Austria honors director of Jewish heritage organization

(JTA) – Austria bestowed a special honor on Edward Serotta, the American photographer and director of Centropa, a Vienna-based institute dedicated to preserving the memory of Jewish life in central and eastern Europe.

At a ceremony Thursday at the Austrian Parliament in Vienna, Parliament President Barbara Prammer presented Serotta, a native of Savannah, Ga., with the Grand Decoration of Honor for Services to the Republic of Austria.

Speakers at the ceremony included Vienna Chief Rabbi Chaim Eisenberg and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who was in Vienna for the parliamentary meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"Austria lost something precious during the Holocaust,” Cardin said.  “It was destroyed. With Centropa, Austria has just a small part of that back."

Established in 1997, Centropa — the Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation – has conducted interviews with hundreds of Jews in a number of countries in eastern and central Europe and uploaded them as a searchable database along with an archive of family photographs of the interviewees.

Centropa, which promotes the fostering of educational programs about Jewish life and cultures, uses these materials for exhibitions, films and books and also as the basis of educational programs about Jewish life, culture, and history.

It has received more than $2.5 million since its was founded from various Austrian ministries, city offices and regional states.

Among the guests at the award ceremony were nearly 60 members of a monthly club established by Centropa in Vienna for the 100 Austrian Holocaust survivors interviewed for its database.

At Serotta’s request, Prammer’s office flew in Stefan Sablic, a Sephardic singer from Belgrade, who performed three songs in Ladino during the ceremony.  

"I am extremely proud," Serotta told JTA. "And I’m extremely moved that so many Holocaust survivors from our club braved the freezing weather to attend this event."

Also, he added, "This is probably the first time that Ladino was sung in the Austrian Parliament."

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