Yid­disher sheep breeder who shep­herds refugees

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY TOBY AX­EL­ROD BER­LIN

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


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