Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer became the first Austrian head of state to visit Israel in nearly a decade.
His two-day visit that began Monday is aimed at repairing an often tense relationship between his country and the Jewish state.
“It’s true that the relationship between Austria and Israel not always has been an easy one, but I think we are embarking on a new initiative,” Gusenbauer said Monday at the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. “We are opening up a new chapter in our relationship, a chapter of friendship and cooperation.”
Austrians, including political leaders, for many decades saw themselves as Hitler’s first victims during World War II instead of as collaborators with the Nazis’ murderous regime. Most Austrians, in fact, welcomed Nazi Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria, which led to the murder of some 70,000 Austrian Jews during the Holocaust.
Recently, however, Austria has made an effort politically to acknowledge its role in the Holocaust and its responsibilities to its former Jewish citizens and their heirs.
Gusenbauer began his visit by touring the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial.