Austrian Gedenkdienst at the Center for HGPSIn Austria, where I come from, your eighteenth birthday presents you with three critical options: – You can enlist in the Austrian military for an 8- month-long compulsory training service. There you learn how to use some killing devices, as I call them; – You can perform an alternative social service, such as working in a home for the retired, or working in a hospital, or in an institution for juveniles or comparable institutions. This service is for 12 months; – OR you can choose what I chose: to work as a Gedenkdienst intern (commemorative service intern) at an institution outside of Austria dedicated to examining Holocaust issues. This service is for 14 months. When I turned 25 (as a graduate student in Business Administration at the University of Innsbruck, I had received several draft deferrals) I knew that I would soon have to start my service. Now it was high time to consider my options within the Gedenkdienst program. If I was going to give part of my life to my country, I wanted to do something meaningful – not only for Austria, but also for myself. I had been working and studying in an environment of business and commerce; so now I looked for an environment in which I could contribute something I found meaningful. Through research and discussions on the Internet and with like-minded people in Innsbruck, I came across the Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. There were two positions for people like me; Andreas Feuerstein had already been accepted for one of them. This was my chance! I applied in July 1999 and got the go-ahead to come. Then, at the beginning of September, I got two e-mails. One from the Chairman of the Gedenkdienst program in Austria and one from Dr. Hertling in Reno. Both of them said that I would get the job. Four weeks – and a thousand plus documents and stamps – later, I found myself at the Reno Airport, right next to a slot machine. The day was the 28th of September; and the welcome by Dr. Hertling and Andreas Feuerstein was very warm. I had chosen the Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies over other partner institutions in countries such as Poland, Israel or Canada because it is not only dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust; it is also concerned with researching how to prevent such tragedies in the future. Furthermore, to serve my Gedenkdienst in a place where the sun seems to be shining every day was a major attraction as well! Andreas and I would like to meet with you and speak to you, your school, your church, your synagogue, your social club, or your community group. You can reach us at 775-784-6767. We will be here for 14 months.
-Heinz Bösch (Austrian Gedenkdienst Intern)My name is Andreas Feuerstein. I was born in a little town called Hohenems in Austria in 1977. After two years of studying Political Science and History at the University of Innsbruck, the time had come for me to serve my country. I already knew what I was going to do—serve as a Gedenkdienst Intern at the Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies – I didn’t want to waste my life running through the mud learning how to fight wars. I found out about the Austrian Gedenkdienst program (commemorative service program) one day while I was wandering about on the university campus in Innsbruck. There was a poster saying, “Are you interested in doing National Service in a foreign country?” I wrote down the phone number and got in touch with the organization that provides this service. Through the Verein für Dienste im Ausland (this organization is approved by the Austrian government for sending interns to foreign countries) it is possible to link up and work with an organization abroad. If this institution accepts us, we can ask the Austrian government for permission to serve there as Gedenkdienst interns. I wanted to work for a Holocaust institution. Searching the Internet for Holocaust institutions in the US, I came across the Center for HGPS and its homepage. I was impressed by its mission statement, not only to do research on Holocaust and genocide issues; but also to find ways to a more peaceful future. After a long bureaucratic procedure, the Center for HGPS was accepted as a partner organization on August 6, 1999. Heinz and I are the first interns who have come here to do their service. I arrived in Reno on August 20, 1999. I knew this was where I wanted to be. It is one of my greatest hopes that everything about this service turns out fine. And now I’m here, doing a meaningful job, enjoying Reno’s excellent weather and being surrounded by wonderful human beings.
-Andreas Feuerstein (Austrian Gedenkdienst Intern)
JÖRG HAIDER: AN AUSTRIAN DAVID DUKE?Jörg Haider, 49-year-old leader of the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), is on his way to becoming one of the most powerful political leaders in the Alpine State. In the latest general elections (held on October 3, 1999) he and his party gained 27% of the votes. Thus, the FPÖ is now the second strongest party in Austria’s political spectrum. It doesn’t matter if Haider’s party will be part of the government or part of the opposition (negotiations for the formation of the government are currently in progress). At the very least, the FPÖ will cast the swing vote. To his supporters, Haider seems to offer a fresh alternative to the two established parties. However, his campaign was based on the “old-school” issues of fear and security: job security, social welfare benefits, and a stop to immigration. In addition, he claims he can bring a fresh political style into Austrian politics, promising elimination of corruption and abuse of the welfare state. The image of “freshness” is enhanced by the fact that Haider is extremely professional in his use and manipulation of the media – especially as regards his recent inflammatory statements about immigrants and his startling references to National Socialism. Here are some samples: “An orderly employment policy was carried out in the Third Reich, which the government in Vienna cannot manage. ” “We’ve got the people from the former Yugoslavia who are burglary experts. We’ve got the Turks who are superbly organized in the heroin trade. And we’ve got the Russians who are experts in blackmail mugging. ” “ […] we have to stop immigration until unemployment is reduced to under 5%.” (Haider stated this in the 1994 election campaign, when the official unemployment rate was at 4.4%). Haider referred to Mauthausen concentration camp as a “punishment camp,” which implied that people were interned there for criminal activity only, and not their ethnicity. He made the statement just prior to the 50th anniversary of the camp’s liberation; and his FPÖ was the only major party that did not participate in the commemorative event. Haider addressed a reunion of Waffen-SS veterans in 1996, referring to them as “decent people who have character and who have stuck to their beliefs through the strongest headwinds and who have remained true to their convictions to this day.” The situation is strange: The mission of our Gedenkdienst is that Austria has changed; that it is no longer indifferent to its Nazi past; and that it is willing to take responsibility for its role during World War II. Now we as Gedenkdienstinterns find ourselves serving a country in which 27% of the population voted for a known right-wing politician. We do not want to make predictions about the future. Austria still is a democratic country; and we have to see how the negotiations over the composition of the government will turn out, as well as how the other political parties will act. We are very concerned about the way in which politicians like Jörg Haider become popular figures within Austrian society. We cannot accept his efforts to achieve power by frightening the voters, by dehumanizing non-Austrians, refugees and immigrants, and by telling the Austrian people over and again that foreigners “steal our jobs,” “destroy our culture and values” and are “taking over the country.” When you hear such slogans long enough, some people accept them as truth. Perhaps you may say that we are alarmists – too serious about these issues – but history teaches us that there is a need to stand up and speak out against Haider’s statements before his words turn into national beliefs. We will be watching closely.
-Andreas Feuerstein & Heinz Bösch (Austrian Gedenkdienst Interns)
- Date 25. September 2016
- Tags Pressearchiv 1999