Austria shares responsibility for the Holocaust, visiting president says

Alexander Van der Bellen lays wreath at Yad Vashem, tells President Rivlin that his country aims ‘to ensure that Jews everywhere feel safe’

Visiting Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen told his Israeli counterpart, Reuven Rivlin, on Monday that his nation shares responsibility for the Holocaust and is striving to ensure that Jews everywhere can live in safety.

“Austria bears shared responsibility for the Holocaust. Many Austrian citizens took part, and we bow our heads in memory of the victims in humility and respect,” Van der Bellen said during a welcoming ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. “We admitted our shared responsibility too late and that caused problems in our relations at the beginning.

“Our aim is to ensure that Jews everywhere feel safe. It is our responsibility as Austrians to the victims of the Holocaust to ensure that we live in peace and agreement with Israel,” he added, according to a readout released by Rivlin’s office.

At the ceremony, Rivlin thanked his Austrian counterpart for being a “true friend of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people.” The president also told Van der Bellen that Israel views the Iranian regime as an “enemy that wishes to destroy Israel,” and that its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah’s “aggression” in the region must be stopped.

President Reuven Rivlin (C-L) and his Austrian counterpart Alexander Van der Bellen (C-R) review the honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential compound in Jerusalem on February 4, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

The two leaders later visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, where Van der Bellen laid a wreath at a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance.

Van der Bellen, who visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday after arriving in Israel, is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Monday.

The Austrian president was not accompanied on his visit by the country’s Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who the Haaretz daily reported that Israel insisted not be included in the trip.

Kneissl was nominated for her post by the Freedom Party, known by its German acronym FPOe, a far-right party with Nazi roots that is boycotted by Jerusalem.

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz visits Israel’s Western Wall in Jerusalem, June 10, 2018. (Avi Hayun/Israeli Foreign Ministry)

Unlike with a previous Austrian government that included the FPOe, Israel has continued to maintain ties with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party, or OVP, the senior party in Austria’s ruling coalition.

Kurz, who visited Israel in June, has regularly stressed his commitment to combating anti-Semitism and upholding the memory of the Holocaust since becoming chancellor in 2017.

Austria was annexed in 1938 by Nazi Germany in a move welcomed by many Austrians. Some 65,000 Austrian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, according to Yad Vashem.

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