Success Story of the First Zionists

Die Presse (6/23/04)

Herzl Conference in Jerusalem
Susanne Knaul

Scientists and politicians from Austria, Israel, Canada and the United States came together in Jerusalem on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl to discuss his legacy. Austria’s Minister of the Interior, Ernst Strasser, spoke as a prelude to the discussions: He talked to a great number of Israelis largely originating from Austria in commemoration of Herzl and his place of birth and of the events planned by the Austrian parliament in September, which also Israel’s President Mosche Katzav is expected to attend.

Minister Strasser emphasized his understanding for the fact that "most Austrian Jews who survived the Nazi years never have returned," but at the same time expressed his great respect for "those who remained [in Austria]." As an Austrian, he is "proud of the Zionist, Theodor Herzl, and of the lively Jewish Community," although that "may sound like a contradiction."

Optimal Cooperation
Dr. Strasser visited the Holocaust Memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The collaboration that exists between it and Austria’s Holocaust Memorial in Mauthausen serves as an exemplary model of optimal cooperation, particularly in the area of education. "I am still deeply touched by the continuing efforts being undertaken in documenting and researching the worst crimes of human history," he said. Minister Strasser, responsible for the memorial of the former concentration camp Mauthausen, announced the "intensification" of exchange between both memorials, especially in view of educational training.

Ambassador Hengl said he hopes that Herzl will build a "bridge between Israel and Austria." Not only Zionism has its birthplace in Austria," but also the Star of David, "symbol and flag" of the Jews, and the Jewish state as well have their origins in Vienna.

A rather odd ending to the first evening: Frank Stern (Ben Gurion University) showed a silent film by the Austrian actor and regisseur, Rudolf Schildkraut, from the year 1921. "The Wandering Jew or The Life of Theodor Herzl is a "pure success story of the first Zionists," said Stern. According to him, nothing in it corresponds to the truth.