Heinz-Christian Strache with other representatives of the FPÖ in Israel, December 2010
- For freedom of the individual and a free market economy as the foundation of wealth and democracy
- For a Europe that solves problems together but respects national decisions, and makes democratic decisions
- For immigration and integration policies that serve the interests of the majority, and sensible refugee policies
- Against Islamism and anti-Semitism
Schlaglichter is run by the Austrian Jewish writer Peter Sichrovsky, who used to be respectable until he became conservative and joined the FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, Austrian Freedom Party). He served in the European Parliament for eight years, after which he left the party.
His article addresses his former party and its relations with Austrian Jews. JLH, who translated the piece for Gates of Vienna, describes it “as an insider’s look at what is awry in relations between the FPÖ and Jews and Israel, by way of the self-reflective memorandum of a Child of Survivors.”
The translated article:
The FPÖ and the Jews
by Peter Sichrovsky
January 4, 2018
Why Jews do not like Strache and he will never understand them
The vehement letter of representatives of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in which the FPÖ is described as the successor to the National Socialists and which contains the order of the Israeli Prime Minister to prevent any minister-level contact with them, came as a shock to the FPÖ. It had seemed so clear that there were things in common here. In Israel too, a real coalition was in control — as Strache said in a letter to Netanyahu — and he would immediately recognize Jerusalem as the capital. Like Jewish communities in Europe, we (the FPÖ) recognize the danger of anti-Semitism through refugees from Arab countries and have even visited the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. What more (dammit all!) are we supposed to do?
Apparently the FPÖ’s advisers on Israel and Judaism are as expertly qualified as I am to offer advice on animal husbandry in the Alps. There is no other explanation for the many mistakes and false assessments of reality. Perhaps this essay will help many to better understand the situation — to comprehend that all the trips to Israel, all the nice letters and blandishments, will change nothing, so long as the FPÖ cannot or will not normalize its relationship with the Austrian Jewish community.
The second and third generation
I was born shortly after the end of the war. I grew up in Vienna as a non-religious Jew, with parents who believed the solution to anti-Semitism was Communism — no Jewish festivals and visits to synagogues. As a 17-year-old, I went on a trip to Auschwitz. It was this trip that shook me out of my indifference and denial, interrupted my long unconsciousness of my origin. It was as if someone had pushed a hot needle into my skin, which would not cool off. In this camp, where my grandmother and other relatives were killed, the mass murder, which I recognized from endless repetitions in books, films and the survivor stories of my parents’ friends, distilled into an unbearable feeling.
I separated from the group touring the museum and stood for minutes in front of individual display cases. It was not a huge mound of glasses, hair, suitcases and toothbrushes of the murdered lying there behind the glass walls — it was my grandmother’s hair and the suitcase and spectacles of my father’s younger sister. I caught myself trying to read the inscriptions on the luggage, and the addresses on the labels still hanging on the handles. As if I had been taken back to the scene of a crime, to identify the remains of my relatives.
Later, I caught up to the group, waiting at the bus. On the return trip, I was sitting next to a girl of my age. We said nothing for a time, until she began the conversation that influenced me in the coming decades. “I don’t know, I imagine that I saw my uncle’s name on one of the suitcases,” she said quietly. I looked at her in astonishment: “You were looking for names too?”
She nodded. We were quiet for a few minutes, then I asked: “Does that ever stop? Will there be moment when we forget everything?”
“No, we don’t have a chance. Maybe our children,” she answered, and suddenly I understood why — in spite of my parents’ flight from Judaism — I often felt so alien in a non-Jewish environment, but so understood here in the bus with other children of survivors. Life with survivors made the past into the present. Who else could understand that?
Most of my parents’ friends were leftists, or at least communist sympathizers and socialists, convinced atheists. There was a Christmas tree at Christmas, just like with all Austrians. And yet they all came from Jewish families with similar histories, acted like Jews, talked like Jews and thought like them. It was just that they did not believe in a God. At Easter, they let their children hunt for chocolate eggs instead of celebrating Pesach.
A mandate that binds
How are representatives of the FPÖ (or other parties) supposed to understand this “second and third generation,” who today are the influential representatives of Judaism in Europe? They do not know our sensitivities. They are bewildered by what seem to others our inexplicably aggressive reactions to sometimes silly, almost coy downplaying of the Nazi era. A Christmas card from the 1940s with NS imagery may seem — to the FPÖ functionary who sent it — nothing more than a poor joke. He didn’t mean it like that. Making a neo-Nazi mindset out of it was an overblown uproar with no basis.
But for “US,” it is reason for rage, disappointment, annoyance, bitterness.
At least, in Europe, Israel and North America, the “second and third generation” grew up in the security of democracy and live peaceful everyday lives as “children of the victims,” as has rarely occurred in the history of Judaism. It may be that the post-war generation of Jews In Austria is the first ever that will end its life without persecution, discrimination and expulsion.
And yet, despite this protected and secured life, there is a mandate that indisputably binds the post-war generation. And indeed, all Jews, whether they now live in Tel Aviv, Vienna or Hong Kong. Understanding that is often difficult, or impossible, for non-Jews, and leads to surprise and misunderstandings, even to reproaches — why so sensitive, apparently almost arbitrary — judging, boycotting or rejecting someone because of mere trifles.
For the second and third generation, the historical facts of the Holocaust are always a part of their own family history. History instruction was the experiences of their own parents; history became stories and fate, told or not told, described or suppressed, but always present.
A simple example of differing sensitivities would be the sometimes well-intentioned articles and essays in the media on the subject of the Holocaust and hostility to Jews. How often one of these articles — like one in ZEIT on October 5, 1984 — was accompanied by a photo of a pile of corpses from a liberated concentration camp, with a caption, “Pile of corpses in a concentration camp.” Whoever chose this photo certainly did not imagine that his own relatives were shown in the picture.
So when the chair of he Jewish community of Austria, Oskar Deutsch, refuses any contact with representatives of the FPÖ, he is acting according to his mandate as representative of the descendants of the dead and the survivors. He cannot do otherwise. The relativizing, downplaying and often neo-Nazi activities of individual FPÖ functionaries forbid any dialogue, since the official representative of Austrian Jews represents not only the members of his generation, but also his own family.
I had tried another way, and have to live with the criticism of my decision, because it is completely justified. Jörg Haider assured me at the beginning of the 1990s that he intended to make an end to the conflict with the Jewish community. At the time, I saw a chance to cooperate with the ÖVP, to build up, step by step, a second conservative party without right-radical ideology. Knittelfeld ended this idea and with it my political experiment.
FPÖ head Strache — who sometimes downplays or denies the rightist extreme activities of his members, never apologizes for them and managed to insult the entire Jewish community with a statement (in connection with demonstrations against a ridiculous dance presentation) that the members of the FPÖ are the New Jews — claims it is his heartfelt desire to normalize relations with Israel.
That is certainly possible; other politically rightist parties were able step-by-step to end Israel’s boycott. But there are rules for the process, and the FPÖ apparently has not understood them. Without a normalization of relations with the Jewish community in Austria, no representative of the Israeli government will take up contact with the FPÖ. They can’t, because here we are again at the (unofficial) mandate of the murdered and the survivors to the second and third generation. My advice for improving relations with the Jewish community and Israel is simple and unproblematically achievable:
Just ask the representatives the community. The know under what conditions they would be prepared to normalize relations. And then just do what they advise. In the end, only this process will make a dialogue with Israel possible.
|1.||Charismatic and controversial head of the FPÖ (Freedom Party) at the time, a moving force in the formation of a “blue-black” government, which caused (short-lived) international outrage and ultimately decimated both the FPÖ and its partner, the ÖVP (People’s Party).|
|2.||The so-called “Knittelfeld putsch” in 2002 split the FPÖ, leading to the dissolution of the coalition with the ÖVP, and to Haider’s forming a new party.