A number of Holocaust survivors on the UK Schools Speaker Programme recognised that schools and institutions in their native countries were in need of speakers to recount their stories. Consequently, in October 2003 the London Jewish Cultural Centre organised a trip to Vienna for Austrian-born survivors now living in the UK. They gave their testimony to more than 750 students in 13 Austrian schools and institutions, including universities and youth organisations.
Together with their partners the survivors were also able to relive their pasts, for instance by visiting their former homes, to spend time with the Austrian Jewish community (including a Shabbat dinner) and to enjoy a holiday. Highlights included receptions held by the mayor of Vienna and the British Ambassador.
The visit, covered by the media in both Austria and the UK, was organised in partnership with the Jewish Welcome Service in Vienna, which offers Viennese-born survivors the opportunity to return to the city. It was supported by government of the city of Vienna and by the Austrian Gedenkdienst (Holocaust Commemoration Service). The trip was so successful that it was repeated in June 2005 and again in May 2007.
The Holocaust and Anti-Racism Department has a longstanding association with the Austrian Gedenkdienst (Holocaust Commemoration Service), which gives young Austrians the choice of serving in Holocaust memorial centres around the world as an alternative to compulsory military service. Each Gedenkdienst volunteer spends 12 months at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, working on activities such as the Speakers' programme and projects run in conjunction with the Austrian Cultural Forum.
London Jewish Cultural Centre takes Holocaust Survivors
back to Vienna to tell their stories in Viennese Schools
Monday 5th November - Sunday 11th November 2012
Five Austrian Holocaust Survivors, working with the London Jewish Cultural Centre's (LJCC) Holocaust & Anti Racism Department, will be spending one week in Vienna giving a series of talks in Austrian schools, about their pre-war and wartime experiences. The Republic of Austria is supporting the initiative, which is being funded by the "Nationalfonds der Republik Österreich" (National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism) and the "Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich" (Future Funds of the Republic of Austria).
As survivor Scarlett Epstein said: "I managed to escape from Vienna in 1938 and wrote in my diary: 'Farewell Vienna, the City that I loved but that I now never want to see again'. Now Re-visiting Vienna gives me great pleasure for I am welcomed and again feel I belong"
Accompanying the survivors will be LJCC project coordinator, Austrian "Gedenkdiener", Moriz Kopetzki (a young Austrian volunteer selected to work in Holocaust education outside Austria instead of doing National Service). "Seeing the impact of survivor visits on young people both in the UK and in Austria is an amazing experience. It is a privilege to have had the opportunity to be a 'Gedenkdiener' at the LJCC!"
This initiative began in 2003 when a group of LJCC's Austrian Holocaust Survivors were invited by the Jewish Welcome Service of Vienna to spend time in their former hometown. The trip included visiting schools that they had attended as children where they described their experiences at the hands of the Nazi regime. The project's success and the positive feedback from these schools resulted in further trips in 2007 and 2010, an important step forward in providing today's Austrian school children with vital first hand Holocaust Education. A key partner in this undertaking is the "Verein Gedenkdienst" in Vienna and its volunteers, who are liaising with the schools and organising the visits. Johann Kirchknopf, Austrian "Gedenkdiener" at the LJCC in 2007/08 and now one of the organisers of the "Gedenkdienst" programme, continues to maintain close links with both the LJCC and the survivors he came to know during his time in London.
The 5 participants are:
• Scarlett Epstein: born in Vienna in 1922. In 1938 she was able to escape to England via Yugoslavia, Albania, Italy and Germany.
• Harry Bibring: born in Vienna in 1925. Came to England on a Kindertransport in March 1939.
• Otto Deutsch: born in Vienna in 1928. Came to England on a Kindertransport in 1939.
• Freddie Knoller: born in Vienna in 1921. He was studying in France when the Nazis arrived, lived with false papers and joined the Resistance. In 1943 he was captured and deported to Auschwitz. In 1945 he was evacuated to Noerdthausen and then to Bergen-Belsen, where he was liberated by the British Army.
• George Vulkan: born in Vienna in 1929. He left with his parents overnight in September 1938 and they escaped to England via France in 1939.