Six former Viennese Jewish high school students who were forced to leave their classes in 1938 when the Nazis took over, were awarded an honorary high school diploma here.
The Austrian Minister for Education and Culture, Herbert Moritz, and the President of the Vienna School Board, Hans Matzenauer, said the awards were intended as a small reparation for the sorrow Jews have had to suffer in Austria.
In an allusion to President-elect Kurt Waldheim, Moritz, a Socialist, added that the awards of the honorary degrees sought to demonstrate that forgetfulness has not become an Austrian virtue.
Of the six men awarded diplomas, only five were present. They are: Dr. Egon Schwarz, a professor at the Washington University in St. Louis; Henry Anatol Grunwald, editor of Time magazine; Dr. Arthur Cooper; Lynton Paul; and Dr. Herbert Lamm. The sixth, Dr. Walter Hirschfeld of the University of Montreal, died only several days earlier.
JEWISH STUDENTS TOLD TO LEAVE
On April 28, 1938, the principal of the gymnasium (high school) at the Schottenbastei in the inner city of Vienna entered the classrooms and told the Jewish students that they would have to leave.
In one class, 23 of 38 students who were Jewish had to end their higher education; in another class, 18 of 40. Altogether, 274 of 634 students, or 43 percent, were forced out of school.
The principal called the action “a renewal of the school that was organized with heart freshening quickness.” His successor today, Karl Hecht, called that day “the darkest day in the history of our school.”
In his speech, Moritz recalled the tens of thousands of Austrian Jews who were not able to flee and who were cruelly murdered in concentration camps. He also mentioned that tens of thousands of Austrians had welcomed Hitler when he annexed his former home country to the Third Reich.
‘MUST COME TO TERMS WITH PAST’
“If we want to educate our youth so that they get a firm and lasting democratic way of thinking,” Moritz said, “we must not forget to come to terms with our past. But this coming to terms cannot comprise suppression, forgetfulness and palliation.”
Moritz pointed to the present curricula in Austrian high schools where students not only are taught current history but also learn to undertake their own research. According to the minister, they carry the discussions about the Nazi era into their families where these things had too often been swept under the carpet.
“It seems that we have suffered a hard blow in our striving for democratic education,” Moritz said. “Still, I do not think that we have to start at zero hour. We have to step up our ambitions, though.”
Moritz added that the presence of people who had been treated with so much injustice in this country “gives reason for hope that they will help us reach our goal.”
In response, Schwarz said that the recent events caused several other former students to change their minds and not come to Vienna for the ceremony. Several others felt that an honorary diploma would not compensate for the injustices suffered.
For those who had come, he said, “We do not consider states and peoples monolithic structures, but as societies compounded of many conflicting forces and powers. We do not want to forget the horrors of the thirties and forties. But nothing prevents us from answering a gesture of rapprochement with readiness to meet.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.