Hon. Werner E. Brandstetter
Consul General of Austria
11859 Wilshire Blvd. / Suite 501
Los Angeles / CA 90025
Dear Mr. Brandstetter,
I have received your invitation to attend a
dinner on February 25th honoring Austrian-born artists now living in Hollywood.
I must decline the invitation.
Even had I been free on that day, I would still have had to refuse to attend any
official Austrian function, however well-meaning and cordial the invitation. The
recent political developments in Austria raise alarming echoes in me, an
Austrian-born Jew. Indelibly imprinted in my memory is the day in March 1938
when German troops and armored cars passed under our window on the
Mariahilferstrasse. The obscene calls of Sieg Heil uttered by the welcoming
Austrian throngs still ring in my ear.
The same 'loyal' Austrians in short order donned Nazi uniforms, of the same kind
Jörg Haider's father wore. Of course, sons should not be saddled with the sins
of fathers. There are sons of Nazis who express shame and revulsion at what
their fathers had done -- far more often in Germany than in Austria -- but Jörg
Haider is not one of them. Quite the contrary, he had public words of praise and
approbation for the Waffen SS. The lame and half-hearted retraction of those
remarks he attempted later did little to assuage the apprehensions many of us
feel that Haider's Austria is in danger of sinking back into the slime of
Even the declaration distancing Austria from the 'policies of hate' signed by
Haider at the demand of President Klestil seems little more than a showpiece.
The ink was barely dry on the declaration when Haider declared on German TV that
he had 'no intention of wandering around the world apologizing.' This leopard
does not change his spots; in or out of a formal position within the Austrian
government, Haider will call the shots and the prospect is frightening.
Apologists for Haider and his Freedom Party insist that their policies are not
directed against Jews but only against foreigners, the influx of too many
Auslandsarbeiter and alien elements in general. Those of us who bear the scars
of history know better: scratch a xenophobe and you find an anti-Semite.
Further, they say, that Europe and the world have no right to meddle in Austrian
affairs, seeing that the present government was democratically elected by the
people. But demagogues, too, can manipulate democracy. After all, Hitler was
also elected by 'the people'; no one 'meddled' then either and it took a world
war and a holocaust to end the madness once and for all. Or so we thought.
I shall withdraw the funds I still have in Vienna and shall see to it that a
good portion is contributed to Jewish causes, specifically to those
organizations that are devoted to the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and
the violation of human rights.
In light of the foregoing I trust you will understand why I cannot lend such
name or prestige as I may have to any social or official Austrian government
Sincerely, Theodore Bikel
February 6, 2000
haGalil onLine 10-03-2000