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The history of Vienna - once home to Jewish luminaries of 20th-century culture such as Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Arnold Schoenberg, but later Adolf Eichmann’s testing ground for what would become the “Final Solution” that led to genocide of 6 million Jews - means its Jews are always on the alert.
HOLOCAUST PERFECTED IN VIENNA
“Vienna was a very important place for the fate of all European Jews because the automated driving out of Jews was perfected here,” Joachim Riedl, author of several books on Jewish history and Vienna, said at a recent lecture.
Other incidents further afield have heightened concerns. A radical Islamist gunman killed four Jews in France before being shot dead, Hungary’s far-right leader called for a list of prominent Jews to be drawn up help protect national security, and Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated in Austria’s eastern neighbour.
Seeking to avoid being forever branded as the country that welcomed absorption by the Third Reich and refused to atone for it, Austria has made gestures to underline its disowning of both the Nazi past and previous manifestations of anti-Semitism.
Last year, Vienna renamed part of the elegant Ringstrasse boulevard circling the inner city that had been named after Karl Lueger, the mayor who modernised Vienna in the 19th century but became popular for his anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“We cannot choose our history,” said parliament president Barbara Prammer. “We must bear this responsibility.”
Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Congress advocacy group has seen a marked change since a 1991 poll that he helped design found that most Austrians thought it was time to put the memories of the Holocaust behind them.
“There was still a social anti-Semitism that kind of defied embarrassment,” he said. “The Austrians have come a long way since then, but they had a long way to go.”
Today’s Austrian Jewish community of 15,000 is diverse, formed mainly of post-war immigrants from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.