The Detroit News March 22, 2001 Austrians’ stint at the Holocaust museum sows the seeds of tolerance By Laura Berman / The Detroit News They came here 14 months ago from Austria — the birthplace of Adolf Hitler — to work at the Holocaust Memorial Center in West Bloomfield. They were two young Austrian men, neither one of whom had ever met a Jew. “This was the first contact for me with anyone of another religion,” remembers Martin Doblhammer, at 29, who was raised as a Catholic. Arriving at the museum, knowing no one, they were nervous and scared. Doblhammer and Daniel Liethinger, 20, worried they might be hated — that the Holocaust survivors and the largely Jewish staff at the center would automatically feel contempt for them. A few months later, they had a regular card game one evening a week with Harry Weinstein, a 70-something Windsor man who was the only member of his family to walk out of the Auschwitz camp alive. That was one of several friendships the two men formed. There were Passover dinners, a trip to Mackinac Island — “so many loving invitations,” as Daniel puts it. Indeed, the survivors — including Rabbi Charles Rosensweig, who heads the museum — were especially grateful for the young men’s presence. They recognized interest and a kind of truth-seeking in the men’s mission: They had come overseas to work in a museum preserving the most ugly stain on Austria’s long history. “We were welcomed,” Martin said, talking at a library table in the museum, a few hours before an emotional farewell party in their honor. “To think that two years ago, we knew no Jewish people, and then to be invited into their homes and celebrate their holidays. It is a very touching thing,” says Daniel. “The survivors have told us how much they appreciate that we try to deal with our past.” Both men were conscientious objectors from Austria’s required eight months of military service. Martin first took a college deferment, then — like Daniel — opted to serve as a volunteer at a Holocaust-related institution, an option provided by the Austrian government. Although they worked without pay from the museum, their government provided a stipend that covered about half of their costs. Martin pored over hundreds of hours of Holocaust oral histories, transferring them from tape to a digital format. Daniel upgraded the center’s website. Two generations removed from World War II, and their nation’s complicity with the Nazis, they feel no personal sense of guilt. While they are proud of their country, they are also frank about the nation’s World War II history — what amounted to a welcome to Hitler. What they feel, they say, is a sense of responsibility to help chart a more tolerant future for their country — where, even now, the arguments of Holocaust-deniers are being raised. “When you meet survivors, hear their stories, it gives you a different sense. I can go home and say, “I know these survivors. I have talked to them personally,” says Daniel. When they leave here next month, Daniel will attend college, and Martin will look for a job in the hotel or restaurant industry. Their internship in West Bloomfield turned into an anti-prejudice exchange — the way close associations among strangers can be. Tolerance, they say, is what they learned in the museum. Like soldiers, they take that lesson home.
- Date 5. July 2016
- Tags Pressearchiv 2001