August 29, 2021 marked the 40th anniversary of the 1981 attack on the synagogue on Vienna’s Seitenstettengasse by two Palestinian terrorists. Community leaders, government officials, civil society representatives and well-wishers gathered at the Desider Friedmann Square to pay tribute to the victims of the attack.
Elvira Glück, then 20, was on security duty at the synagogue that day, a student job at the time, as she recounted at Sunday’s commemoration at
“We weren’t armed.” She said she heard gunshots and looked to see what was going on. One of the assassins had thrown something, a ball, she initially thought – but then she realized it was a hand grenade. “Instinctively, I closed the door,” Glück described. “40 years later, I still feel the aftereffects of the attack.”
Juwal Grauss was 11 years old when he was shot by the terrorists. “I played dead.” Despite his bleeding wounds, he said he refused to be transported in the same ambulance as one of the arrested attackers at the time. “I jumped back out.” He said he suffered for many years, but as painful as the wounds were, “the attack makes me a strong, self-confident, Zionist Jew in Austria.”
Two people were killed in the attack, Nathan Fried and Ulrike Sarah Kohut, who are remembered by a memorial plaque. Kohut died because she threw herself protectively on her friend’s then three-year-old son, Markus Kohn. “A person who saves a human life is credited as saving the whole world,” Kohn quoted from the Talmud. “That’s also how she made it possible for me to start a family later”, Kohn said. He named his youngest daughter Sarah in memory of Kohut.
Just a few meters away from the memorial plaque for the two victims of August 29, 1981 lies the memorial stone for the of the November 2, 2020 attack in Vienna, in which an assassin killed four passers-by in downtown Vienna. The bullet holes in the walls of the city temple were just removed just last week.
In his remarks, the President of the Jewish community of Vienna (IKG Wien), Oskar Deutsch said that he felt not only sadness or anger, but also joy that so many people had come to the memorial service who had lived through the attack.”
“You didn’t let it bring you down,” Deutsch said reminding the audience that to this day, self-confident Jewish life is only possible through elaborate security measures. The commemoration ceremony itself had to be protected by numerous, heavily armed police officers.
Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP), Minister for the EU and the constitution at the Austrian Chancellery, stressed that society as a whole is urgently called upon to take a firm stand against all forms of antisemitism.
As a current example, she referred to COVID-10 deniers who appear with Jewish stars. To stand up against this, “that is our duty.” Hate and terror are also not over, Edtstadler reminded of the attack on November 2, 2020. This attack was “directed against all of us,” but it was probably no coincidence that the starting point had been here in front of the synagogue, she concluded.