MENDING FENCES, Detroit Free Press


Project Description

Detroit Free Press 18th April, 2000

Feeling remorse for Austria’s role in the destruction of Jews, two men are giving their time, money to heal old wounds



The two young Austrians were more than a little nervous in January when the showed up at the Holocaust Memorial Center in West Bloomfield.

Spurred by the sense of their nation’s guilt, Martin Doblhammer, 28, and Daniel Leithinger, 19, had arranged to work at the Holocaust Center instead of putting in eight months wit the Austrian army, as Austrian men older than 18 are generally required to do.

Both men worried that people in West Bloomfield, in particular Holocaust survivors, would be bitter toward them because of their country’s history of anti-Semitism.

“Before we started, I was a little bit scared, because many of the Holocaust survivors had bad experiences in Austria , and I thougth they could have a lot of prejudice,” Doblhammer said Monday. “But no way – they welcomed us very warmly.”

Although they hadn’t been born when Adolf Hitler took over Austria in 1938, Doblhammer and Leithinger know that there were 185,000 Jews living in Austria when the country was annexed by Germany and that there were 9,000 last year. At least 70,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis and 70,000 were forced to leave.

Complicating matters further for the men, a political party led by Joerg Haider, considered by many to be pro-Nazi, now shares power in the Austrian government.

A German did alternative service at the Holocaust Center from 1995 to 1997, but the center’s director Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, said it’s significant that Doblhammer and Leithinger are from Austria.

Rosenzveig, a Holocaust survivor, said two Austrians working at the museum “will show survivors that there are some people, particularly among the young, who seem to take a very serious attitude towards that tragic event of the Holocaust and want to do something that wil indicate that there is at least significant portions of the new young people of Germany and Austria who don’t want to be identified with the Nazi past of their country.”

The Austrian organization that sent Doblhammer and Leithinger has placed men in Holocaust centers in Europe, Israel, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Both men wanted to come to the United States, and the center in West Bloomfield was willing to take them. Each receives $9.000 from their government for 14 months of service. Mostly, they are paying their own way.

Doblhammer is working with videotapes of Holocaust survivors who have recounted the experiences with the Nazis. He’s comparing these oral account with history books to check the survivors’ facts.

Leithinger works on the center’s Web page.

“I think there is still a responsibility for our generation to be part of the trial to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Doblhammer said.

“I had never met a survivor of the Holocaust at all,” said Leithinger. “When we go back home we can share our positive experience here, and maybe we can talk back home in schools, because back home nobody knows Jews.

Project Details

  • Date 2. July 2016
  • Tags Pressearchiv 2000

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