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"For Austrian society the remembering the year 1938 and the events leading to it - as well as the years that followed - are vitally important."

18.10.2017 | Reden

Speech by Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen on the occasion of the Reception for the Jewish Welcome Service

Excellency, Madam Ambassador of the State of Israel,
Madam Susanne Trauneck, Secretary General of the Jewish Welcome Service, Madam Hannah Lessing, Secretary General of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria,

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to receive you today here in the Hofburg. A very warm welcome to all of you!

When browsing through the guest list I noticed that you have travelled from many different – and distant– countries. You have come from Uruguay, the United States of America, Israel, Denmark and the United Kingdom.

Another reason to say thank you for having made the special effort to be here today. And many thanks as well to all who have made this visit possible.

From wherever you may have travelled there is one thing that you share:
Your roots, the roots of your family are here in Austria.

And: You yourself, or your families, parents, and grandparents, were excluded and outcast, thrown out of school, chased from your homes. And last but not least forced to leave Austria.

Many had to leave hastily - under appalling circumstances – their homes, their country in order to find cover and protection from merciless persecution, from extermination camps and death marches.

And most or probably all of you have relatives who were murdered. There is no need for me to remind any of you of this time. And I am very well aware that I am probably not even able to find the right words to describe your pain and agony.

For Austrian society remembering the year 1938 and the events leading to it - as well as the years that followed - are vitally important.

Austria has a particular, a special, responsibility towards you. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before our meeting today, I was not only thinking about you as individuals, about your fate and your lives. I also thought about the gigantic loss Austria had inflicted on herself at that time.

In your current homelands you have made a contribution in so many ways: Your varied talents and engagement as well as your professional know-how.

Many of you were or became parents, brought-up children and grandchildren, passed on values and became valuable members of society. If your life had been different you would have most probably invested all this here in Austria.

You know it and I know it: Our country has lost a wealth of creativity and knowledge, of spirit and culture, of diversity and togetherness.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a special gesture that in spite of everything in the spirit of forgiveness you have returned to your roots. I humbly thank you for that.

And I would like to emphasize that this means a lot to me not only as President of Austria but also personally.

For many years the Republic of Austria was not adequately prepared to face its history.

It was only during the Presidential election of 1986 and the years to follow that this attitude changed. It was often the young generation, unencumbered by history who addressed the darker chapters of Austrian history.

This led to political changes and to a new sense of awareness. Almost 40 years ago the Jewish Welcome Service was founded by Leon Zelman. I am pleased that Madam Trauneck, The Secretary General of the Jewish Welcome Service and her team has invited you – and many before you – to come to Vienna.

Thank you.

It was only in the middle of the 1990s that two establishments in Vienna were founded which were dedicated to those who had suffered under the regime of the National Socialists.

I am very happy that – since 1995 – the National Fund of the Republic of Austria has been supporting victims and survivors of National Socialism. The Fund finances commemoration projects as well as organizations which look after survivors.

I am pleased that the Secretary General of the National Fund, Madam Hannah Lessing, is here with us today.

In 1994 the psycho-social centre ESRA was founded by the Jewish Community and the City of Vienna. It is a centre which offers medical treatment to holocaust survivors and looks after them with the help of social workers.

ESRA also offers comprehensive support for victims living overseas in their claims against Austria. I would like to extend a very warm welcome to the secretary of the Organisation ESRA, Mr. Peter Schwarz.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our get-together here in the Hofburg today is very important for me. I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that today we live in a different, a democratic socially and politically stable Austria.

An Austria where there is no space and no tolerance for antisemitism.

An Austria which welcomes you wholeheartedly and would like you to be a part of it!

I wish you pleasant and interesting days in Austria and sincerely hope that your visit will stimulate and strengthen your relation with Austria.

Thank you for being here today.