Young Austrians serving as interns for Holocaust organizations
Since Austria has been in the news quite a lot lately, and much has been said about Austria’s relationship to its history during World War II, we want to bring to your attention the Austrian Gedenkdienst program.
This program gives young Austrians the choice – in lieu of their military service – to work as interns at various Holocaust organizations all over the world, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles, the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center, and other institutions in the United States, London, Cracow, Berlin, Prague, etc.
Gedenkdienst (commemorative service) originated as an initiative of Austrian political scientist Dr. Andreas Maislinger. The intent of Gedenkdienst is to emphasize the recognition of Austria’s part in the responsibility for the Holocaust.
Austrian Gedenkdienst is unique for several reasons: It is a largely government-funded program to support Holocaust-related organizations. Interns receive a certain amount of financial support from the Austrian government – a unique situation since no other government does that – and there are no costs for the institution they work for.
Gedenkdienst depends on the willingness of individuals to commit their time and efforts to the rememberance of the Holocaust. The duration of an internship is 14 months, while compulsory military service lasts only eight months, and every intern undergoes an extensive program of education and preparation for his service before he or she is sent abroad.
Gedenkdienst interns have all kinds of political and religious backgrounds. This shows that support for the program and the idea behind it is found throughout all parts of Austrian society.
The program not only supports Holocaust-related institutions, it also constitutes a process of intercultural learning for those involved. States Bill Surkis, executive director at the MHMC: “It’s extremely important that people like Philipp [a former intern at the MHMC] will go back to their own country to serve as ambassadors, carrying with them the opportunity to have lived in the heart of a survivor community.”
Further details can be found on the web atwww.auslandsdienst.at/austriangedenkdienst.