Ten Years of Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service

From Virtual Reality to Social Change
By Benedikt Breinbauer, Simon Niederkircher and Fabian Schroeder

In lieu of military service the three authors of the current article are participating as Austrian Gedenkdienst interns for the Kleinmann Family Foundation in the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, Canada. This innovative and unique program was founded by the Austrian Dr. Andreas Maislinger more than ten years ago in 1991.

The three Gedenkdienst interns are involved in the establishment of the Canadian Jewish Virtual Museum and Archives. Their work includes examining and researching the contribution of Holocaust survivors to the Canadian community; digitizing documents, artefacts, and photographs; and developing as well as maintaining the website (http://www.cjvma.org).

The virtual museum is supported by the Federal government’s Ministry of Canadian Heritage. This department is responsible for national policies and programs that promote Canadian content, foster cultural participation, active citizenship and participation in Canada's civic life, and strengthen connections among Canadians.

Naomi Kramer, museum curator, summarizes the museums goals:

"The history of Canadian Jews is not well known to the public-at-large. This history is particularly relevant in today’s Canadian mosaic with its many cultures, religions, and ethnic groups. Educational opportunities in the areas of tolerance, human rights, civil liberties, and Canada’s role as an internationally recognized leader and promoter of minority group rights are all gleaned from within the history of Canadian Jews."

Fabian Schroeder is involved with the creation and implementation of the video conferencing program, which will involve students from his former high school, BG XIX, in Vienna. Drawing from material in the CJVMA, the program is designed to increase students' awareness of children's rights, minority and ethnic rights, gender and sexual discrimination and effects of immigration.

This will also include a "virtual tour" of districts in Vienna where Holocaust survivors living in Canada had once lived. Canadian students will watch this tour via the Internet and partake of discussions with their Austrian co-partners.

Simon Niederkircher hopes to convey the following lesson from Canadian Jewish history to the Austrian minorities and the public-at-large. This Canadian history provides a model of a minority group which worked loyally and assiduously to help build the country that had provided them with a home.

The current Austrian interns, together with former intern Lothar Bodingbauer, have created a database which will enable Jewish communal organizations to share their holdings.

Benedikt Breinbauer is confident that the participation of the Austrian government in this initiative will solidify and enhance the excellent relationship between Canada and Austria in the domain of cultural exchanges.