Young man helping Austria atone, The National Jewish Post & Opinion


Project Description

Young man helping Austria atone By Ed Stattmann New York – Modern Austria has earned some black marks among Jews. It is the land that welcomed Hitler’s Anschluss – the land of former UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim, who denied his Nazi past, and of Jörg Haider, a politician who repeatedly has called for respect for war veterans who served in the German army’s Waffen SS. Fortunately, it is also the land of the Gedenkdienst (Holocaust Commemorative Service) and of Philipp Bulgarini, 19, of Linz, who is spending most of his months as a Gedenkdiener in New York as an intern at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. A wonderful thing about Bulgarini, 19, is that he is not unique. The reader may live in a city where an organization hosts Gedenkdiener. Yet Gedenkdienst remains little known. Its founder was Andreas Maislinger, who campaigned for nearly 15 years for the 1991 amendment to the law that lets young Austrians do their alternative service at international Holocaust memorials. Gedenkdienst has sent scores of young men like Bulgarini abroad as conscientious objectors to military service. He says he is one of 64 serving abroad this year and many others serving within Austria doing social work and peace service. The intent of Gedenkdienst, according to former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in a speech in Jerusalem, is to emphasize the „collective Austrian responsibility for the Holocaust and the responsibility for each and every one of us to remember and to fight for ‘never again.’” Bulgarini might have served at a Holocaust-related site in any of at least 25 partner organizations linked with Gedenkdienst in various countries, but said he was struck by the museum’s identification of itself as „a living memorial to the Holocaust.” Because his request to serve at the Museum of Jewish Heritage won approval, the Austrian government added the museum to the organizations it recognizes as laces where young men can fulfill alternative service. He had visited New York once before, but said he had never seen such a museum. „The museum’s name has ‘Holocaust’ and ‘living’ in it; those are two different extremes. The first floor speaks of living, the second hauntingly describes suffering and death and the third floor, most importantly, tells visitors that lives went on.” He said he knew this was the museum he wanted to serve because it teaches people not just facts but personal stories. While preparing to intern, he was required to read a number of books on Jewish culture and history and the Holocaust and to attend a number of lectures, most of which featured a Holocaust survivor. Listening to survivors speak, he said touched him. „When you learn about it in books it is nothing like when a survivor tells you about his daily fight for life, his survival, the way he had to live in a concentration camp. His internship there has had him working primarily in the collections and exhibitions department. The work has included translating documents, research at the Leo Baeck Institute and working with staff on a Holocaust education project with a Bronx high school. He said translating Nazi propaganda that had been aimed at German children especially saddened him because of its teaching even elementary children that Jews are inferior. His service, financed by the Austrian government, ends at the end of February 2002. His future, he said, would include applying for university studies in economics and Chinese, perhaps shooting eventually for working for the United Nations. He said many young Austrians choose alternative service rather than military service and do so without loss of status. Military service lasts eight months. Alternative service lasts 14 months. „I think they are appreciated in society because many non-profit organizations in Austria are based on those social workers and actually need them,” he said. He said the young people he knows tend to be open-minded but that the country still has many people prejudiced against foreigners, although „I don’t think there are that many against Jews anymore.” Bulgarini said it was easy enough to speak his views to Austrians of his own and his parents’ generation, but could be difficult to talk to some people in his grandparents’ generation, who experienced the Holocaust as children. Upon his return he plans to speak to various groups about his service. „It’s not in my contract that I have to do it but I was asked to do it by some teachers in my former high school,” he said. He said he’ll also speak to young people planning to go abroad for Gedenkdienst. Museum Director David G. Marwell said the museum is pleased to have been introduced to Bulgarini. „Philipp has become an integral member of our staff and when he returns to Austria we have no doubt he will honor the museum as a most effective ambassador,” Marwell said. Bulgarini said he became rather pessimistic about Middle East peace from what he has heard in the United States, but he still believes there will be peace soon. He has heard the arguments of the Israelis and Palestinians and can acknowledge both, he said, adding, „It’s very sad that this war is still going on.” He said he is aware that dangerous stereotypes about race, religion and sexuality persist all over the world, but he hopes his internship work will educate the public about the Holocaust, „so something like this will never happen again.” Asked about the Austrian rightist Jörg Haider, Bulgarini said Haider is a „populist,” somebody who says things people want to hear. Many people welcome his message because there are problems with foreigners in Austria’s big cities, such as schools in Vienna where 70 percent of the students are foreigners. Bulgarini says he believes society should find ways of including foreigners to the extent it can absorb them. He mentioned that the influx of foreign workers and the perception that they are taking jobs away from natives has created problems in, not only Austria, but Italy, Germany and France. (The Museum of Jewish Heritage is on the waterfront of Battery Park City at 18 First Place in Manhattan, overlooking Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The museum seeks to educate people of all ages and backgrounds about 20th century Jewish history before, during and after the Holocaust.)

Project Details

  • Date 3. July 2016
  • Tags Pressearchiv 2001

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