Austria's Kurz visits Jerusalem's Western Wall, Holocaust museum
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz visited Jerusalem's Western Wall holy site and Yad Vashem Holocaust museum on Sunday, during a visit to Israel designed to soothe fears about his joint government with the far-right and Freedom Party (FPO).
Late last year Kurz formed a government with the FPO and appointed as his deputy its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache.
The party has a past stained by frequent anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi incidents and instances of Nazi propaganda, prompting an Israeli diplomatic boycott of government ministers belonging to the party.
Ahead of his meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Chancellor visited Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.
"As Chancellor of Austria, I have to state that Austria and Austrians carry a heavy burden for the shameful crimes committed during the Shoah," he said during the visit.
"But let me assure you that we Austrians know that we are responsible for our own history. It is our duty and obligation to ensure that the Shoah [Holocaust] will never happen again and that my generation and succeeding generations will never forget these horrific crimes."
The Chancellor announced a one-million Euro donation dedicated to help preserve Holocaust era works and documents and signed an “Agreement of Principle” which ensures that the museum will be granted access to the Austrian State Archives, the Mauthausen Memorial, and permission to copy Holocaust-related documents.
Kurz also executed along with Federal Minister Heinz Faßmann an agreement to facilitate Holocaust education in Austria by sending hundreds of teachers and administrators to Yad Vashem for educational seminars.
Kurz was also accompanied during his Yad Vashem visit by the Chairman of the museum Avner Shalev and Holocaust survivor Victor Klein as he laid a wreath at the memorial.
The Austrian leader, who previously served as foreign minister, also made an unscheduled trip to the Western Wall holy site in Jerusalem's Old City.
The European Union considers the site occupied because it was taken by Israel in the 1967 war, and Kurz subsequently dubbed it a "private visit."
Kurz also laid a wreath at the grave-site of the late statesman Shimon Peres, tweeting that “it was a special privilege for me to have met him personally. He has inspired many people in #Israel and around the world.”
Last month, Chancellor Kurz attended an event to mark the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in northern Austria where 100,000 prisoners died during WW2.
Some 200,000 prisoners passed through Mauthausen, which was set up for "political enemies" of the Nazi regime and was one of its biggest forced labor camps.
The site was chosen for its proximity to a quarry where granite was extracted in appalling conditions. The camp was liberated by American troops on May 5, 1945.
“Austria has a special historical responsibility never to forget the horrible crimes of the Holocaust and is committed to the security of Israel and its citizens,” Kurz tweeted in the past.
“We actively support Jewish life in our country and fight against any form of anti-Semitism. Only if Jews can live unrestrictedly in peace, freedom and security, ‘never forget’ can also turn into ‘never again,’” the Chancellor voiced.
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From today Austria will become a great nation. Please move your embassy to Jerusalem, God's own city.