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May 19, 1989 - Image 86

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-05-19

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

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86

FRIDAY, MAY 19, 1989

ive teenagers from the
Metro Detroit area
"went home" to Vien-
na, the city from which their
grandparents had to flee in
World War II.
They were among 95 young
Americans, age 16 to 25,
welcomed into the Austrian
city in April by the Jewish
Welcome Service of Vienna
for two weeks, all-expenses
paid, to explore the city their
families once called home.
Members of the group shared
one common denominator: all
were grandchildren of
Austrian Jews who fled the
city from Nazi persecution.
The participants were
selected based on age and
familial connection to Vienna
from 250 applicants, said Susi
Schneider, U.S. representative
of the Jewish Welcome Ser-
vice of Vienna. Each student
wrote a letter about his
grandparents and himself, ex-
plaining his connection to the
city. Four groups of 25 came
to Vienna over a three-week
period in April.
According to Leon Zelman,
executive director of the
Jewish Welcome Service of
Vienna and the mastermind
behind the program, the ob-
jective was to show young peo-
ple of Austrian descent the
city of Vienna and bring
them with non-Jewish young
Austrians to create a dialogue
and "immunize the new
generation against racism
and fascism."
The itinerary included a
reception at the residence of
U.S. Ambassador Henry
Grunwald; a ball at city hall
sponsored by the mayor,
Helmut Zilk; a three-hour
cruise on the Danube; discus-
sions at gymnasiums
(Austrian high schools) and a
visit to the former
Mauthausen concentration
camp.
American students also saw
the Parliament, the
Burgtheater, the National
Theater, and the Schattskam-
mer, the Imperial Treasury, a
collection of historical jewels,
and toured the city.
More than 1,000 families
applied to serve as hosts for
the American group, Zelman
said. Nine Americans stayed
with Jewish families and the
rest stayed in non-Jewish
homes, he said.
Each participant experi-
enced Vienna according to his
individual interest and the

The American group visited a Vienna synagogue on Seitenstettengasse
in the old Jewish district.

perception of his host family.
For Karen Lee, an 18-year-
old senior at Lahser High
School, the trip was fun and
enlightening. Lee, who came
to the city just days after
returning from a senior trip
to Cancun, enjoyed the ar-
chitectural and cultural beau-
ty of the city.
But Lee's response to the
people was not as enlighten-
ing. While she enjoyed
meeting individual Austrian
families like her Jewish
hosts, the Hosemann family,
she felt uneasy about the
locals as a whole, "citizens
who had elected Waldheim as
president."
"The program did a good job
of showing that the country is
not composed of just Nazis,"
Lee said. "Our presence also
made an impression on them.
But I did feel the sense that
it's in their blood to hate."
Her Viennese-born grand-
parents, Herman and Pearl
Greenbaum of Southfield, left
Vienna in 1938 with Lee's
mother, Sylvia, when she was
less than a year old. Although
Lee enjoyed seeing her fami-
ly's old apartment, she did
not feel the visit made her
any closer to her roots.
Lee was most affected by
her visit to the former concen-
tration camp Mauthausen,

150 miles outside of Vienna.
"Seeing where Jewish peo-
ple were gassed and cremated
made all the difference," she
said. "Until you see some-
thing like that, it doesn't
click. Before I went I had no
idea how well planned the
killing was."
Confronting the Holocaust
first-hand strengthened Lee's
desire to have a Jewish home,
she said. "I used to think it
didn't matter if I married
someone Jewish," she said.
"But at the camp I looked at
pictures of the victims and
wondered if perchance I saw
someone I'm related to. Peo-
ple died for my religion. It
definitely matters."
Rachel Erdstein, a 16-year-
old sophomore at Detroit
Country Day School, came
back from Vienna with a
greater understanding of her
Viennese-born father's past.
George Erdstein left in 1939
with his parents, Berthold
and Idi Erdstein of New York.
Rachel, who was surprised
at the low percentage of Jews
in the Austrian city, was
disturbed by the lack of com-
munication between Jews
and non-Jews there. In discus-
sions with Austrian students
whe said she often served as
the mediator between the
two.

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