For too long we looked
Austria’s youthful leader tells the JC about his country’s responsibility for the events of 1938 and how he wants to combat the Jew hate that still taints his homeland
IN HIS woodpanelled office in the imperial federal chancellery, the centre of power for Austria’s leading politicians since the time of the Habsburg monarchy, Sebastian Kurz thumbs through an old edition of the Jewish Chronicle from November 18, 1938. He is doing so as his country prepares to commemorate 80 years since what Austrians call the “November pogrom” — known in Britain by its other Germanic name, Kristallnacht.
The JC’s contemporaneous reporting showed how hooligans bombed and blew up 25 synagogues in Vienna and wrecked its Jewish cemeteries. The November 18 edition specifically details that 25 Jews committed suicide in the Austrian capital during the pogrom, and that trainloads of Jewish prisoners were seen leaving the city. Dr. Taglicht, Vienna’s rabbi, was among those arrested.
When asked for his response, Mr Kurz says: “Austria has looked away far too long and fulfilled its historical responsibility too late.
“Far too many Austrians actively supported these horrors and a lot of them were even perpetrators. But we now have the chance to learn from our history and do everything possible to ensure that history does not repeat itself.”
Mr Kurz, 32, has been Austria’s chancellor since December 2017 when he entered into a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party. He was born in the same year as the Waldheim affair — when it was revealed an Austrian presidential candidate lied about his wartime service with the Wehrmacht — and not even five years old when then-Chancellor Franz Vranitzky first acknowledged Austrian responsibility for the Holocaust.
Mr Kurz represents a generation that grew up in an Austria far more aware than ever before of the Shoah, of antisemitism and its culpability for the Nazi past.
Meeting Holocaust survivors during his school years was paramount, he says, in terms of understanding Austrian history vis-à-vis the Holocaust.
“It was terrible, it was shocking,” he explains, “but it was extremely important for me at
Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Chancellor and leader of the People’s Party, and (right) his coalition partner, Freedom Party leader HeinzChristian Strache