The year 2020 was extremely challenging for the Jewish Welcome Service. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the JWS was unable to operate its visitor program in the normal way. Instead, the focus shifted to crisis management and the development of alternative programs (including a compilation of online tours in Vienna).
Ruth Rotkowitz and Ralph Dressler visited Vienna in the fall of 2019 at the invitation of the JWS. Rotkowitz, whose parents escaped from the Nazis by fleeing Vienna as teenagers, deals with the “Second Generation” in her book “Escaping the Whale”. The book came out in April. Dressler reconstructed parts of his family history by researching archives in Vienna. He wanted to place memorial “Stones of Remembrance” for his family in May 2020 in Vienna. Unfortunately, this visit had to be canceled due to the corona virus.
In June, the president of the Jewish Welcome Service, Vienna’s mayor, Michael Ludwig, and the vice-president, Vienna’s City Councilor for Cultural Affairs, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, wrote a letter to the guests of the JWS. In it they expressed their regret for the postponement of planned visits to Vienna.
At the end of August, the JWS expanded its social media portfolio with its YouTube channel. The channel was set up to fittingly document a wide variety of events, to share information or send messages of greeting.
September saw an amendment to the Citizenship Act come into force, which enables persons persecuted by National Socialism and their direct descendants to acquire Austrian citizenship by making a so-called “declaration” instead of applying through normal channels. The JWS provides information about this.
In the middle of September, the journalist Olga Kronsteiner was awarded the Leon Zelman Prize at Vienna City Hall. According to the jury, Kronsteiner has “for many years dealt comprehensively with the disenfranchisement, deprivation, expulsion and persecution of Viennese Jews.”
The JWS established a new format for its remembrance work with the “Tours to places of Jewish life in Vienna”. On the first of these walks in mid-October, the scientist and author Gabriele Anderl led participants to places of Jewish life in Margareten (Vienna V). Contemporary witness Heinz Ehlers was also on hand to add his own comments to Anderl’s explanations.
The Jewish Welcome Service celebrated its 40th anniversary in December. A wealth of activities is being prepared for 2021 to mark the occasion – including a film documentary.
2021 was a year marked by projects that focused on or were based around the 40th anniversary of the Jewish Welcome Service Vienna (founded on December 17, 1980).
For example, W24 and ORF III broadcast the German version of the 45-minute documentary “ERINNERN – BEGEGNEN – VERSTEHEN” [REMEMBERING – ENCOUNTERING – UNDERSTANDING] a total of six times in November. It shows the 40-year history of the JWS and the significance of the institution founded by Leon Zelman and the city of Vienna. Over 75,000 people watched the documentary.
Published at the same time was the 80-page, lavishly illustrated free brochure “40 Jahre Jewish Welcome Service Vienna” [40 Years of the Jewish Welcome Service] (German and English). Forty life stories of Holocaust survivors and their descendants form the core of the wide-ranging presentation.
There was huge interest in the Vienna Trips, on which the JWS – with the support of the Vienna Tourist Board – specifically invited young descendants of Shoah survivors to Vienna in 2021 and 2022 to mark its 40th anniversary.
In the middle of September, Vienna’s City Councilor for Culture, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, awarded the Leon Zelman Prize at Vienna City Hall to two recipients to mark 40 years of the JWS: To the dialog project “Likrat” for young people and to the “Republican Club”.
Two research scholarships were also awarded by the JWS to mark the anniversary: One (€1,000) went to the Israeli art historian Noa Avron, PhD candidate at the Ben Gurion University; the other (€3,000) to Mirah Langer from South Africa, a PhD candidate at the University of Vienna.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the invitation program was also held in 2021, if on a limited basis. Above all to mark special occasions like the Kindertransport exhibition at Museum Judenplatz or the placing of Stones of Remembrance on Zirkusgasse.
In 2022, the fading coronavirus pandemic allowed a restart of the visitor program. For example, a group of more than 30 Jews in May and more than 40 Jews in November – mostly members of the “Second Generation” – visited Vienna at the invitation of the JWS. At the end of June / beginning of July, a group of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) from London was hosted by the JWS in Vienna.
Another highlight was the awarding of the Leon Zelman Prize to the historian Michaela Raggam-Blesch.
Leon Zelman s.A. was remembered in many ways on July 11, the 15th anniversary of his death. Including with a video clip on social media and with a CD by composer and double bass player Roman Britschgi and his ensemble.
Interest in the “Vienna Trips“, which started in 2021, continued unabated in 2022. From October 2021 to August 2022, a total of 40 young Jews accepted the invitation to come to Vienna.
The film documentary “ERINNERN – BEGEGNEN – VERSTEHEN” [REMEMBERING – ENCOUNTERING – UNDERSTANDING] was released in 2021 and has also been available in English since March 2022. And at the end of August, the Viennese daily newspaper “Der Standard” reviewed the commemorative publication “40 Years of the Jewish Welcome Service“.
At the end of March, the documentary film Truus’ Children by Pamela Sturhoofd and Jessica van Tijn had its Austrian premiere at Vienna’s Votivkino cinema. The JWS invited both directors to Vienna for the premiere. In September 2022, the Israeli economic historian Prof. Jacob “Kobi” Metzer – nephew of Aron Menczer – visited the Aron Menczer educational campus on the Aspanggründe in Vienna with the support of the JWS. And in November, Maria Gabrielsen was in Vienna at the invitation of the ESRA Psychosocial Health Center and the JWS to report on her life and book “Angezeigt von Mama – Die Geschichte einer Denunziation” [Denounced by mom – The story of a denunciation] at the Jewish Museum.