Vienna — Marina Plistiev, a Kyrgyzstan-born Jew, has lived in Vienna for 34 years but still doesn’t like to take public transport.
She recalls the day in 1986 as a teenager when she and her four-year-old brother, whom she’d collected from school with a fever, were told to get off a tram for having the wrong tickets, and nobody stuck up for them, apparently because they were Jews.
“With me (now), you don’t see I’m Jewish but with my children you see that they’re Jews. They get funny looks,” she told Reuters at Kosherland, the grocery store that she and her husband started 13 years ago.
While Austria is one of the world’s wealthiest, most law-abiding and stable democracies, the anti-Semitism that Plistiev senses quietly lingers in a nation that was once a enthusiastic executor of Nazi Germany’s Holocaust against Jews.
After decades of airbrushing it out of history, Austria has come a long way in acknowledging its Nazi past, and the 75th anniversary on Tuesday of its annexation by Hitler’s Third Reich will be the occasion for various soul-searching ceremonies.
But Jewish leaders who fought hard to win restitution after World War Two are on guard against a rising trend in anti-Semitic incidents, occasionally condemned by Austrian political leaders but seen more generally as a regrettable fact of life.
Austrian Jews have grown more vigilant as hooligans have verbally abused a rabbi, Austria’s popular far-right party chief posted a cartoon widely seen as suggestively anti-Semitic, and a debate has opened on the legality of infant male circumcision.
A new poll timed to coincide with the anniversary found that three of five Austrians want a “strong man” to lead the country and two out of five think things were not all bad under Adolf Hitler. That was more than in previous surveys.