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February 01, 1985 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-02-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

34 Friday, February 1, 1985


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Painful Reminder To World Jewish Body

Vienna (JTA) — Austrian De-
fense Minister Friedhelm Fris-
chenschlager apologized to Chan-
cellor Fred Sinowatz and to the
public" Tuesday for what he
called this naiscalculation," his
characterization of the personal
greeting he extended last week to
Nazi war criminal Walter Reder
on Reder's return to his native
Austria after nearly 40 years in
prison in Italy.
Firschenschlager's reception of
Reder touched off the worst politi-
cal storm in Austria's recent his-
tory. It threatened the survival of
Sinowatz's socialist-led coalition
government of which the Defense
Minister's small, right-leaning
Freedom Party (FPOE) is a part-
ner. Monday night Sinowatz or-
dered the Defense Minister to cut
short a three-day official visit to
Egypt to return home to explain
his action.
His journey to Graz to meet Re-
der, a 69-year-old former SS major
convicted of the revenge murder
of 1,800 civilians in Italy in 1944,
triggered demands for his resig-
nation across the entire Austrian
political spectrum. In particular,
it infuriated leaders of world
Jewry, assembled in Vienna for
the first time since World War II
to attend a meeting of the govern-
ing board of the World Jewish
Sinowatz's initial reaction to
the affair was to call it a "grave
,mistake." Later, in a message to
WJC President Edgar Bronfman,
the chancellor said "I am pro-
foundly sorry" about the Reder in-
cident. In the course of his pre-
pared address to the WJC gather-
ing Saturday night, Sinowatz told
the delegates, "The fact that this
transfer (of Reder to Austria)
made for personal contact be-
tween the Defense Minister and
Reder was a grave political error."
He called it an "isolated event"
from which "we should not draw
conclusions" and stressed Au-
stria's dedication to democracy
and its long-standing role as a
haven and transfer point for refu-
gees, including many thousands
of Jews from the Soviet Union.
The Chancellor's explanation
did not sit well with many of the
Jewish leaders who felt the issue
was a moral one, not simply a
"political error."
Frischenschlager, who had
made clear he would not resign
under pressure, gave his apology
to Sinowatz at .a Cabinet session.
"I am sorry for this miscalculation
and I can only offer my regrets to
you, Chancellor, and to the pub-
lic," his statement said. It was
read to reporters Tuesday ,by
The defense chief maintained
that his negative attitude toward
dictators, war and war criminals
was well known. He referred to
Reder as a war criminal. Last
Thursday, he described Reder as
the last Austrian prisoner of war
to come home and shook his hand
and justified his action by saying
he was responsible for Reder's
transportation. Observers believe
he was trying to appease right-
wing elements within his party.
Alois Mock, leader of the oppo-
sition Peoples Party, said if Fris-
chenschlager did not resign, his

party would submit a motion of
no-confidence in the minister in
Parliament. Finance Minister
Franz Uranitzky was troubled
that Frischenslager's action
would have adverse economic
consequences for Austria. He said
that Austria's clearly anti-fascist
attitude was always well received
by the international financial
community but international
businessmen have had icey reac-
tions to the Reder affair.
The reactions of the World
Jewish Congress leaders were
much harsher. WJC President
Edgar Bronfman had said before
the meeting that the session in
Vienna represents "a determined
effort on the part of both the
Jewish people and the govern-
ment of Austria to forge a new
relationship in which the realities
of the future will supersede --
though not neglect — the trauma-
tic events of the past."
Bronfman, addressing himself
to Sinowatz in his speech Satur-
day night, said that the delegates
were "devastated, to put it mildly,
shocked, furious, angered" upon
learning that Reder has received
"what was tantamount to a hero's
"Reder represents all that was
unspeakably evil about Nazism
and the Austrian participation
therein." The government,
Bronfman said, had "undertaken
to teach the young about the hor-
rors" of the Nazi period. But what
has happened with Reder could
not be a "worse example." He
asked Sinowatz, "How could
Nazism be dead anywhere if such
a disgusting display can take
Bronfman inserted theSe re-
marks at the beginning of his
speech after a heated discussion
took place at the late Saturday af-
ternoon session of the WJC execu-
tive. At that meeting, Raya Jag-
lon of Israel, co-treasurer of the
governing board, demanded that
the WJC pull out immediately
from Vienna in protest against
the Reder affair.
A debate ensued, with the Is-
rael and Western European dele-
gations generally in favor of con-
sidering action along these lines,
and the Americans calling for
moderation. The compromise was
that Bronfman address himself
forcefully to the issue in his
speech and that a decision would
be made Sunday about the pull-
out or other action, after the dele- -
gates evaluated Sinowatz's
speech at the opening session for
the strength of his apologetic sen-
timents. Sinowatz was informed
of the feelings of the delegates be-
fore the session began.
Sinowatz, who spoke after
Bronfman, told the delegates,
"The fact that this transfer (of
Reder to Austria) made for per-
sonal contact between the De-
fense Minister and Reder was a
grave political error." He had, he
said, "distanced myself' from this
action, and had asked the Defense
Minister for a detailed report
about the events.
SinOwatz continued: "We
should not draw conclusions from
this isolated event. Austria is a
country where human rights are
respected, democracy functions,

and people do believe in its viabil-
ity." Austria, he continued, had
played host to thousands of refu-
gees and was willing to endure the
difficulties and sacrifices this
Sinowatz's remarks about the
Reder case came at about the
half-way point in his speech. He
devoted the first part to calling
attention to the contributions of
the Jews to Austria and especially
Vienna — "much of what we have
has been molded and linked with

"How could Nazism
be dead anywhere if
such a - disgusting
display can take

the Vienna Jewish community —
and added that the poor, non-
famous Jews as well, "should be
remembered by us at this hour of
As Minister of Education, he
said he had devoted much time
and energy to ensuring that
school children learned about the
fascist times. "We do not wish to
snuff out those years as some
would like to cross them out of
their memories," he said.
"We want to educate our chil-
dren so there will never- again be
persecution against men and
women for their race, religion,
color . . ." He also called for "vigi-
lance" against fascism, "rearing
its ugly head in different forms."
Jewish leaders who followed
Sinowatz to the podium ques-
tioned the Austrian government's
handling of the affair and the cal-
ling of the incident a "political
mistake." Elie Wiesel, chairman
of the U.S. Holocaust Council,
said, "What hurts most is the in-
Taking a back seat to the furor
were Sinowatz's remarks on the
Middle East. He repeated Au-
stria's conditions that peace is
possible only if "the existence of
Israel in secure borders is recog-
nized" and also that the Palesti-
nians be "partners" in a peaceful
solution. He also said he was
"most impressed by the transfer of
Ethiopian Jews to Israel."
In response, Aryel Dulzin of the
Jewish Agency, said in his speech,
"We are ready to negotiate with
the Palestinians but we will not
negotiate with those who want
the destruction of Israel. We will
never "negotiate with the PLO,"
which he termed "the center of
terrorism in this world."
The possibility of terrorism at
the meeting was of grave concern
to the Austrians, who assigned a
crack army unit to guard the Vie-
nna meeting.

March of


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