(November 9, 2021 / JNS) On the occasion of Kristallnacht’s 83rd birthday and in a clear gesture that it is finally taking public responsibility for its past, the Austrian government unveiled the Holocaust Wall of Names Memorial, its first public Holocaust memorial. Located in Ostarrichi Park in central Vienna, it honors the 64,440 Austrian Jewish children, women and men who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Construction work on the memorial began in March 2020.
The ceremony took place in the presence of the new Austrian Chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg; the Speaker of the Austrian Parliament Wolfgang Subotka; ministers and senior officials; and European Union officials and members of the Jewish community. Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai addressed the audience as the official representative of the State of Israel. Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen was scheduled to attend but is in quarantine after his secretary was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“It is all the more our task [of the Austrian government] to actively protect Jewish life in Austria and Europe, and to denounce all forms of anti-Semitism without any ifs or buts, ”Schallenberg said. “With this wall, we are bringing their names and their history out of oblivion. We give them back their identity, their individuality and that part of their humanity. And they have a place again in their homeland.
In his speech, Shai highlighted the growing number of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world. In Austria alone, there was a 6.4% increase in anti-Semitic incidents and 585 hate crimes recorded online and offline last year.
“Anti-Semitism is not a problem that Israel or the great Jewish people can solve,” he said. “It is the responsibility of nations and institutions around the world to take action against this ancient virus. “
The memorial is made up of 180 “Kashmir Gold” granite slabs. Each slab is 1 meter (3.2 feet) wide and 2 (6.5 feet) high. They were produced in India, the only place where they are available. After first being shipped to Italy where they were polished, they arrived in Vienna for the engraving, which took seven months.
Earlier today, a wreath laying ceremony was held at the Holocaust memorial site Judenplatz. Judenplatz was the center of Jewish life in Vienna during the Middle Ages. Today, the “Nameless Library” memorial – made of concrete and featuring rows of inverted unnamed books representing the many Holocaust victims – stands at one end of the square. The memorial does not include the names of Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Subsequently, Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress (EJC), received the Grand Honorary Decoration in Gold for service to the Republic of Austria. This prestigious national distinction was awarded to him by the President of the Austrian National Council, Austrian Parliament, Wolfgang Sobotka, for “his fight against anti-Semitism, racism, extremism and intolerance and for having greatly contributed to preserving memory. of the Shoah and to revitalize Jewish life in Europe.
The Great Gold Decoration of Honor is Austria’s highest honor and has been awarded to various monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Queen Silvia, as well as international leaders and fighters against racism, like the late French president. Jacques Chirac and the former Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
“I am honored to receive this award from the Republic of Austria,” said Kantor, “because it is a nation that has taken its role in the fight against anti-Semitism very seriously. He has paved the way on many issues, including giving Holocaust survivors a priority in receiving COVID vaccines and safeguarding a Jewish future, and I remain ready, willing and available to help Austria meet these challenges. I pledge to strive to continue to serve not only the interests of the Austrian Jewish community, but also those of Austrian society as a whole. “
He thanked the Austrian government for its “comprehensive response in securing and promoting Jewish life” and underlined “the excellent cooperation and high level of trust between the Jewish community and the authorities, who serve as an example of the rest of Europe ”.
“None of this would have been possible without the systematic efforts of IKG President Oskar Deutsch and Honorary President and Vice President of the European Jewish Congress Ariel Muzicant. That is why I consider that this decoration is not only presented to me personally but to the Jewish community of Austria and its leaders.
Five-part study: “End Anti-Semitism!” “
In addition, Kantor presented an unprecedented and detailed study, titled “An End to Anti-Semitism!” », Carried out under the patronage of Sobotka, the city of Vienna and the EJC. Composed of a five-volume book series, the study is the result of a high-level international conference held in Vienna in 2018 as part of a collaboration between the University of Vienna, New York Universities and of Tel Aviv, and the EJC.
“This is the most ambitious study on the problem of anti-Semitism,” Kantor said, speaking upon the publication’s official release. “More importantly, it details the bases of a united and concerted preventive action plan for the society of today and tomorrow.
“We want to create an academic platform on which we can develop other much simpler and clearer instruments,” Kantor told JNS.
“In every democratic state constitution there should be a direct law that prohibits anti-Semitism in all its forms,” he said. “Second, these books will provide an academic platform for very important social media. Today, people are losing the ability to receive long-term education. We need to create something that is easy to digest and understand from the first word.
Kantor spoke of the need to speak the same language as young people. “They have a different vocabulary,” he said. We must come to them and not wait for them to come to us.
And he spoke about the requirement to ensure that this research is made available to young people in all countries. One idea, he said, is to recruit social media influencers.
“Our goal is to disseminate this study as widely as possible so that it can be used as a force multiplier by governments, academics, religious institutions, the media and other organizations.”
Its objectives are to prevent the continuation of hatred of Jews as it manifests itself in the current political and social climate and in the future. In total, 119 international experts scrutinize the multifaceted problem of anti-Semitism and shed light on its history and specificities. On the basis of their analysis, they offer recommendations for a common and effective fight against anti-Semitism.
Among the authors are renowned political and religious decision-makers, including Katharina von Schnurbein (Coordinator of the European Commission for the fight against anti-Semitism), Natan Sharansky (former president of the Jewish Agency for Israel), Bishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa (Administrator apostolic of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) and Imam Hassen Chalghoumi (president of the Conference of Imams of France).
The study consists of five parts. The first offers practical solutions and recommendations to decision-makers; the second deals with hatred of Jews in religion; the third deals with the history of anti-Semitism; the fourth with its role in philosophy, pedagogy and the social sciences; and the fifth explores manifestations in modern media and in the legal and political worlds.
“Eighty-three years after Kristallnacht and 76 years after the end of the Holocaust, hatred, disinformation, conspiracy theories about Jews and the Jewish state are circulating online more than ever and poisoning hearts and spirits, ”Kantor said. “Thanks to the significant efforts made across Europe, we are seeing great progress at the political level. However, the problem of anti-Semitism in society is unfortunately getting worse.
Responding to a question about how it is possible to overturn the hate ideologies that some young people today are exposed to, Kantor said he believes social media has become more influential on young people than family education. .
“We have to find the way,” he insisted. “We have to speak their language and their values.