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

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