Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz visited the Yad Vashem national Holocaust memorial, met with Austrian Holocaust survivors and laid a wreath at the grave of President Shimon Peres Sunday on the first day of a two-day private visit that will culminate Monday with an address to the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum convention, currently meeting in Jerusalem.
The 31-year-old Kurz also broke with standard practice for European heads of state by visiting the Western Wall, as well as several sites in the Christian Quarter of the Old City including the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The 31-year-old Kurz is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday before returning to Vienna.
After meeting at Yad Vashem with Victor Klein, a survivor of the Mauthausen concentration camp that was located in central Austria, about 170 kilometres east fo the capital Vienna, Kurz said that Austrians must take responsibility “our own history” and must ensure that the crimes of genocide are never repeated.
“As the Chancellor of Austria I have to state that Austria and the Austrian people carry a heavy burden for their horrific and shameful crimes committed during the Shoah. But let me assure you that we Austrians know that we are responsible for our history.
“It is our duty and obligation to ensure that the Shoah will never happen again, and that my generation and succeeding generations will never forget these horrible crimes,” Kurz said.
Kurz’s visit takes place under the cloud of Israel’s boycott of government ministers representing the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), including Interior Minister Herbert Kickl and Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl , who is not a member of the FPÖ but was nominated by the party to fill the slot last December. In February, Likud MK Yehuda Glick met with members of the FPÖ, including with party chairman Heinz-Christian Strache.
The Freedom Party was founded in 1956 by Anton Reinthaller, who had previously served as Minister of Agriculture in the Nazi government and as an officer in the Nazi’s SS paramilitary branch. Later, during the 1980s, Nazi admirer Jörg Haider headed the party, eventually joining the government in 2000.
More recently, however, Party chairman Strache has said he has purged the party of anti-Semitic feeling and has spoken strongly in favor of moving the Austrian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The boycott of FPÖ ministers is expected to be on the agenda for Kurz’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday.
By: TPS Staff