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Behind the Headlines Refusing to Forget the Past

December 3, 1984
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Foreign Minister Leopold Gratz told an international group of Jewish journalists covering the series of events here documenting the “Vanished World” of European Jewry that he was “shocked by the extent” of anti-Semitism in Austria revealed in a recently published sociological survey conducted by Dr. Hilde Weiss of the University of Vienna (See related story).

Gratz, who serves as honorary president of the Jewish Welcome Service, which coordinated the “Vanished World” series, said that while “everybody knew there was a percentage of anti-Semitism in Austria” the percentages revealed by the study — 25 percent strong prejudices, 60 percent weak to medium — “came as a shock.” Still he thought it would be “wrong to say that 25 percent of the population are latent Nazis; I don’t think this is true.”

Saying that nobody has been able to provide a “real explanation” of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, Gratz pointed to the finding in the study that anti-Jewish bias is lowest among the youth and in Vienna, where the largest numbers of Jews live, and highest in Tyrol villages where there hasn’t been a Jew in 100 years.

The Foreign Minister, formerly Mayor of Vienna, said he had discussed the issue with the Minister of Education and that “the conclusion can only be to try to intensify education in our schools, and intensify every effort on the part of politicians and educational centers. “The Austrian television officials, he said, “also took the study to heart.”


Even before the study was published and the “Vanished World” project planned, ORF, one of the two Austrian television networks, was working on a documentary on the values, culture, and way of life of East European Jewry. It was shown on television November 21.

The documentary, entitled, “Farvwell from the Shtetl,” was made by Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi of the East European department of the ORF — whose programs are also seen by viewers in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and northern Yugoslavia — in co-production with Westphalian TV. Coudenhove-Kalergi’s crew shot film one week each in Poland and in Israel; Rumania refused to admit them.

It features film sequences of — and interviews with survivors from — various centers of pre-Holocaust Jewish life in Poland, such as Warsaw, Cracow, Lodz and Kotsk. Through the use of old stills, today’s remaining cemaining cemeteries and few Jewish buildings were sharply contrasted with the thriving and vibrant Jewish life of yesteryear that is no more.

Some of the old stills, the film-maker told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, came from a private collection of a Warsaw Jew named Gustav Russ. The photos were in an album of pictures taken by a soldier in World War I and given by someone in World War II to Russ, who was saved by “Schindler’s men.”

To show some of the dynamics of religious Jewish life before the Holocaust, Coudenhove-Kalergi cut in scenes she filmed in Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox quarter in Jerusalem, showing Jews studying, teaching, and celebrating various holidays.

Although a great deal of the focus was on religious activity and learning — said the narrator: “The Torah was the root of the Jewish love for study and books” — the film also included documentation on political organizing by Zionists, the Jewish Labor Bund, and other groups. One Zionist survivor, intervewed in Israel, said: “The religious Jews waited for the Meassiah, the Bund waited for the Revolution. We (Zionists) took our fate into our own hands; we became our own Messiah.”

In the opening narration, Paul Lendvai, a Jew who came to Vienna after the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and who worked on the documentary, spoke about a “fight against forgetting.” In an obvious reference to the “Versunkene (Vanished, literally, sunken) Welt” events, Lendvai said they marked “not only a sunken but an annihilated culture.”


Foreign Minister Gratz, asked by JTA what effect he thought the “Vanished World” series would have in the struggle against anti-Semitism, expressed the view that it would be “beneficial.” He continued:

“It is a wonderful thing to be able to show publicly and in as many ways as possible that Vienna as it is now would not exist without the contribution of Viennese Jews to culture, to science, to architecture; and to show to the Viennese that so many things they are very proud of are in reality a result of the impact of the Jews of Vienna.”

Gratz believes strongly in the future of Austrian Jewry. Fifteen years ago, he said, “one had the feeling that the Jewish community in Vienna was a group of elderly people living with memories they can not forget and dreaming of a past they can never recapture.” Now there are children growing up, young people, schools, he said. “A whole new generation is playing an active role and looking to the future.”

(Tomorrow: Part Five)

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