Austrian National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka speech at the Austrian Parliament

Austrian National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka speech at the Austrian Parliament on the occasion of the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp.

“Ladies and gentlemen!

It was the year 1921, twenty years before in 1941, when the gas chambers of Auschwitz began their murderous operation, that the members of the “German Society for Racial Hygiene” published their foundational work, the Outline of Human Heredity and Racial Hygiene, in its first edition.

It was the year 1922, nineteen years before the first people were gassed in Auschwitz by Nazi henchmen, when the rector of the University of Vienna lamented a “Jewish invasion” at his university, which he denounced as “the true cancerous damage to our academic relations.”

It was the year 1923, eighteen years before mothers with their children, grandmothers with their grandchildren, fathers and grandfathers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, that a chair for racial hygiene was first established at the University of Munich.

In 1929, twelve years before the chimneys of Auschwitz’s crematoria smoked day and night, and four years before the Nazis seized power, a “Reich Committee for Population Issues” was established as an advisory body to the Reich government on eugenic and racial hygiene matters.

In 1932, in October – one year before Hitler’s seizure of power, six years before the annexation of Austria, and only nine years before the gas chambers of Auschwitz – an armed Nazi mob attacked the Anatomical Institute in Vienna. Jewish students had to escape through the windows to safety.

Ladies and gentlemen, starting from the 1920s, it was primarily the natural sciences that, with their considerations of eugenics, provided a pseudoscientific legitimization for the later atrocities of National Socialism, to enact their racist antisemitism.

Today, it is postmodernism in history and social sciences where facts seem to be arbitrarily interpretable, where Israel is stylized as an apartheid state and denigrated as a postcolonial state. Antisemitism manifests itself today in Austria, in Europe, indeed worldwide, in various forms. The extreme right-wing racist face we have known for decades. Left-wing extremism articulates itself in open anti-Israelism and crude anti-Zionism. And with migration from Islamic states, we have imported hatred of Jews, flooding the streets of European capitals.

I need not reiterate for the umpteenth time that antisemitism in any form follows patterns of antidemocratic attitudes. But if we take “Never Again,” which became the spiritual founding charter of the Second Republic, seriously, then today our unconditional solidarity must be with Israel, so that we can fulfill the promise of protection for Jews – as German Minister of Economic Affairs Robert Habeck put it – also in the State of Israel.

Let’s not delude ourselves. The conflict has far-reaching implications for us, for our Europe, as Heinz Theisen – Professor of Political Science at the Catholic University of Cologne – described it as a “wake-up call for Europe” in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on April 29. “The hatred of Jews, which ignites over Israel’s existence, has spilled over into Europe,” says Theisen. Antisemitism has exponentially increased worldwide, and on the internet, it has erupted in unimaginably violent words and images.

While the EU was quick and unanimous in condemning terrorist organizations like ISIS, the Taliban, or Hezbollah, this was no longer the case for the terrorist organization Hamas. Despite its unimaginable crimes on October 7, 2023, despite holding hostages to this day, despite its daily crimes against humanity, using their own women and children as human shields, despite its constant violation of international laws of war by building rocket bases and command centers under schools, hospitals, and residential buildings – despite all this, Israel, which exercises its right to self-defense and opposes totalitarian Islamist regimes, is being vilified. Of course, every dead child, every injured person, regardless of which side they are on, is one too many. Enormous suffering, displaced persons, orphans, and traumatized individuals on both sides, all of this has a perpetrator, the terrorist organization Hamas.

If the 133 hostages kidnapped on October 7 were unconditionally released, if the terrorist organization were completely disarmed and dismantled, the humanitarian situation would immediately improve, and the war would end. The “Islamic State” of Hamas cannot be part of the two-state solution.

Against this backdrop, I am grateful to this esteemed house, to the parties of this esteemed house, to every member of parliament, that after October 7, it was so self-evident to unanimously condemn the atrocities of Hamas for what they were and remain – clear, unequivocal, and without any “buts.” And yes, I am also grateful that this fundamental attitude persists to this day. And that the Austrian government, under Chancellor Nehammer, has also taken such a clear position.

In light of our history, we have developed a sensitive awareness of where incitement and dehumanization lead. Also, that is why the cultivation of remembrance culture has been a constant and strong concern of the Austrian Parliament. Given the diminishing number of eyewitnesses, we must mobilize the next generations, along with our partners – the IKG, the memorials,, the National Fund, and many others – to always renew the remembering remembrance. Our permanent exhibition at the “Tacheles Reden” Visitor Center and our “Zikaron BaSalon” action, among others, bear eloquent testimony to this.

Essential for a commemorative remembrance are certainly the places of horror transformed into memorial and educational sites. When visiting, for example, the memorial site of the former Auschwitz extermination camp, it feels like diving deeper with every step into one of those black-and-white photographs we know from our history books.

As difficult as the confrontation with the past, with this past, may be, the horror remains abstract, the wounds of those years bleed again and again, showing scars, and one’s own connection to the events, in the end – temporally and morally distanced.

And indeed, yes, all of us sitting here collectively refer to the grace of late birth, and had we been called upon to show a little courage, surely, we would never have let things go so far… Jews, Roma and Sinti, political dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled individuals, displaced persons – none of them would have suffered. … or?

Ladies and gentlemen, “Never again” and “Resist the beginnings!” have always been the motto… and we have internalized that. But let me tell you one thing: …we have all together missed the beginnings long ago – in Europe, in the USA, in Canada, in universities, partly also in Austria. Our “never again” is history. The escalation on the internet and in real life from incitement to violence and murder… it has long since begun again.

A few days ago, a Jewish travel agency in the 2nd district was smeared with the slogans “Victory to Palestine” and “Death to Zionism.” Right in front of the Holocaust Memorial, the flag of the Palestinians was raised. And the call for the annihilation of the Jews “From the river to the sea” is heard repeatedly at relevant demonstrations.

Yoval Haran, the brother-in-law of the Austrian Israeli Tal Shoham, who is still in the hands of Hamas to this day, led us on my recent trip to Israel through the rubble and ashes of his childhood home. Only the dishwasher in the kitchen barely survived the firestorm. It still holds the remnants of the family’s last shared meal… “Here, in this house, his father was murdered, and from here his mother, his brother-in-law, his sister, and their children were taken to Gaza. “Our family was lucky,” he said, pointing to the remaining houses in the neighborhood. “At least a few survived. The families of our neighbors, my friends I grew up with… they’re no longer there.” They were the ones who sought peace, who advocated for peace, who repeatedly took in Palestinians from Gaza. They have been wiped out… … this sentence refers to the present… it is not a reflection of a distant past… it describes the here and now.

If Europe, and this also applies to Austria, fails to find a positive, critical relationship with its history and culture, articulate what we have a right to be proud of and recognize what needs to change and understand the difference between our own culture and others, and draw the right sustainable conclusions from it, if we fail in this, then the commemoration of the victims of National Socialism, both them and their descendants, will not be fair and will mutate into an empty ritual.”

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