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Vandalism and a Survey in Austria Prompt March Against Anti-semitism

At least 5,000 people marched through the rain last Friday in a silent protest against anti-Semitism in Vienna.

The demonstration, occasioned by recent vandalism at a historic Jewish cemetery, may also have been a response to a new poll showing pervasive anti-Semitism throughout Austrian society.

The march, organized by the Austrian Students Association, had the support of almost all of the national political parties. Many members of Parliament participated.

They marched through a heavy downpour from the Judenplatz to the Memorial Against Fascism and Racism, where Professor Anton Pelinka, a political scientist, addressed the crowd.

In the past two years, 72 Jewish graves have been destroyed in the Vienna area. The most recent desecrations occurred the night of Oct. 10.

Several gravestones were toppled and remains scattered at Tor I (Gate 1) of the Zentralfriedhof, or Central Cemetery, where no Jewish burials have taken place since 1938, the year of Adolf Hitler’s annexation of Austria.

Since the vandals struck, security has been tightened around Jewish institutions. Pelinka referred to that when he observed, “It is sad enough that members of the Jewish community have to sit in their synagogues while armed police forces are watching over their security.

“Now, in addition, the unguarded graves are being desecrated,” he said.

The march against anti-Semitism was supported by President Kurt Waldheim, who has served his six years in office under the shadow of a Nazi past.

It had the backing of the Social Democratic Party, the Conservative Party, the Greens and various youth organizations.

Only the center-right Freedom Party remained aloof. Its chairman, Jorg Haider, labeled the cemetery desecrations mere “vandalism.”

Similarly inclined was Mayor Helmut Zilk of Vienna, who insisted that the upturned gravestones were just a “boys’ prank” and not a sample of “Viennese anti-Semitism.”

Zilk is known to have been distressed by an American Jewish Committee-Gallup Institute poll taken here last summer and released last week, which disclosed strong currents of anti-Semitism in a substantial portion of the population.

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