Austrian Press Agency (03/29/03)
At a reception for about eighty former Austrians who were invited by the Jewish Welcome Service (JWS) to visit the city of their birth, Federal President Thomas Klestil emphasized that “much of what you or your relatives experienced more than fifty years ago, no one can undo”. “But I can assure you that the overwhelming majority of today’s Austrians have the good will to draw the right conclusions from the past,” claimed the Federal President. Moreover, Klestil pledged: “I, myself, will do everything to see that our country try not to escape from confronting the past.”
It has already become tradition that each spring the director of the JWS, Leon Zelman, invites a group of former Austrians to his home “who for more than a half century ago had to leave their homes under painful and humiliating circumstances”, said Klestil. “Many of these people – and probably many of you – have never understood how it could have been possible to have been avoided, denounced, persecuted, expelled and even killed.”
What happened in Austria between the years 1938 – 1945 serves, however, today as “a warning to my countrymen – that we must mutually resist all inceptions of hatred and intolerance, and allow no chance for it to spread”, exclaimed Klestil. Much is being done about it in present-day Austria. Before the Knesseth in Jerusalem, Klestil guaranteed that there is no place for nationalism and racism in Austria. Some years past the government at the time took up the fight against radicalism. The material compensation “which surely is only a symbolic measure,” became reality. The Historical Commission researched and documented all the details involving “aryanization,” and the City of Vienna appointed its own representatives to deal with restitution.
Klestil also reminded one of the memorial erected two years ago on the Judenplatz in Vienna and of the new synagogue inaugurated shortly thereafter in Graz. Also at that time a large project was begun in Austrian schools to reconstruct the lives and biographies of Austrians killed during the Holocaust. “Thus, the human lives behind the names are being researched.” That is a part of the so very important work being done for remembrance and of the bridge being built between the past and the future.
In his address the Federal President spoke shortly about the war in Iraq. The situation in the world today is truly not one of joy and “there are certainly many issues to be concerned about. A world in conflict, dominated by war and hatred, cannot be a world we want to leave behind for our children,” emphasized Klestil.
Due to the military confrontation between the U.S. and Iraq, the group visiting Vienna has been reduced from 100 to 80. Guests are coming in from the U.S., Israel, Australia, Brazil and France. Apart from the reception given by Klestil, the group will also meet with Vienna’s Mayor, Michael Häupl. The project is being financed by the Bank Austria -Creditanstalt.