Yiddisher sheep breeder who shepherds refugees
AS EUROPE is gripped by the refugee crisis, one Austrian farmer with Jewish roots is playing his part to alleviate the suffering.
Hans Breuer — who runs a sheep farm near Vienna — has been picking up refugees from a Hungarian camp and driving them to a location close to the Austrian border, to help them on their way into the heart of Europe.
On one occasion, Mr Breuer, 61 — who is also a performer of Yiddish songs — regaled his Palestinian-Syrian passengers with the tune Oyfn Veg, Shteyt a Boym (“There is a tree along the road…”, a poem by 20th-century Yiddish poet Itzik Manger).
By the end of the trip, which a friend documented and put on YouTube, they were all singing the Yiddish refrain together.
The video was “not at all planned”, Mr Breuer said. “I picked them up in front of the Hungarian refugee camp Vamosszabadi and drove them [about 40 miles] to the Hegyeshalom train station.”
Mr Breuer said he conversed with them through gestures and a few words.
He had signalled a Syrian woman to follow him with her four children. They
Breuer in his car with a refugee were nervous: “We were both afraid of Hungarian police,” he said.
“When she sat in my car I asked them all: ‘Where do you come from?’
“They all answered: ‘Syria. And Palestine,’ said the mother. ‘And I am Jewish,’ I said. Immediately we made a great handshake and everybody laughed. ‘Christians, Yahudi, Muslim... no difference, everywhere the good and the bad,’ they said, we said.”
He explained the meaning of the bittersweet song — about a child who longs to fly away, and a mother who holds him back.
“They liked my song, and afterwards I said: ‘Now you have learned your first Yahudi song! Welcome to Europe.’ And they laughed a lot.”
But the mother also understood the emotion of the song, he said, and as he left the family on the side of the road he drove off “crying with tears”.
Mr Breuer, whose father was “a secular Jew and political refugee at age 18”, wrote that he “cannot watch children, women, young families suffer just in front of our door”.
It was also important for him to share his Jewish identity: “Jewish people have played a big part in many struggles for humanity and I wanted them to know that not all Jews are their enemies, but they knew already,” he said.
Reportedly, since the video started to catch on, Mr Breuer has received both positive and negative responses. Some have criticised him for helping Muslims into Europe.
But “all stereotypes may tumble down in one moment of deep understanding, when you really meet a mensch of whatever culture”, said Mr Breuer.
He plans to stay in touch with some of the many refugees he has met, and invite them to visit “when they are established somewhere in our golden Europe”.
Meanwhile, he continues to volunteer — and is seeking donations to cover the fuel costs.
The shepherd with his flock in the hills above Vienna