Muslims, Catholics, activists team up to protect Holocaust exhibit in Vienna

The exhibit, which has been running since May 7, includes portraits by German-Italian photographer Luigi Toscano. It has been defaced three times with swastikas and cut with knives.

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May 29, 2019 12:00
2 minute read.
Photos of the exhibit in Vienna on Tuesday as activists gathered to protect it from vandalism

Photos of the exhibit in Vienna on Tuesday as activists gathered to protect it from further vandalism. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Muslim, Catholic and artist activists teamed up on Monday to protect an exhibit of photos of Holocaust survivors in central Vienna after vandals targeted them for a third time.

The exhibit, which has been running since May 7, includes portraits by German-Italian photographer Luigi Toscano. It has been defaced three times with swastikas and cut with knives.

On Monday, after the attack was discovered, local artists from the Nesterval theater group said they would help provide 24-hour protection to the dozens of posters. They were joined by Catholic youth from Caritas and Muslim youth.

“We decided yesterday when we heard the news in the morning that we must do something after it was destroyed,” said a woman who goes by the name Frau Loefberg, an artistic alias. “I am from a theater group in Vienna and we have a big group of actors and performers here and we began asking them if they will participate.” She says that they have volunteered to keep a vigil near the posters until the exhibit ends on Friday.

Muslim youth from the group Muslimische Jugend Osterreich also came.

Loefberg said she heard in the morning about the vandalism. She said there are more than 60 posters and nine were defaced. They have now set about repairing them and gathering to make sure that no one attacks the exhibit again. The artist also came by to see the damage on Tuesday, according to locals.

Loefberg said that seeing the solidarity of different religious groups is inspiring.

Muslims are observing Ramadan this month, and volunteers have come during the day and also to break their fast in the evening.

“We were all horrified by what happened, but this is a light in the darkness – all these different people [coming] and we share food and coffee,” Loefberg said.

She said some members of the Jewish community have also come to see the damage and were shocked. But they have been moved to see the activists there.

“Viennese care about this,” she said. “Of course it was [the] far Right, and swastikas had been put prior to this. So it’s clear,” she said, alleging that neo-Nazis or far-right antisemites are behind the vandalism. “I grew up in Vienna and I think there is an increase in antisemitism and racism,” she noted. “It is more out in the open than in the past. The fact that posters in the heart of the city were attacked is evidence.”

Another man who came from the local Kurdish community said the reaction of Muslims is a unique and positive development. Speaking by phone as rain fell in Vienna on Tuesday afternoon, he said many people were coming to see the photographs.

“Muslims understand that the far Right targets them too, it is a good sign of coexistence to have this harmony and respect,” he said, adding that a recent political scandal in Austria in which a leading right-wing politician was forced to resign has stoked antisemitism, as conspiracies have blamed local Jews and Israel.

The exhibition was put on by the group ESRA Center and has been shown in other cities. The attacks in Austria are unprecedented, however. Die Presse reported that the group is demanding local authorities secure the area. Police said they are checking video surveillance. For now, the local activists will be standing guard.

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