Wiesenthal Institute: Entire Board of Directors Resigns

Der Standard (07/27/2009) 

Because the Jewish Community Vienna blocks access to its archive, the seven-member steering committee lays down its work

Vienna - Uproar in the Wiesenthal Institute. Der Standard newspaper has learned that the entire seven-member board of directors of the contemporary history project that deals with Holocaust studies resigned last week in protest.

Political scientist Anton Pelinka, now de facto former head of the board of directors of the Wiesenthal Institute, confirmed the resignation of other renowned historians, such as Bertrand Perz of the University of Vienna and Brigitte Bailer-Galanda of the Documentary Archives of the Austrian Resistance. "We did not receive access to the Archive of the Jewish Community Vienna as promised, which is a precondition for the implementation of the project," said Pelinka.

Background: The Archive of the Jewish Community (IKG) is probably the largest surviving documentation of any Jewish community worldwide, containing thousands of administrative files, correspondence, card files and registry books. After consultation with the Jewish Community Vienna, the Wiesenthal Institute received confirmation of grant monies from the Austrian Finance Ministry and the City of Vienna to be used, for example, for the digitization of the archive. The needed equipment was purchased and staff was hired for this project. However, the leadership of the Jewish Community Vienna is now refusing to open its archive. According to Pelinka, "it is a matter of financial accountability. We cannot assume responsibility for this situation."

According to an inside source, internal conflicts within the Jewish Community are the reason for the archival logjam. "Apparently some [within the IKG] entertain the absurd notion that someone wants to take something from them," Avshalom Hodik, former Secretary General of the IKG, surmises. A notion that Hodik does not share - he, too, resigned in protest as a member of the VWI's board.

Ariel Muzicant, President of the Jewish Community, is on vacation until the end of August. Until then he does not want to comment on the situation. "We'll discuss this matter after my return," he says.

Will the resignation result in a premature demise of the research center? Currently the Wiesenthal Institute and its staff and offices are in a preparatory phase, the Institute was intended to begin full operations in 2012. Pelinka: "Those agencies that constitute the Wiesenthal Institute need guarantees that the work will be possible in the way that it was agreed. Only then the agencies can appoint a new board of directors."