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“This city is something very remarkable. It has a great Jewish history and a great Jewish community, but they have little to do with one another,” said Israeli-born writer and historian Doron Rabinovici, who has lived in Vienna since 1964.
SHOES TOO BIG
“This community is living in shoes that are too big for it,” said Rabinovici, best known in English for his book “Eichmann’s Jews: The Jewish Administration of Holocaust Vienna 1938-1945”.
Before the 1938 annexation, the “Anschluss”, Austria’s Jewish population was 195,000, the same size as present-day Linz, a provincial capital not far from Hitler’s birthplace.
Two-thirds of them were driven out in the “Aryanisation” programme immediately following the Anschluss and all but about 2,000 left behind were killed in concentration camps. Today’s Austrian Jewish community is almost entirely in Vienna.
“The most terrible thing was not the way hundreds of thousands of Austrians celebrated Hitler’s arrival, but the enthusiasm with which they dispossessed the Jews,” recalled Ari Rath, a Holocaust survivor who fled Vienna at the age of 13.
Rath, who went on to become the long-time editor of the Jerusalem Post, was back in the city of his birth speaking to a group of schoolchildren about his experiences, as part of a parliament-sponsored education project.
“We went from being people to non-persons overnight,” he said in fluent German, a language he suppressed for decades.
“It’s a different Austria now, but you cannot forget it took until 41 years after the war … before Austrians began seriously to confront the Nazi past of this country.”