“You all think ‘he’ came here for the United Nations when in reality he came to see the [new] Klimt show here—which we think is more exciting than the United Nations”— joshed Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, welcoming Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern to the Neue Galerie. Introducing him as “very much a friend of Israel and the Jewish people” Lauder told the 100 special guests: “You [and he] are the first people here to see the new “Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age 1900-1918” Exhibit (which officially opened on September 22nd).
“I’ve gotten to know Christian Kern a little bit last night at a very, very long dinner, “ said Lauder. “What impressed me most was [an] exhibition a few years ago [admitting] that they were guilty during World War II of transporting Jewish people…It showed real courage.” [Kern— was a former chief of Austria’s Federal Railway Company (OBB)]. Changing the pace, Lauder turned to the chancellor and jokingly boasted: “Every day we have people coming here from Austria telling us that the coffee and strudel here [at Café Sabarsky] is better than in Vienna.”
Apologizing “for running late” Kern explained “President Obama was unfortunately a bit late.” “There are two particular reasons I am happy—I deeply admire what you have achieved in your life, Mr. Lauder. I appreciate your contribution to the vibrant Jewish life in Vienna for education, for culture, which is outstanding and goes far beyond what someone would expect. The second reason I feel so honored is because I personally had close ties to the Jewish community in Austria and one of the greatest moments in my life was being awarded the [Marietta and Friedrich] Torberg** medal…. who fled the Nazis [and] I strongly believe that today we are at the crossroads and know that the driving forces of globalization and digitization, technical development are changing the landscape of our societies and the economy.”
Chatting with Chancellor Kern I mentioned that I was a Holocaust survivor and had visited Austria and met with Simon Wiesenthal, he responded “But, you look too young!” I attributed it to blueberries. As we were being directed toward the exhibit, Lauder proclaimed: “There is one particular Klimt upstairs (“Adele”) and I spoke to her and she said she didn’t want to go back!”
Among the mix of international and local guests noshing on assorted sushi offerings and other finger foods were Ambassador David Roet, Deputy Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Georg Heindl Austrian Consul General of Austria, and WJC CEO Robert Singer and **Betty Ehrenberg, Executive Director, WJC North America as well as the ever omnipresent Ruth Westheimer.
**The Marietta and Friedrich Torberg Medal was established by Vienna’s Jewish Community in memory of Friedrich Torberg [aka Friedrich Kantor 1908-1979]—an Austrian critic and journalist—and is awarded “ to personalities and initiatives campaigning against anti Semitism, racism…. is given to individuals who fight for an open and vibrant democracy in Austria—against an awakening of the past that cannot be forgotten.”