June 2003

Dear Readers,

June 26, 2003 

We have had a tremendous amount of relevant news from Austria in the last two months. So, instead of flooding you with too much information at once, we decided to break this issue down into two separate ones. The next issue will, therefore, appear shortly.

We will also keep you posted on the ongoing developments involving the Austrian Israelite Religious Community as soon as we get more comprehensive information on this complex matter

Yours sincerely,
Christoph Meran
Austrian Press and Information Service

“Striking Back: A Jewish Command’s War Against the Nazis”

Das Jüdische Echo, Vienna (Vol. 51, 10/2002)

by Peter Masters

Peter Masters, an Austrian-born Jew, originally known as Peter Arany, has an unusual story to tell, one that has not been told before but needs telling. “To prove that not all Holocaust victims reacted like lambs on the way to the slaughter house but defended themselves whenever and wherever they got the chance is why I wrote this book,” said Masters. “Striking Back. A Jewish Commando’s War Against the Nazis” (Presidio Press; Novato, California; 1997; Amazon Price: USD 17.47).

Masters was one of 87 Jewish refugees from Hitler who volunteered for military service in Troop 3, No. 10 Commando, an elite unit of the British Army. Troop 3 was unusual in that almost all of its members were Austrian and German Jews, men who spoke German fluently and who would be trained in the ways and means of the German Army (to the extent that, Masters notes wryly, “they probably knew more about German weaponry and organization than most German soldiers”). For these men, some of them concentration camp survivors, this assignment represented a unique opportunity to fight back against the Nazis. Ironically, nearly all of them had previously been interned by the British as “friendly enemy aliens” when the war broke out. When they were recruited for “special and hazardous duty,” they were required to assume new identities with elaborate cover stories to explain their oddly accented English. Thus, Arany became Masters, Geiser became Gordon, Abramowitz, Arlen, and so on. 

The author recounts their grueling training with wit and gusto, leaving readers with little doubt that these men were ready for combat. And with the Normandy invasion, they saw plenty of it. Masters and other members of Troop 3 fought in Normandy for three long months; he would return to action in the Netherlands and participate in the final invasion of Germany.

His narration of the combat experiences is vivid yet low-key. He never sugarcoats the reality of the violence he witnessed, but the book is leavened by a goodly mix of humor and a warm feeling for his compatriots. An admirable war memoir from a man who was neither a professional soldier nor a professional writer but who has acquitted himself nicely in both roles.

Egon Schiele Painting Looted by Nazis to be Auctioned

Der Standard (04/11/03)

Schiele’s oil painting, “Krumauer Landschaft” restituted by the City of Linz and returned to the Vienna Cultural Community in December 2002, worth about USD 12.5 million, will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s of London.

Vienna – On June 23, 2003 one of the many open chapters on restitution of looted national treasures are to be closed; that is, when Sotheby’s of London auctions off a magnificent piece of artwork by Egon Schiele.

Estimated at some USD 12.5 million, Krumauer Landschaft (Stadt am Fluss), 1916, once belonged to Willhelm and Daisy Hellmann, originally Steiner. The two collectors who acquired the painting directly from the artist, fled to Brazil in 1938, leaving the painting, along with many other objects, behind in Vienna. 

The City of Linz purchased the painting in 1953 for the Neue Galerie but returned it to the Israelite Religious Community in December 2002. Erika Jakubovits, Executive Director of the Board of the Israelite Religious Community in Vienna, reported that inquiries were made over a period of many years. “It proved to be extremely difficult to locate the heirs of the former owner who died in 1980.” According to newspaper reports, there are a total of seven heirs, one of which is British.

Mrs. Jakubovits finds herself confronted again and again with the same objection: “It is criticized that heirs tend to immediately put the art works up for sale on the market. In terms of finding a solution to such a painting as Schiele’s, not one of the numerous heirs can afford to pay out the others. Moreover, the momentarily rightful Schiele owners live very withdrawn and modestly.”

Erika Jakubovits praises the initiative taken by the City of Linz to return the painting, “out of ethical reasons,” to the rightful owners. The museum was not legally bound to give the painting to the Hellman’s heirs since the Neue Galerie is not a federal museum and doesn’t fall under laws governing restitution. As a preliminary to initiating an inquiry into the matter, the City of Linz had requested that an extensive report be done which proved that the former owner and seller to the Neue Galerie in 1953, the German art dealer, Walter Gurlitt, knew very well that it concerned a looted Jewish national treasure. 

The former owner, Daisy Hellmann, should have submitted proof after 1945 when she requested to have the work returned that Gurlitt purchased the painting in 1942 for 1800 Reichsmark through the Gallery Sankt Lukas at an auction at the Dorotheum. Under the “Third Laws of Restitution” of February 6, 1947, at that time works were considered absconded, and only then, when the buyer knew or had to know that it concerned confiscated property. Gurlitt denies having known anything about it and Daisy Hellmann missed out on her chance.

She made a second attempt in February 1949 with a complaint submitted to the Restitution Commission, whereby her request was again turned down. Hellmann argued that as an art dealer, Gurlitt had to know that in 1942 “massive amounts of Jewish property succeeded in being auctioned off.” 

Erika Jakubovits, who is, in terms of Restitution, currently working on “ten huge Viennese collections” says that it has to do with assuring that history remains transparent. For this reason, it was decided that the Schiele painting, which will also be exhibited at the Impressionist Auction in May in New York, will be given up for auction.

Hannah Lessing

Heldenplatz Speech on May 5, 2003

My grandmother, Margit Lessing, was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942 and gassed in Auschwitz in 1944. My father fled to Palestine in 1939.

My name is Hannah Lessing. I direct the Austrian Reconciliation Fund for the Victims of National Socialism. Our bureau was established by the Austrian Parliament in 1995 in order to acknowledge and honor the fate of the survivors through settlement by means of a symbolic sum. 

I would like to thank you, students, in the name of those people who confided their life stories during the last eight years to the National Fund. Survivors, who suffered the unimaginable and have told us – in many cases for the first time – of their fate. 

Remembrance of the once beloved schoolmate, who pretended from one day to the next not to know one, causing to this day endless pain.
Separation from the parents at the railway station, as the one train guided the children to a safe country, while the other train brought mother and father to their death at a concentration camp.

No amount of money, no gesture, can make up for what befell them. The only thing one can give these people is hope: hope that we Austrians have learned from the era of National Socialism and the developments leading up to it, and will do everything to prevent such events from happening again.

I would like to thank you for having brought so many victims of National Socialism out of anonymity. Often, much too often, one speaks of “the” or “those” 80,000 victims. This tendency of consolidating information in neat little packages according to numbers or mass abstractions often camouflages the picture of single incidents suffered by people individually. You have made life stories with names and events out of sheer numbers. As you now know through your work, there were many individual cases which fit into no scheme nor form, and about which listing the facts in history books alone can never do justice.

At that time people were categorized according to groups. Some, because they were “different,” were excluded from society. By so doing, it was easier to rob them of their human dignity.

Karl Stojka, survivor of Auschwitz and prominent advocate of the Roma, whom many of you got to know personally before he prematurely died three weeks ago, fought against such categorizing his life long. The thought of him reminds us of our responsibility to continue speaking out against putting people into little niches.

Sorting out all the historical facts is the only basis for living together cooperatively, for recognizing the responsibility we have toward history as toward the victims. Only by writing this commitment into our hearts does the hope of all victims of National Socialism live on: that this must happen never again.

I thank you for your contribution to this sense of hope and wish the balloon flown for my grandmother a peaceful flight.

Salt of the Earth

Die Presse (05/09/03)

In view of the Vienna Festival, the Jewish Museum is presenting an exhibit entitled “Quasi una Fantasia” on “Jews and the Viennese City of Music” from May 14 to September 21 - a look at the contributions which Jewish artists and patrons of the arts made to the musical life of the city.

When the National Socialists went about arianizing Austrian musical life in 1938, they found it particularly difficult when dealing with popular music of the time. Complete arianization was anyway an impossible thing to achieve. Several of the most successful operettas, such as those of Franz Lehár, included libretti composed by educated Jewish writers. Moreover, innumerable melodies of the light genre type, from the operetta hits of Emerich Kálmán or Oscar Strauss to popularized Viennese songs, were written by Jews. For the first time an exhibition attempts to reconstruct Jewish influence on Vienna’s musical life, with socalled popular music automatically playing an important role.

“Quasi una Fantasia,” chosen from a title taken from Ludwig van Beethoven, hopes to thoroughly analyze the topic, reaching back to the year 1867 when one granted the Jews the right to legally establish themselves in Vienna. Sometime later the Jewish intelligentsia constituted an enormous potential for cultural life in the imperial city. Nothing could demonstrate more clearly the circumstances than the official numbers of deaths caused by the fire in the Ring Theater in 1881. At that time 900 victims were mourned and more than 400 of them were Jewish! Every third student at the Conservatory, currently known as the Vienna University of Music, was a Jew. Given the circumstances, it was only a matter of time until important positions within Viennese musical life could be held by Jews. The nomination of Gustav Mahler was in this respect the high point of this development. More than once Mahler was the target of anti-Semitic campaigns, and no one could have guessed the inhuman dimensions this was to take on historically.

The exhibition confronts us with initial documents of Jewish influence on Viennese musical life. It encompasses Mahler’s brilliance in renewing musical interpretation to the key function played in modern composition by such masters as Alexander Zemlinsky and his students, together with his brother-in-law, Arnold Schönberg. 

The eminent contributions Jewish musicians to the development of Viennese popular music as well as cabaret created a very colorful picture in the history of Viennese musical life in 1900. It was not only the Jewish composers and musical interpreters who left their stamp but also men of letters and journalists such as Julius Korngold, the first music critic of the “New Free Press.” Also the patrons from the Jewish middle class played a significant role.

This historical background is followed by a documentation of the expulsion and assassination of the Jews after 1938 and supplemented by a critical look back to the years of the reconstruction following 1945 when one believed or could do without the Jewish talent.

Appearance of New Documents on the Viennese Klimt Paintings

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (05/09/03)

Vienna (APA) – The “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung“ (FAZ) reports today of new documentary records in connection with the Klimt paintings formerly owned by the Bloch-Bauer family in which currently a lawsuit is pending between the Republic of Austria and the Bloch-Bauer heiress, Maria Altmann. The papers “prove that the paintings were indeed in the possession of Adele Bloch-Bauer which she later bequeathed in her testament to the museum” and “sheds a completely new light on the dispute.” Authors of the report are Stephan Koja, the curator of the 19th century collection in the Austrian State Gallery, Belvedere, and the historian, Andreas Kugler, Executive Assistant at the Austrian Theatermuseum..

The Austrian State Gallery acknowledged to APA the appearance of the new documents “in the course of conducting other research.” The FAZ quotes, among other things, proof of delivery received by the Director of the Gallery, Franz Haberditzl, on April 12, 1919: “two portraits and four landscapes by Gustav Klimt owned by Mrs. Bloch-Bauer (…) with the authorization to exhibit these art works as items on loan.” In another letter from 1919, Adele Bloch-Bauer is revealed “as initiative owner of her paintings.” After the death of Adele Bloch-Bauer in January, 1925, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer promised to faithfully fulfill the conditions of the will (in which she, among other items, asked her husband to bequeath the paintings to the Republic of Austria or Austrian State Gallery after his death).

So it states in the FAZ article: “In October 1945, when Ferdinand during exile in Zürich wrote his will making provisions for his nieces and nephews, he was demonstrably aware of the whereabouts of Adele’s Klimt paintings and that they were to be conveyed to the Austrian Gallery according to Mrs. Bloch-Bauer’s will. If it had not been his wish, Ferdinand, mentally competent at the time, would have surely protested to the very last.”

In the recent book, “Oskar Kokoschka. Kunst und Politik 1937-1950” by Gloria Sultano and Patrick Werkner, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer is quoted as writing in a letter: “Everything was taken from me in Vienna and Böhmen. I wasn’t left a single keepsake! Perhaps I will get the two portraits of my poor wife (referring to the Klimt paintings) as well as my portrait,” he wrote to Oskar Kokoschka in 1941.

Gloria Sultano, Patrick Werkner: “Oskar Kokoschka. Kunst und Politik 1937-1950”. 360 Seiten, 35 Euro, ISBN 3-205-77030-7

Applause for Heller’s Film, “Blind Spot,” in Washington

Die Presse (05/20/03)

Mario Scherhaufer

For his speech in Mauthausen, André Heller was criticized at a time when his film on Hitler’s secretary was premiering in Washington, D.C. Peter Moser, Austrian Ambassador to the United States, commented in his introduction to the documentary film in Visions Cinema that Heller “has never accepted authority.” He is seen as a fiery rebel, also against the Establishment, a sensitive anti-war adversary who in the USA is stamped as an “active liberal.”

In the documentary film, Traudl Junge tells of her experience as Hitler’s secretary during the final years of the war. She died one year ago from cancer, only hours after the film, Im toten Winkel (Blind Spot) premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Toward the end of the film Junge describes how Joseph Goebbel’s wife, just before Nazi Germany fell, poisoned her six children with cyanide out of fear of uncertainty rather than flee with the help of a civil servant. 

Gabriele Ludwig, a German-speaking American from Maryland drew a parallel of this episode to an analogy describing the present atmosphere in the USA: “The fear people are experiencing here since 9/11 allows the government to do things which were unthinkable two years ago.” Increased patriotism and sensitivity to anti-American criticism coming from Europe have been the results. “Blind Spot” ended in thunderous applause by the public at the end of the film shown in Washington. “It is a simple but very complicated film,” commented Jonathan Drimmer from the U.S. Ministry of Justice, alluding to the technical complexity as well as the contents. Drimmer wished not to comment on Heller’s speech in Mauthausen.

The speech on May 11, 2003, given on the occasion of the memorial celebration of the freeing of prisoners in the former concentration camp of Mauthausen, was disapproved of by the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. Heller had criticized Chancellor Schüssel and the Bush Administration’s policy in Iraq, which “displays right before our eyes how excess is the measurement of all things and the moral most in effect is the double standard.” The U.S. government took this statement to be, itself, in excess. The American Embassy in Vienna responded some days later to Heller’s speech, characterizing it as an “injury to fine taste” and given “at the wrong time and the wrong place.” 

Klestil Received Holocaust Survivor

Austrian Press Agency (05/27/03)

Anthropological Studies of Jews who were Interned in the Prater Stadium

Vienna – In September 1939 Gershon Evan was a sixteen year old like 1,000 other stateless Jews who were interned in the Prater Stadium in Vienna. Anthropological studies were conducted on 440 of them, the results of which are preserved to this day in the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Through Leon Zelman at the Jewish Welcome Service as intermediary, Evan who now lives in San Francisco, was invited by Federal President Thomas Klestil as guest to the Hofburg. The Federal President honored the work of those researchers who have gone to great efforts to evaluate the history and background of the studies. 

Only three weeks after the internment, the Jews were deported to the concentration camp in Buchenwald where most of them perished. Evans was released in 1940 and undertook an adventurous escape which took him to Palestine. From 1942 to 1946 he served in the British Army, and from 1948 to 1950 in the Israeli Army. In 1958 he relocated to the United States.

During his internment in the Prater Stadium Evans was subjected, along with other fellow sufferers, to anthropological examinations. To this day many of the hair samples, masks of plaster, fingerprints, along with other findings and photos are preserved in the Natural History Museum.

Supported by the Fund for Promotion of Scientific Research (FWF), the inventory is currently being processed. “On the one hand, the collection raises questions as to how it was acquired, and on the other hand, how it was handled, especially since it concerns the only information and picture of the deported Jews who were then later murdered,” claims one project member, Margit Berner. President Klestil said at the reception for Mr. Evans that the work of the researchers resembles that of stone collectors who eventually form a mosaic from the pieces collected.

As a young boy, Evan, himself, had imagined a life of adventure as something entirely different from that which he experienced. With the title, “Winds of Life. The Destinies of a Young Viennese Jew 1938 to 1958,” he wrote down his own personal life story.

“Winds of Life. The Destinies of a Young Viennese Jew 1938 to 1958. Gershon, Evan; Edition Paperback, 29 Euros. 

Israelite Religious Community: Government Decides upon Interim Aid

Anticipation of Restitution Payments Planned

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (06/03/03)

Vienna - The government has decided on Tuesday in the Council of Ministers meeting upon giving interim aid to the Israelite Religious Community (IKG) which has run into financial difficulties. In concrete terms, 772,000 Euros will be loaned each year without interest for the years 2003, 2004 and 2005, in addition to the present federal aid already given. Minister for Education Elisabeth Gehrer disclosed that this total of over two million Euros will be offset by Restitution payments to which the Israelite Religious Community is entitled. Moreover, the government asks officials from the individual federal provinces to already disburse a portion of the Restitution payments allotted the Israel Religious Community to be taken from the regional budgets before “legal peace” has been established.

Altogether the regions have put aside over 18 million Euros for the Israelite Religious Community. In addition, an hitherto unknown sum is to come from the General Settlement Fund. Both sums, however, are not to be paid out until legal peace in the USA has been established and no more claims against Austria exist. With the decision now having been taken to offer interim aid, funds can be paid out in advance. 

National Socialism and the Universities: Research Off to a Good Start

Austrian Press Agency (06/05/03)

Historian Mitchell Ash: Currently Some Thirty Projects Throughout Austria

It has taken almost sixty years, but now research regarding the relationship between National Socialism and the universities, in particular in the field of science, is off to a good start. “Currently there are some thirty projects focusing on this topic throughout Austria,” said the historian, Mitchell Ash, from the Institute of History at the University of Vienna. Mr. Ash directs the project, “Universities and Science During and After the Era of National Socialism,” which is to be presented at the symposium, “Austria and National Socialism – The Consequences for Education in the Areas of Science and the Humanities” on June 5, 2003. 

With his project, Ash hopes to establish a research network and to point out the results of the various disciplines and scientists. A CD-ROM with a short summary of the projects will be made available. The universities have long held the notion that the Sciences had been abused by the Nazis and were, themselves, quasi an instrumentalized victim. Mitchell is convinced that essentially what prevailed was that of an intertwining give and take with another.

Thus, there were clearly ‘takers’ on the part of the universities after 1945 which remained in charge but nothing has happened in terms of overhauling the system. Only then were very few examples brought out into the open, and somewhat hesitantly. The media ran stories on anatomist Eduard Pernkopf with his atlas, in which the physician Heinrich Gross and Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz were embroiled in the socalled Euthanasia Program. Why only a few prominent examples have reached the public is for Ash not entirely clear. “One has to ask also the media,” said the historian.

The some thirty research projects on the subject of Universities and National Socialism are widely diversified. They span from research on the expulsion of Jewish scientists and its consequences on scientific research to the censorship conducted at university libraries to scholarly contributions by Austrian scientists regarding socalled racial hygiene advocated by the National Socialists.

In a mutual project conducted by the Institute of Sociology at the University of Graz (under the direction of Christian Fleck) and the Institute of Experimental Physics at the University of Vienna (under the direction of Anton Zeilinger), the researchers studied the fate of physicists and engineers who emigrated from Austria. Interviews with those emigrants from the second generation revealed that the effects of the Nazi ideology were noticeable long before 1938. Thus, scientists during the 1920s were not promoted to professor out of “reasons of race”. Also emigration began already much earlier.
Altogether the number of physicists expelled from the universities were smaller than assumed. This appears to contradict the reports of the successful accomplishments such as Nobel Prizes of physicists who emigrated from Austria. Fleck assumes that many of those who emigrated began to study physics after having been expelled. It is, nevertheless, striking that only very few emigrants returned to Austria after the war. Moreover, there were officially no efforts made in that direction.