Measures Against Anti-Semitism in Austria—An Overview
Numerous events from the past decades have sharpened the sensitivity of many Austrians regarding anti-Semitism. A small selection of the activities from recent years should substantiate the involvement and recognition of the fact that just „being against it “ is not enough and that knowledge of Austrian and Austrian-Jewish history is equally important.
„Aktion gegen den Antisemitismus“ („action against antisemitism“), founded in 1955, has been actively involved with, above all, discussion activities and teacher training for over forty years now. Since 1995 it has awarded the Ernst Bloch Medal every year to persons who are especially committed to fighting anti-Semitism.
The ensemble „10 Saiten 1 Bogen“ („10 strings 1 bow“), founded in 1982, has also been involved with this cause for many years now. This trio, consisting of Herwig Strobl on the violin, Ivo Truhar on the guitar and Günter Wagner on the accordion, has played over one thousand concerts and performed one hundred dialogue plays in schools and education centers.
In the Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck political scientist Andreas Maislinger founded the „Gedenkdienst“ („memorial service“). Since 1992 young men have been given the opportunity to serve their one-year community service (alternative military service) at Holocaust memorials abroad.
Until 1938 there were Jewish communities in many towns in the Burgenland, the smallest and easternmost province in Austria. From March to June 1993 a series of events entitled „Zerstörte jüdische Gemeinden im Burgenland. Eine Spurensicherung“ („Destroyed Jewish Communities in Burgenland. A Securing of Clues.“) took place at the adult education center in Eisenstadt, the capital of the Burgenland.
The Jewish museums in Eisenstadt, Hohenems (Vorarlberg) and Vienna regularly hold exhibitions dealing with Jewish themes. Every year the Institute for the History of Jews in Austria in St. Pölten, the capital of Lower Austria, where the former synagogue was restored, hosts an international scientific symposium.
The Jewish Institute for Adult Education in Vienna had become essential to the cause. Involvement in Catholic and Protestant adult education is also quite extensive. There is a very active Christian-Jewish working group in the „Katholische Aktion.“
On the occasion of the „100th Anniversary of the Jewish Cemetery in Salzburg“ memorial stones were unveiled at the Jewish cemetery in 1993 on the initiative of the regional government of Salzburg. The names on the headstones destroyed during World War II are recorded on these stones. In addition, there are memorial stones for the countless Jewish children who died of disease and malnutrition shortly after the end of the war.
A special private initiative was taken by historian Robert Striebel together with Gerwald Lentner. In 1995, with the support of sponsors, they commissioned sculptor Hans Kupelwieser to build a memorial for the exiled and murdered Jewish residents at the Jewish cemetery in the Lower Austrian city of Krems. The sculptor designed a 150-foot steel band which hangs above the ground at the entrance to the cemetery. The names and dates of the 129 murdered Jewish residents of Krems are inscribed on this band. A „Krems Forest“ in Jerusalem is also in the planning; it will consists of 129 trees—one tree for every murdered Krems Jew.
To remember the fate of the Hungarian Jews at the Southeast rampart in 1944/45, history students Harald Straßl and Wolfgang Vosko organized the bilingual touring exhibition entitled „Ohne Euch Hätten Wir Nicht Überlebt“ (Without You We Wouldn’t Have Survived.) After the presentation at „Offenes Haus Oberwart“ (Burgenland) the exhibition was shown in Vienna, in various communities in Burgenland as well as in Hungary in Sopron, Budapest and Szombathely from June to December 1996. This year it may still be seen in Graz (Styria), St. Pölten (Lower Austria), Mauthausen (Upper Austria) and in Köszeg, Hungary.
In 1995 a competition, sponsored by the Tyrolean regional government entitled „…Um Nicht Zu Vergessen“ („…Not to Forget“), was announced to build a memorial to remember the Jews living in Innsbruck who were murdered during the Reichskristallnacht the in 1938. A prominent jury, including Innsbruck Diocesan Bishop Reinhold Stecher and Esther Fritsch from the Jewish religious community in Innsbruck, awarded first prize to a sculpture by the 18-year-old student Mario Jörg. The sculpture, which resembles the Menorah , will be built in the Spring of 1997.
The association Schalom is restoring Jewish cemeteries. Retired businessman Walter Pagler succeeding in doing the nearly impossible—thanks to donations from students, religion teachers, the police, soldiers and private people as well as from abroad. 150,000 hours of volunteer work went into the restoration of Jewish graves, completely overgrown for over 50 years, at Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof .
Arche, a platform for intercultural projects, was founded in the fall of 1995 by the former members of „Gedenkdienst,“ Bernhard Schneider and Anton Legerer, and has committed itself to fighting anti-Semitism. Arche was particularly successful with its world premiere of Anne Frank—eine Geschichte für heute , an event organized by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Museum of History in Vienna which could be seen in October 1996 at the Volkshalle of Vienna’s City Hall. 32,905 persons visited the exhibit, 14,792 of which were students. The exhibit was shown in November 1996 in Oberwart, Burgenland, and in January/February 1997 in Linz. This year Anne Frank – eine Geschichte für heute may also be seen in various other Austrian cities.
The law establishing the „National Fund for Victims of National Socialism,“ passed by the Austrian Parliament in the fall of 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Second Republic was of particular importance. Approximately 20,000 former Austrians all over the world, most of them Jewish, have received, or will receive in the near future, payments of AS70,000.