The Austrian Second Republic, founded in 1945, repudiated National Socialism. Anti-Semitism was redefined officially as a relic of a hated regime. Anti-Semitism did not cease to exist in 1945, but continues to be part and parcel of Austrian political life and culture. Jews in Austria have had to contend with frequent outbursts of anti-Semitism. Jews are sometimes insulted or pushed down on the sidewalk, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated; however, it seems that not all anti-Semitic incidents are reported to the authorities or by the press.
Austria's first Jewish Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky was by no means generally accepted by Austrian Jews. Kreisky was often accused of inciting anti-Semitism by his political engagements or of being too soft with Nazi perpetrators. His personal conflict with Simon Wiesenthal was a source for criticism as was his engagement in Middle East politics. Viennese Jews would accuse him of being responsible for the terror attacks in the 1980s against the synagogue, the El Al desk and a house in which Jews resided.
A change of generation in the IKG elections of 1981 led to a change in the appearance of the community. It put an effort into public relations in Austria and abroad and managed to show that a lively Jewish community exists in Vienna again. After Bruno Kreisky left the political stage, the climate between the community and the Republic of Austria changed. The community organized, often supported by the City of Vienna, exhibitions, opened a Jewish school, invited Ed Koch, the mayor of New York, to Vienna and organized a conference of the WJC (World Jewish Congress) in Vienna.
Kurt Waldheim Affair
Many Austrian Jews were surprised by the amount of anti-Semitism, which erupted in Austria at the time of the election campaign in 1986, of Kurt Waldheim, a former General Secretary of the UN run for the office of Federal President, and some even considered emigration. During World War II, Waldheim served as an interpreter and intelligence officer for the German army unit that was responsible for the deportation of the Jews of Salonika, Greece, and for brutal action against Yugoslav partisans and civilians.
The IKG blamed not only the conservative People Party which had nominated Waldheim as their candidate and some of whose politicians expressed outright anti-Semitism when trying to defend Waldheim, but also the politics of Bruno Kreisky. Die Gemeinde wrote after the elections that Kreisky and his Socialist party had not always applied strict standards in their approach toward the Nazi past of certain people.
The massive anti-Semitism and the verbal and physical attacks several Jews had to face in Vienna made the IKG act with restraint in the affair, since it did not want to incite anti-Semitism further and be accused of being "traitors". It thought that the statement issued by the WJC was undiplomatic and would only further the anti-Semitic notion of a coalition of "World Jewry" and thus be counter-productive. When strong reactions in Austria to the WJC no longer allowed impartiality, it accused the WJC of endangering the lives of Jews in Austria by its undiplomatic and harsh statement.
In the late 1980's, the Austrian government began reexamining its role in the Holocaust. In July 1991 the Austrian government composed a statement, communicated by Bundeskanzler Franz Vranitzky to the Austrian Parliament, acknowledging Austria's participation in the crimes of the Third Reich.
Several letter bombs were sent to political officials and journalists who were working with Jewish communities in the early 1990's.
Despite government efforts to acknowledge the past and make promises for a better future, Jews still face anti-Semitism. This anti-Semitism is manifested at both public and state levels by vandalism, swastika graffiti and attacks in the press.
The results of a 1996 opinion poll of Austrian attitudes towards Jews, conducted by University of Vienna sociologist Hilde Weiss, suggested the persistence of negative Jewish stereotypes among a significant portion of the population. In response to the statement, 'The Jews are too influential in Austria", 34 per cent agreed (either "completely" or "somewhat") and 56 per cent disagreed (either "completely" or "somewhat"); 26 per cent agreed with the statement, "A lot has been exaggerated in regard to concentration camps and Jewish persecution", and 66 per cent disagreed; 49 per cent agreed that "Jews dominate world affairs" (41 per cent disagreed), while 18 per cent agreed that "Jewish access to influential professions" should be controlled or numerically limited (74 per cent disagreed).
In the national elections on September 1999, the anti-immigration and ultra-nationalist Freedom Party (FPÖ), then led by Jorg Haider, obtained twenty-seven percent of the votes. Subsequently, the Freedom Party joined the new coalition government. After the FPÖ entered the Austrian government, the European Union distanced itself from the country for some months. The EU's fourteen other members declared that relations with the Austrian government would be downgraded to a purely technical level. To mitigate international criticism, the two leaders signed a declaration on February 3, 2000, stating ‘the Federal Government is working for an Austria in which xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism have no place’, as a result of which the EU normalized relations with Austria. In the next elections at the end of 2002, the Freedom Party received only slightly more than ten percent of the vote.
The media are the other major environment where one can find Austrian anti-Semitism. Many racist and anti-Semitic publications continue to appear regularly. The Ostara homepage, a conglomeration of websites, is the main promoter of Austrian right-wing extremism on the Internet.
The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University, reported that during 1998-2004 only a few violent anti-Semitic incidents were registered. But there was a noticeable increase in the virulence of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda, perceived as ‘anti-Zionism’ by both the extreme right and the extreme left. Some of the anti-Semitic propaganda was blended with anti-American, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel expressions after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
Opposition to Anti-Semitism
A small selection of the measures and activities against anti-Semitism in Austria in recent years
Aktion gegen den Antisemitismus ("Action against anti-Semitism"), founded in 1955, has been actively involved with, above all, discussion, activities and teacher training.
The ensemble 10 Saiten 1 Bogen ("10 strings 1 bow"), founded in 1982, has also been involved with this cause for many years now. They have played over one thousand concerts and performed one hundred dialogue plays in schools and education centers.
In the Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck political scientist Andreas Maislinger founded the Gedenkdienst ("Memorial Service"). Since 1992 young men have been given the opportunity to serve their one-year community service (alternative to military service) at Holocaust memorials abroad.
From March to June 1993 a series of events entitled Zerstörte Jüdische Gemeinden im Burgenland. Eine Spurensicherung ("Destroyed Jewish Communities in Burgenland: A Securing of Clues.") have taken place at the adult education center in Eisenstadt, the capital of Burgenland.
The Jewish museums in Eisenstadt, Hohenems (Vorarlberg) and Vienna regularly hold exhibitions dealing with Jewish themes. Every year the Institute for the History of Jews in Austria in St. Pölten, the capital of Lower Austria, where the former synagogue has been restored, hosts an international scientific symposium.
The Jewish Institute for Adult Education in Vienna has become essential to the cause.
Involvement in Catholic and Protestant adult education is also quite extensive. There is a very active Christian-Jewish working group in the Katholische Aktion.
On the occasion of the "100th Anniversary of the Jewish Cemetery in Salzburg" memorial stones were unveiled at the Jewish cemetery in 1993 on the initiative of the regional government of Salzburg. The names on the headstones destroyed during World War II are recorded on these stones. In addition, there are memorial stones for the countless Jewish children who died of disease and malnutrition shortly after the end of the war.
In 1995 a competition, sponsored by the Tyrolean regional government entitled ...Um Nicht Zu Vergessen ("...Not to Forget") was announced, to build a memorial to remember the Jews living in Innsbruck who were murdered during the the Nazi pogrom of November 9th, 1938. A prominent jury, including Innsbruck Diocesan Bishop Reinhold Stecher and Esther Fritsch from the Jewish religious community in Innsbruck, awarded first prize to a sculpture by the 18-year-old student Mario Jörg. The sculpture, which resembles a Menorah, was due to be built in the spring of 1997.
The association Schalom is restoring Jewish cemeteries. Retired businessman Walter Pagler has succeeding in doing the near impossible—thanks to donations from students, religion teachers, the police, soldiers and private people as well as from abroad. 150,000 hours of volunteer work went into the restoration of Jewish graves, completely overgrown for over 50 years, at Vienna's Zentralfriedhof cemetery.
The Austrian government has set up the National Fund for Victims of National Socialism, a fund to assist Holocaust victims from Austria who are in need. The main task of the Nationalfonds is to provide financial support for victims of National Socialism as quickly, flexibly and un-bureaucratically as possible. The law establishing the National Fund for Victims of National Socialism, was passed by the Austrian Parliament in 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Second Republic, in order to "remember all the immense wrong inflicted on millions of human beings by Nazism as well as the fact that Austrians, too, were involved in these crimes." Approximately 20,000 former Austrians all over the world, most of them Jewish, have received payments from the Nationalfonds.