July 15, 2024
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The Austrian Chancellor’s Powerful Admission

It was just last March when in this very space, The Jewish Link saw impending Polish legislation making it a crime to call death camps “Polish” as a dire warning for the world.

This was an attempt in itself to revise the very history of a complicit Polish citizenry when it came to the extermination of its once-thriving Jewry. Let’s never forget that prior to Germany’s 1939 Polish invasion, some 3.2 million Jews lived in Poland. That number is now under 25,000. Poland’s best-known Jewish monument is the death camp Auschwitz.

So it was a breath of historic fresh air this week when the 31-year-old Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, on a state visit to Israel, fully owned his nation’s tragic contributions to the Nazi’s Final Solution. He admitted that his country looked away from its responsibility far too long.

But not now.

“Austria used to see itself as the first victim of the Nazis,” Kurz told an American Jewish Committee audience in Jerusalem. “And that is true for all of those who fought in the resistance, whom we cannot thank enough. But the ones who gathered in large numbers in Vienna in March 1933 were not victims. And the ones who watched and participated when their neighbors were robbed, thrown out and murdered were no victims. And the ones who committed the terrible mass murder of Jews were not victims at all.”

Instead of penalizing its citizens like Poland for merely acknowledging its role in “hosting” the biggest and most murderous Holocaust death camps, Kurz made it clear that Austrian legislation calls for prosecuting those who would actually deny Austria’s connection. And instead of running from the truth, Kurz talked about educating his nation’s youth on the Holocaust and Austria’s unfortunate role. He spoke of hearing the experiences of survivors and visiting the difficult monuments, including the Mauthausen concentration camp.

While in Israel, the chancellor also visited Holocaust survivors. At a time in history when European anti-Semitism seems to be oozing to the surface of public conversation, it is heartening to hear such a forceful endorsement of truth, both from the past and in the present.

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