Three young men have travelled to Australia from Austria in an attempt to learn more about the Holocaust. AustriansWolfgang Fruehwirt
and Florian Lipok
are in the middle of a six-month stint a the Jewish Museum of Australia andMatthias Gerstgrasser
will spend a year at the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre.
The three men are participating in Gedenkdienst, a program also known as Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service, which is run as an alternative to the Austrian compulsory military service for young Austrians. The program was designed to acknowledge Austria’s partial responsibility for the Holocaust and it encourages young Austrians to study and preserve Holocaust history.
Gerstgrasser, who is based at the Holocaust Centre, studied mathematics and linguistics at university in Vienna, so translating documents, organising events and helping in the libary is a stark but enjoyable change for him. “Working with Holocaust survivors is amazing and they are here on a day-to-day basis,” Gerstgrasser said. Lipok, who worked as an accountant before coming to Melbourne, is also enjoying his work at the museum. “I’ve had the chance to find out that hanging and lighting paintings is art itself,” he said. “I’ve analysed items and pieces donated to the museum and so had a chance to follow my own hobby of history , especially as I often pick up connections to my home country Austria.”
Fruehwirt and Lipok are splitting their time between the Melbourne museum and doing community service work in Central America. The pair said the most striking aspect of Melbourne’s Jewish community, and the museum staff in particular, was the closeness and friendliness. “The staff of the museum are like a family, we’ve been invited to many events,” Fruehwirt said. “The most enjoyable experience is the warm and friendly working climate at the Jewish Museum,” Lipok added. “Australia is such a melting pot of cultures and I think it must be written into your constitution that everyone is so friendly. Here everyone’s a mate and there are no worries at all.”