An Austrian Parliament event partially devoted to women survivors of the Holocaust is reaping a whirlwind of criticism because it honors a German-born American Jewish woman who opposes Israel’s existence and is hosted by a conspiracy theorist who believes Israel knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.
“She [Hedy Epstein] is not a survivor in the classical sense,” Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. “She is a notorious anti-Zionist who doesn’t miss an opportunity to exploit her biography to attack Israel. If they [Austria’s parliament] want to talk about the Holocaust, they chose the wrong person. If they want to bash Israel, they chose the right person.”
Zuroff said the choice of Epstein is “absurd” and they “should disinvite her because they are making a mockery of their event.”
The early March event titled “In Grandmother’s Words…The Fate of Women in the Second World War” invited Hedy Epstein as a witness of the Holocaust to talk about her experiences. She fled Nazi Germany in 1939 with the British-sponsored Kindertransport operation.
Speaking from Vienna, the Austrian Jewish journalist Karl Pfeifer told the Post
: “I find it really awful that this happens in the week of the 78th anniversary of the Anschluss when the Nazis called the population to boycott the Jews and now people like Hedy Epstein want to boycott the only democratic country in the Middle East and its citizens.”
Pfeifer, who fled the Austrian Nazi movement in 1938, said that Austrian Parliament President Doris Bures “should think again about her invitation to Epstein. It legitimatize a hate movement against Israel. In the end, a boycott of Israel will not help in any way the Palestinians. It helps Palestinians who want to perpetuate the conflict with Israel.”
Epstein supports the radical US group Code Pink. The mayor of the German town of Bayreuth pulled the plug last week on her support for the city’s tolerance award to Code Pink because of its participation in a conference with Holocaust deniers in Tehran and its call for Israel to be abolished.
Reached by telephone from her home in St. Louis on Saturday, the 91-year-old Epstein told the Post
: “I wish Israel didn’t come about but it is reality.”
She said there are “conditions are under which it [Israel] has a right to exist.” She said it has to accept non-Jews and be democratic. If Israel meets the two conditions, “it will not be a Jewish state,” added Epstein, who believes in a one-state solution. She agreed with the description of herself as an “anti-Zionist.”
Asked if she has compared Israel to Nazi Germany, she said: “There are similarities between Israel and the Nazis but they are separate entities.” However, she insisted that she has not made a direct comparison between the Hitler movement and Israel.
She opposes the European Union and American designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization. She said Hamas was “democratically elected.”
Asked if Hezbollah and al-Qaida are terrorist organizations, she said: “They may be but I am not an expert on designated terrorist organizations.” When questioned about Hamas terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, she said: “Hamas has a right to defend themselves.”
She said the Holocaust Museums in Washington D.C and St. Louis confirmed her biography as a Holocaust survivor because she “lived under the Nazi regime from 1933-1939.” Asked with whom she spoke, she declined to provide the names because she wishes to “not cause them problems.”
Epstein advocates an economic boycott of Israel. She is part of the “Free Gaza Movement” and attempted to participate in flotilla actions to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Samuel Laster, the Israeli-born editor-in-chief of the Vienna-based news website Die Juedische
, told the Post
on Saturday that “Epstein, ‘the Holocaust survivor,’ instrumentalizes her role against Israel and is for haters of Jews like the organizers of the Gaza Flotilla apparently a political lotto jackpot. It is regrettable and unnecessary that Doris Bures participates in an event with haters of Israel.”
Raimund Fastenbauer, general secretary of Vienna’s Jewish community, told the Post
via telephone on Saturday that the community “will contact the parliament on Monday and express our concerns.”
Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld , the director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies at Indiana University, wrote a 2014 op-ed in The Forward
in which he described Epstein as part of the “moral emptiness of Holocaust survivors who took on Israel.”
He notes Epstein “likes garnering public attention as a ‘survivor,’ although whether she is one is debatable.”
Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, questioned why the Austrian parliament and the organizers of the event did not invite women who survived the end of the Holocaust.
Last month, the German Parliament honored Ruth Klüger on International Holocaust Day. Klüger, an Austrian-born Jew, survived Auschwitz and delivered a talk to the MPs of the Bundestag.
“The moderator of this event and the inventor of this project is Heather Wokusch, who is part of the 9-11 Truther movement,” said Pfeifer, the Austrian Jewish journalist. The Truthers are wild conspiracy theorists who dispute the US government report that al-Qaida terrorists attacked America on 9/11.
According to an article on the fringe AntiWar.com website, Wokusch wrote a 2004 article titled “Infamy: Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and the Coming Outrage.”
She wrote: “As a sidelight, there's an interesting connection between the Pentagon spy scandal and Sept. 11: allegations that Israeli intelligence may have known about the 9/11 attacks in advance and not told the United States.”
She asked in the article: “So where does all of this leave us as the third anniversary of 9/11 approaches? With more questions than answers. Whodunit? Should we blame Osama and the hijackers, Saudi funders, Israeli intelligence agents, the Bush administration or some combination? And when will we ever learn the truth?”
Dr. Klaus Unterberger, an editor with ORF Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, is slated to co-host the event with Wokusch. He and ORF are listed on the program. The Austrian parliament’s president, Bures, will deliver the opening remarks. The Jerusalem Post
’s email and telephone queries to parliament spokesman Stefan Franzel and Bures were not immediately answered.
A spokeswoman for ORF, Karin Wögerer, told the Post
that she would pass along Post
media queries to Unterberger, who did not immediately respond. Post
press queries to Wokusch’s website and email were not immediately returned.