Empfang für Jewish Welcome Service in der Hofburg

»NEVER AGAIN is now!«

Address by Austrian Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen at the Reception for the Guests of the Jewish Welcome Service

Dear guests,

it is an honour and pleasure to welcome you here at the Hofburg in Vienna.

The Jewish Welcome Service was initiated over 40 years ago by Leon Zelman. In my capacity as President, I have had several opportunities to greet groups like yours.

The difference is: Just a few years ago, these groups from the Jewish Welcome Service primarily consisted of individuals who themselves were forced to flee Austria.

Today, under this program, the visitors are mainly children or grandchildren of those who survived Nazi persecution. It is good to see you. It is good that you carry on this tradition of encounters and exchange, that you keep the memory alive for those who are no longer able to come here.

And it is good that you have found your way to Austria even though Israel is experiencing difficult times.

You know, the last time, I received guests in the framework of the Jewish Welcome Service’s invitation programme was on October 18 – just 11 days after the horrible massacre by Hamas.

At that time, 14 guests from Israel had to cancel their planned visit given the circumstances. I am very pleased that two of them are with us today. I hope we will be able to welcome the other 12 soon.

It is impossible to understand how much you as well as Jewish communities all around the world have been hurt, heartbroken and traumatised by the terrible Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October.

Israel is more than just another country. Israel was a refuge for many of your ancestors who fled during the Nazi dictatorship during the war. Some left for Israel only after the war or even after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Israel was and is supposed to be a safe haven for Jews from around the world. Its sole existence instils pride and self-confidence in Jews, enabling them to live in the world with their heads held high.

And then, there was the 7th of October.

We all saw the images of the massacre committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians. Peaceful citizens living in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas terrorists committed a pogrom, which nobody had thought possible. So cruel and bloodthirsty, it is still hard to believe that it happened.

Personally, I found it unbearable to watch the videos that were published on social media platforms. I must admit that I myself have not overcome the pictures I saw.  But one thing is clear: When Jews are hunted, persecuted, and murdered again, Austria and the world must not remain silent. 


The often-stated "Never again" is today more relevant than ever. The events of 7 October and the war that came after that brought to the surface an anti-semitism that never completely gone away.

That had been simmering beneath the surface everywhere. In Austria, in Europe, in the entire world. This is not acceptable.  NEVER AGAIN is now!

All people deserve to live in peace. This is true for Israelis – and also for Palestinians. But the pursuit of peace, the desire for self-determination and freedom for all people cannot be achieved or compatible with hatred and anti-semitism.

Your visit to Austria is particularly significant.

It is significant because it is a sign that Austria hasn't forgotten its darkest chapter in history and has learned and drawn consequences from it.

It took the Republic of Austria and large parts of its society too many years to acknowledge its responsibility for the atrocities inflicted upon Jews during the Nazi regime. After Austria's liberation in in 1945, many facts about our responsibility for the crimes committed were conveniently suppressed.

It was only in the 1980s that Austria's attitude towards its history began to change. Younger generations took a critical look at Austria's past. They started asking their parents and grandparents uncomfortable questions.

A new awareness emerged in society, and by the early 1990s, the Republic of Austria publicly and unequivocally acknowledged its darkest chapters in our history. 

The Jewish Welcome Service had already been created in 1980 but now, all of a sudden, many things were possible:

In 1994, the Psychosocial Center ESRA was established by the Jewish Community and the City of Vienna. It provides care services for Holocaust survivors and supports those who had to flee Austria to file their claims.

In 1995, the National Fund of the Republic of Austria was created. It supports Holocaust survivors in difficult life situations as well as commemorative and educational projects in the fight against anti-Semitism.

And recently, amendments to the citizenship law have made it easier for descendants of Holocaust victims to acquire Austrian citizenship. This strengthens and deepens the relationship between families of once Austrian Jewish families and today’s Austria.

These steps taken are crucial for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

And they are crucial for Austria and Austrian society as a means to recognize and acknowledge the fate and suffering of your families and to take responsibility for it.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

if I have one message for you, then it is this: You are a part of Austria.

Regardless of whether you regularly visit Austria or have Austrian citizenship. Even if you live far away, you belong to this country. I thank you for your visit.

Empfang für Jewish Welcome Service 14. März 2024
Empfang für Jewish Welcome Service 14. März 2024

Fotos: Peter Lechner/HBF