Austria recalls Nazi takeover, kindertransport rescuers

On Friday, Austrian Minister of Transport Werner Faymann will unveil a statue to commemorate the kindertransport

kindertransport 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
kindertransport 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Austria is set to honor the work of the kindertransport and those who helped with the rescue mission that took place in the months leading to the outbreak of World War II, with a special ceremony on Friday at the Westbahnhoff, Vienna railway station. On Friday, Austrian Minister of Transport Werner Faymann will unveil a statue to commemorate the kindertransport and a plaque to honor Britain, which took in nearly 10,000 Jewish children from Europe. The commemoration will honor the different rescuers, including Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, a British rabbi who personally rescued thousands of Jews, and the role of the Quakers and the Christadelphians. The statue is the work of Flor Kent, a Jewish Venezuelan artist living in London. Following the unveiling ceremony and speeches, a kosher celebratory meal will be served on the station platform. The commemoration will later move to the Vienna Synagogue, built in 1824 and the only synagogue to survive the Nazis, for special Friday evening services led by Austrian Chief Rabbi Chaim Eisenberg. In November 1938, days after Kristallnacht, a delegation of British Jewish leaders appealed in person to then-prime minister Neville Chamberlain to permit the temporary admission of Jewish children to the country. After a debate in parliament, the British government agreed to allow unaccompanied children under the age of 17. No limit to the number of refugees was ever publicly announced, and the Jewish community had to pay guarantees for the refugee children. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Austria solemnly marked the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's takeover with a joint session of parliament and the planned lighting of candles in memory of Holocaust victims on the same square where Hitler got a warm welcome in 1938. Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and President Heinz Fischer presided over a parliamentary session for speeches about Hitler's annexation of Austria. Outside parliament, on the sprawling Heldenplatz, or Heroes' Square, people planned to gather early Wednesday evening for a "Night of Silence" to light 80,000 candles, one in memory of each of the Austrian Jews and others who perished. Wednesday's mood was somber, with the commemorations all geared to reminding the alpine nation of the horrors of the regime. Barbara Prammer, president of Austria's lower house of parliament, reminded lawmakers that the country shared responsibility for Nazi atrocities because of its complicity. Prammer dismissed the notion that Austrians were somehow forced to commit crimes as a "fiction of history" that emerged after World War II ended in 1945. "The Nazis didn't just come in from the outside," added Helmut Kritzinger, who heads the Bundesrat, or upper house of parliament. Gusenbauer announced that his government would build a Simon Wiesenthal Center in honor of the late Nazi hunter who died in 2005. He said the institute would serve as a world center for Holocaust research, as well as "a memorial for all that shall never be forgotten." The government also said Wednesday that it was taking over the chairmanship of an international task force dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, research and education. The Czech Republic previously oversaw the task force, which was set up in 1998.