Less than twenty four hours later, I looked into the face of a woman of my generation whose grandfather had been a member of the Nazi Party and father a member of the far-right Freedom Party – a woman who started out studying law and then switched to the history of art and architecture, a woman who wanted to know the life stories of individuals she found in her archival research and had stumbled across my Viennese great-grandfather, an engineer by profession. Traumatic family narratives converged that evening on Neuer Markt as history unraveled. Above all I valued the honesty and critical reflection of someone who is not responsible for her family’s direct or indirect actions. To those who would rather be content with ignorance and feigned words than learn how a country has confronted its past, albeit 60 years late, I exhort you to actually engage in conversation at the individual and collective policy levels.
Fellow participants on AJC’s first delegation of young professionals to Vienna challenged me to foment constructive dialogue about pivotal social and political issues. A memorable meeting with young Austrian diplomats offered the unmediated space to exchange thoughts and raise opinions about human rights, racism, Holocaust education, Austria-Israel relations and the European Union. Apologetics played no part in the documentation of Vienna’s history and current responsibility to continue to implement effective pedagogical programs. The window opened on a new generation of poised, self-conscious Austrians, both Jewish and non-Jewish. No glass shattered and when the blinds were lifted, the foundation for future transatlantic communication was planted in a city that three of my grandparents once called home and later involuntarily fled.