Speech of Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at the AJC forum in Israel
Ladies and gentlemen! Dear friends!
Thank you very much for inviting me, it´s a big honor for me to be here in Israel. Especially in this year, when Israel is celebrating a very special birthday, its 70th anniversary. And to honor this occasion, it is a great symbol that the American Jewish Committee decided to host its Global Forum here in Jerusalem. I’m indeed honored to have the opportunity to speak here in front of you today and I’d like to thank the American Jewish Committee and especially its CEO David Harris for their invitation, thank you very much. 70 years ago, Israel was built on the devastation that was left behind the Second World War. Today it is a stronghold of democracy and liberty in the Middle East. 70 years ago, Jews from around the world started to build up their country from nothing. Today, Israel is a world leader in innovation and technology. 70 years ago, many people came to Israel full of hopes and dreams. And today, their hopes and dreams have come true. And may we never forget what these brave men and women, the pioneers of this country, had to go through in the first half of the last century. We can only begin to truly understand the suffering that people experienced during this time by talking to survivors.
For me the first time I had the honor to talk to holocaust survivors was at high school age. And I can still remember this very well. I heard stories of personal hardship, of losing entire families and what it feels like to be abandoned by your country, your neighbors, your friends. As painful as it felt, as difficult as it was to understand, it was essential to hear their stories to get a sense for the suffering of so many people. And because my generation is one of the very last to be able to have such conversations, I think we have an important responsibility to listen carefully to what happened, and to take these lessons to heart. One of the things that I have realized in these conversations is that: "We are not only responsible for what we do, but also for what we do not do". And as the representative of Austria, I have to admit that there were many people in Austria who did nothing to fight the Nazi regime. Far too many actively supported these horrors and even were perpetrators.
Austria used to see itself as the first victim of the Nazis. That is certainly true for all those who fought in the resistance, whom we cannot thank enough. But the ones who gathered in large numbers in Vienna in March 1938 were not victims. The ones who watched and participated when their neighbors were robbed, thrown out and murdered were not victims. And the ones who committed the terrible mass murder of Jews were not victims at all. To remember means to admit the truth. At that time, many Austrians supported a system which killed over 6 million Jews from all over Europe and beyond, among them more than 60,000 fellow Austrian Jewish citizens in Austria alone!
Ladies and gentlemen!
It took Austria a long time to be honest about its past. We have realized that Austria was not only a victim, but also a perpetrator, and we have taken concrete actions. Nevertheless, Austria has looked away far too long and has fulfilled its historical responsibility too late. The vast majority of the over 100,000 displaced Austrian holocaust survivors were not invited to come back after the war. Humiliated and robbed, they were no longer welcome in our country. For that, Austria and Austrians carry a heavy burden. And we all know: history cannot be undone. But let me assure you: We Austrians know that because of our history, we have a great responsibility. 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! Therefore Austria’s legislation is very clear: any kind of neo-Nazi activity, including Holocaust denial, is strictly forbidden. But not only legislation, also education is key in order to prevent new generations from repeating the failures of the past. We therefore have been fostering a culture of commemoration in our schools. And it is our goal to bring as many students as possible to memorial sites like Mauthausen in Austria so that they can see with their own eyes the evils that were committed. Only a few weeks ago, my government decided to support the creation of a new memorial site in Vienna where all Jewish victims of the Shoah from Austria will be remembered by name. This memorial is meant as a place of personal remembrance for the survivors, the children and grandchildren of the victims, and for all of us together. And yesterday here in Jerusalem, we were able to announce that the Austrian government will fund the creation of the new Shoah Heritage Collection Center at Yad Vashem with one million Euro.
However, commemorating is not enough. We also have to learn from the past. And the most important lesson from the past is that we must actively protect our rule of law our democracy and fight each and every kind of extremism and intolerance. I personally find it unbelievable and unacceptable that even 80 years after the Shoah began, Antisemitism still exists in our world. Austria bears a special historical responsibility in this context: to support Jewish life in our country and to protect it against all forms of Antisemitism. No matter if it has been present for a long time or it is newly imported, there is and shall never be room for it in Austria and in Europe – and we will continue to fight for that every day. However, our historical responsibility does not end at our borders. We also have a special responsibility towards the State of Israel and the security needs of the Jewish people here – more than we have assumed and lived it as Austria in the past. Therefore it was of utmost importance to me that our newly formed government has a pro-active agenda when it comes to supporting the state of Israel. And for the first time there is a clear and formal commitment in the coalition program to Israel as a Jewish state.
As Austrians we will support Israel whenever it is threatened. We will be committed to the historical moral obligation that we have as Austrians towards the security of Israel within our capacity as a neutral country.
It’s our moral obligation, that this is part of our “Staatsräson”, meaning in the national interest of my home country. This means: the security of Israel and the Jewish people are not negotiable to us. We understand the serious security threats Israel is facing. We therefore fully condemn all acts of violence, inside Israel, at its borders and beyond. The security situation of Israel is not comparable to any other country. Because we all know: When it comes to war, other countries may lose one or more battles, but can still survive. With Israel, it’s different. Israel is a strong but very small country. It cannot afford to lose even one single battle, as this would determine its end. But I truly hope that the future for the Middle East will not bring further wars but that the region can grow together in peace. That not only a two-state-solution is possible through bilateral negotiations of the two parties but also the region at large will be able to settle its existing conflicts. And I’m perfectly aware of the stabilizing role Israel is playing in that, and we are very grateful for that. It is not only important for peace and security in the Middle East but also for peace and stability in Europe and beyond. And we all have to remember that Europe too had to heal after the Second World War
And it took commitment from all sides to achieve this. Today, my generation takes it for granted to be able to study in Spain or work in France. Today, my generation takes it for granted that Austrian companies are invested in Poland or Hungary. Today, we take it for granted that tourists from all over Europe come to visit Vienna or ski in the alps. But it was not always like this. If we look at the situation in the Middle East one might have the impression that peace and cooperation will never be possible in this part of the world. As in Europe after the war, however, this takes commitment and patience. And for sure Israel cannot achieve this goal alone, commitment to a peaceful future is needed from all sides. And I can assure you Austria will keep on reminding its counterparts in the Middle East that Israel is here to stay.
Ladies and Gentleman!
Let me state very clearly: Austria supports Israel and the global fight against Antisemitism not for political or economic reasons, but as part of our friendship, of our moral obligation and to humanity. Only if Jewish people can live without restriction in peace and security the eternal call "never forget" can truly become a "never again".