Journalists and television crews wait outside the Palais Coburg Hotel located at Theodor-Herzl square where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria on July 13, 2015..
(photo credit: JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Austria has come a long way since officially denying its role in the Holocaust and then finally accepting responsibility, Chancellor Christian Kern told President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday.
Kern, who came to Israel to participate in this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies, has a personal as well as a political reason for doing so.
His grandmother, he said, had been a housekeeper to an elderly Jewish couple, who when the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, hid in the garret. His grandmother cooked for them, and his mother, now 89, and then a young girl, took the food to them. One day when she brought the food, she saw the Gestapo outside. The elderly couple were never seen or heard from again.
Since early childhood, Kern and his sister had repeatedly been told this story by their mother.
Before being sworn in as chancellor in May 2016, Kern was CEO of Austrian Federal Railways and chairman of the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies.
In this capacity he launched a project to examine the part played by Austrian Railways in the Holocaust and had much of the research done by railway interns in their late teens. They had learned something of the Holocaust at school, but nothing as in depth as what they discovered when doing their research, he said.
In underscoring the importance of perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust, Kern said that it was not only to honor the victims and martyrs, but also for Austria itself, “because it defines the society we want to be.”
Aware of the concerns of Austria’s Jewish community with regard to the resurgence of antisemitism in many parts of Europe, Kern pledged that Austria would stand shoulder to should with its Jewish citizens in fighting this scourge.
In welcoming the chancellor, Rivlin stressed that although Kern has an excellent record in support for Israel and speaking out against hatred of Jews, “Antisemitism and fascism have not disappeared.” Rivlin was confident that under Kern, the struggle against such dangerous prejudices and ideologies would continue.
In referring to the close relations between Jerusalem and Vienna in recent years, Rivlin also credited this in part to Kern’s wife, Eveline Steinberger- Kern, the founder and director of the Blue Minds Company, which specializes in finding solutions to the transformation of energy systems and has a subsidiary in Tel Aviv that develops software for digital energy related services.
Rivlin also spoke of Austria’s expertise in green energy, and said that this is an area in which Israel would like to cooperate.
Kern returned the compliment and said that Israel’s startups and their contribution to the economy serve as a role model to the world.