschwitz by high school students from Vienna. 

As a Viennese citizen, Kandel hopes to work toward supporting three Austrian research institutes – among them the recently opened research institute, the Institute for Science and Technology Austria –

and encourage talented scientists from home and abroad to “move to Vienna.“ Also, he is on a “moral mission“: “I feel uncomfortable that the University of Vienna is located in a sector of the Ringstraße which is named after Dr. Karl Lueger.“ This was a man who made anti-Semitism his platform. It is Kandel’s wish to one day have it renamed, as for example, “Universtitätsring.“ 

Eric Kandel was born on November 7, 1929. Following his studies of history and literature at Harvard, he turned to medicine. During the 1950s he became one of the world’s leading neuroscientists. His research on the nervous system and brain resulted in the discovery of a protein that plays a key role in learning and memory. In 2000, Kandel received the Nobel Prize for medicine, together with Arvid Calsson and Paul Greengard.