Saturday, June 26, 2004

In this week's Week's End supplement of Ha'Aretz I read an article by Tamar Rotem about a wonderful project conducted in Austria by two Viennese journalists. Within this project, called 'A letter to the stars', Austrian high school students 'adopt' victims of the Nazi-regime ( most of them Jewish, but also gypsies, Jehovah witnesses, homosexuals and others ) who resided in Austria, and try to find out as much as possible about their adoptive victims' lives. Most of these victims were murdered, so the students who 'adopt' them also do research on when and where they died. If someone survived the war, he or she often is contacted, and in some cases meetings take place between the Austrian youngsters and their 'adopted victims'. Students also write personal letter addressed to the subjects of their research. In addition to the tools for historical research that the students acquire through their work they also learn about their country's history ( for instance about the role of Austrians in the planning and implementation of the Final Solution ), and they can identify with men, women and children who lived and were persecuted right where they are living now. When you go through the list of victims whose lives have already been described by the Austrian youngsters ( in German, only part of the site is in English ), just click on a name and read the short decription of that person's life and of the circumstances of his/her death, if known. Because each such person has a name, a place and date of birth, and in some cases even a picture, it becomes easy for us to identify with his/her life's story, which makes the impact of this kind of history very powerful. For instance we read about Otto Metzl, who at the age of almost 60 was arrested during or right after the Reichskristallnacht, and who finally in August 1942 was deported from Vienna to Theresienstadt, where he died two months later. Another example is Alice Baron, who was only five years old when together with her mother she was deported from Vienna to Maly Trostinac/ec, where she was murdered, apparently either by firing squads or in a 'Gaswagen'. It is easy to see which students really made an effort to get as much information about the subjects of their research, and which ones did not care very much. Also, in some cases the available information about the victims seems to have been very sparse. Still, the project is very praiseworthy and valuable. Until now about 15.000 students have participated in the project. Taking into account that ( according to the project's website ) about 80.000 Austrian men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis, there still remains a lot of work to be done.

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