The City Temple is the only surviving synagogue from pre 1938 Vienna. At one time there were 50 synagogues. This particular one sits in the heart of the city and was the center of the Jewish community. It is more than likely for that reason that it may have been spared by the Nazis in November 1938 when the pogrom occurred against Jewish Vienna. Today it remains a place of worship but also a location to teach about Jewish life in Vienna before the nazi occupation and after. It remains an important resource for todays Viennese Jews and for visitors from around the world who want to learn more about the importance of Jewish Viennese culture and history. The synagogue has persisted in its pursuit to remain a significant part of the Viennese Jewish community of which today there are about 8,000 with 20 other synagogues.
The Simon Wiesenthal institute was created following the death of Wiesenthal in2005. He was a survivor of the Holocaust and spent the remainder of his life in pursuit of the perpetrators helping to get 1000 of them brought to justice. But he was also passionate about recording the survivors testimonies and the crimes committed against them. He passionately fought against prejudice, violence, and the desire of Austria to forget its role in the Shoah all while living in Vienna. All though urged by many including his wife to immigrate he wanted to stay in his home city and pursue justice for the victims. Therefore towards the end of his life he worked to ensure that his extensive research would be preserved. In his last remaining years he pursued a location to house his files. A location and funds were eventually found including being partially funded by the city of Vienna. This is a testament that Austria is beginning to reconcile itself to its role in the Holocaust this did not begin to happen until after the 1990s when discussions occurred over the controversial background of a presidential candidate and his role during the war. Today Holocaust education is now mandatory in Austrian schools and students learn about the role Austrians played in the persecution of the victims. The institute has digitized all Wiesenthals records and provides access to them as well as workshops and opportunities for researchers and educators.
Centropa is an organization that was established to provide teachers with the opportunity to learn more about the Holocaust though an immersive on location workshop. The seminar brings in teachers from all over the world who visit sites of the Holocaust as well as important historical of events pre-World War II Jewish history. The teachers are then given the opportunity to create lesson plans in collaborative sessions. The teachers learn from he locations visited, from scholars and experts but also from each other. Teachers were in attendance from many American states and all over Europe including war torn Ukraine. I had the privilege of having lunch with teachers from New Jersey, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The conversations were impactful and we discussed the different approaches our countries each take on how to present or study certain aspects of history. Often the best resource teachers can have is each other. It is remarkable to be in a room full of other deeply dedicated educators from all over the world who feel passionately about creating a more tolerate future.
On a former open green space between the national bank and a prison in the city of Vienna is a wall of memorial to the 65,000 Austrian victims of the Holocaust. It is a stunning curved wall of tablets that bear the names and birthdates of the victims. This memorial is an example of persistence. It took years and years for it to even be considered. And it took until recently for the Austrian government to soften to the idea of remembrance. And even then it seemed an impossible task due to location restraints and monetary concerns. But yet through the vision and passion of a few individual’s like Hannah Lessner it became a reality and was dedicated in 2021.
Now it is a location that people can visit to remember and reflect. It is a place to mourn for the survivors, descendants or families of the victims. It is a place to remind us that 65,000 happens one human life at a time. And as you see someone who shares your birthdate or name the horror of the suffering and of the lives cut short becomes more visceral.
At the Wiesenthal center we were told that students need to be taught about the Holocaust in a way that it hits them in their heart because with their heads they can never truly contemplate the tragedy of the Holocaust or how it relates to them. It is numbers, facts, and statistics. But by impacting their heart they will carry those lessons forever that it is a story of human tragedy, of how humans can destroy one another if we do nothing to stop it.
We learned about the importance of persistence whether it was Wiesenthal with his tireless pursuit of justice or the dream of a memorial or the vision of establishing workshops for teachers from
around the world.
And through resources, persistence, and working together hopefully we can can help future generations create a more tolerate world