Twenty-Five Years - Jewish Welcome Service Offers Vienna the Opportunity for Reconciliation

Austrian Press Association (09/17/02)

Vienna - For twenty-five years Leon Zelman has been in charge of the Jewish Welcome Service caring for former Viennese who were expelled by the Nazis from their hometowns. In September of this year ninety elderly people were received in Vienna’s City Hall by Deputy-Mayor Sept Rieder. He and Zelman emphasized the need for the awareness of history. The Deputy-Mayor thanked Zelman for his many years of service. Zelman made mention of the first meeting twenty-five years ago and thanked Former Mayor Leopold Gratz who made it possible at that time.

Rieder thanked also the guests who followed up on the invitation, travelling all the way to Vienna to attend, since by doing so, they had "given the city the opportunity to offer reconciliation". He also thanked Zelman for his efforts in building bridges of mutual understanding. Vienna has undergone much change since the time the guests remembered it from their childhood, said the Deputy-Mayor. And he hoped that the visitors would also visit the beautiful sites of present-day Vienna.

Gertrude Pollak, whose maiden name was Advokat, was among the Jewish guests. Like many others, she visited places that she could still remember as a child. She discovered, for example, that the Kindergarten in the center of Vienna, in Rudolfsplatz, which she had attended thirty years ago, still existed. "I was rather moved when so many of those memories came back to me," she said.

Rieder and Zelman both rebuked once again the statements made by Carinthia’s Governor, Jörg Haider, in early Spring. At that time Haider spoke of people who, "in the course of wartime confusion had emigrated." This statement according to Zelman was "disgraceful." Rieder added: "I can only characterize that as an historical lie." The expression 'emigration' is a lie; at best one can speak of a successful escape from one’s own death," said Rieder.