As we began our morning entering the only surviving synagogue of Kristallnacht, I heard our guide mention the word ‘community.’ A community, defined by Oxford Languages, is a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. Before WWI, approximately 200,000 Jews lived in the community of Vienna; finally having the right to own property and live freely. Yet, once WWI began, the degradation of the community began. The Jewish community endured atrocities at the hands of their Austrian neighbors for no other reason than being Jewish. People they trusted and confided in, people they worked with and shared dinner with, and people their children played with turned on them for their religion and/or racial background. Yet at the end of WWII, many decided to return; approximately 5,500 Jews to be exact, and currently, around 8,800 are practicing in Vienna. Against all odds, the community is growing.
From the synagogue, we walked around the corner to the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute and heard how Simon Wiesenthal ensured he put the perpetrators that tore his community apart to justice. The institute’s director discussed how the actions of Simon and the collaboration of the staff have created a community within itself. The archives that have been created to reflect the restitution of many are housed in this building. They’ve worked with schools in Vienna and now international educational institutions to provide information for students to further understand the atrocities of the Holocaust and get to know those that used to inhabit the once vibrant area. Within this institute, a community of learning has been created.
Finally, as we made our way to the diplomacy academy, we met with members of the Centropa Summer Academy. We talked about how other educators are engaging students in cross-international instruction and Holocaust education. Teachers from Ukraine, Germany, Greece, Isreal, the US, etc. converge in Vienna for a week to learn more about how each other is engaging students in the history of the Holocaust. The keynote speaker, Phillip Bloom discussed how the downfall of democracy promotes the destruction of its people. Nothing is worse than a community lost. With that, the teachers in the audience recognized how important their roles were in educating youth about the past and the present. Without realizing the role we would include ourselves in for the day, educators from CWB created a community with educators from Centropa.
‘Community’ became the theme for the day for me. An entire Community had been destroyed during WWII, a community was created after to promote justice, and now a community is providing education to inform those that are unaware of the occurrences here. Those of us that put our hearts and souls into making sure those that were lost do not get forgotten have now created a new community, and minute by minute, day by day, year by year this community will change the narrative of hate and promote the voice for the voiceless ensuring the adage– Never Again.