Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is on a visit to Israel this week, said that it took his country “too long to be honest” about its role in the Holocaust.
“To remember means also to admit the truth. At that time, many Austrians supported the system which killed over six million Jews from all over Europe and beyond. Among them, 60,000 fellow Austrian Jewish citizens in Austria alone,” Kurz said in a speech at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Jerusalem on Monday.
“It took Austria a long time to be honest about its past. We’ve realized that Austria was not only a victim, but also a perpetrator,” added the Austrian leader. “Nevertheless, Austria has looked away far too long and has fulfilled its historical responsibility too late.”
But Kurz said that given this history, Austrians today “have a great responsibility” to make sure the Holocaust never happens again.
AJC’s CEO David Harris praise Kurz, noting that “this is the first time since 1945 in which an Austrian chancellor says clear: We have a historical responsibility to the State of Israel and its security.”
Kurz became chancellor last December after his Conservative Austrian People’s Party won the general elections. He formed a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party of Karl-Heinze Strache, which was founded by former Nazis in the 1950s.
After forming his coalition, Kurz said it would focus on fighting anti-Semitism after Israel made it clear it would not work directly with any ministers from the far-right party.
Kurz also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, at which time the Israeli leader thanked Kurz for his strong support of Israel and his commitment to fight anti-Semitism in Europe, saying that he is a “true friend of Israel and the Jewish people.”
In a possible shift in Israeli policy, Netanyahu also instructed the Israeli foreign ministry to “intensify contacts” with Austria’s foreign ministry.
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