Austrian Jewish leader slams Freedom Party at Holocaust commemoration event

The head of Austria’s Jewish community Oskar Deutsch sharply criticised the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) at official Holocaust commemorations on Sunday.

He said at an event to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp that members of greater German nationalist fraternities were “the successors to the precursors of the Nazis — and their political arm is the FPÖ.”

“If we do not protest against them, here and now then what have we learnt from history?” asked Deutsch, who is the president of the Vienna Jewish Community.

Not to speak out would be “to dishonour the dead”, he added.

Members of Austria’s ruling People’s Party including parliament speaker Wolfgang Sobotka attended the Jewish community’s commemorations, but an invitation was pointedly not extended to the FPÖ — their coalition partner.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and President Alexander Van der Bellen attended a larger separate commemoration at the former concentration camp, where at least 90,000 people died.

Willi Mernyi, the chair of the Mauthausen Committee, said the presence of FPÖ ministers would have been another “humiliation” for Holocaust survivors.

Deutsch said the Jewish community could not in good conscience invite the FPÖ and provide the far-right with “a stage for a masquerade, simply because they are seeking validation.”

He said that while FPÖ leader and Austria’s vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache had “distanced himself” from antisemitism, words were not enough.

There have been at least 23 antisemitic or neo-Nazi incidents within the ranks of the FPÖ since it joined Austria’s government last December.

They included the party’s chief whip Johann Gudenus, who appeared to speak in support of the campaign against George Soros in neighbouring Hungary.

Gudenus told Die Presse that there are “sound rumours” that the Hungarian-born American billionaire has been involved in “supporting migrant flows into Europe.”

Members of German nationalist fraternities, or Burschenschaften, still make up close to 40 per cent of the FPÖ parliamentary party but only 0.04% of the Austrian population in total.

Earlier this year, senior FPÖ figure Udo Landbauer resigned when it emerged his fraternity, Germania, used a songbook containing racist, antisemitic, and Nazi-sympathetic lyrics.

The FPÖ has launched a historical inquiry into its relationship with the Burschenschaften — but for Austria’s Jewish community, this gesture remains far from enough.

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