‘Shocking’ vandalizations of Holocaust art installation: Austrian president

Vandals have desecrated portraits of Holocaust victims placed throughout the streets of central Vienna. President Alexander Van der Bellen said he was "deeply worried" over the assaults.

'Shocking' vandalizations of Holocaust art installation: Austrian president
Artist Luigi Toscano next to the vandalized art. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP

The attack overnight Sunday was the third since the show by Italian-German photographer Luigi Toscano was installed in early May.

Faces were cut out of around 80 portraits, an AFP photographer said. Over the past two weeks, others have been daubed with swastikas or slashed with knives. 

Bellen said he was “deeply worried” over the assaults on the show honouring victims of Nazism.

“I know that the overwhelming majority of Austrian society totally rejects the atrocities committed by the Nazis,” Bellen said in a statement. “That some cannot see the truth and solemn reminder shown by these photos is crushing,” he said.

Toscano said he was “devastated” by the attack, the first on 13 such installations around the world.

“There's been vandalism which hasn't been politically motivated, but nothing of this proportion,” Toscano told AFP. “This is right-wing radicalism.”

Austria's Forum Against Anti-Semitism tallied 503 anti-Semitic acts in the country in 2017, twice the figure from 2014. 

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Austrian Jews call for investigation into far-right leader for comparing Covid measures to the Holocaust

Jewish associations have called for a criminal investigation into Austrian far-right leader Herbert Kickl for comments they say grossly trivialise the Holocaust, which is illegal in Austria.

Covid protest
Demonstrators march and light flares during a rally called for by the far right Freedom Party. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Kickl, who leads the Freedom Party (FPÖ), has supported demonstrations against Covid-19 measures, at which some protestors have carried signs comparing themselves to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Speaking on Austrian TV in December, Kickl was challenged about the anti-Semitic elements of the protests.

He said: “National Socialism did not begin with a world war, not with any extermination camps, but it began with people being systematically excluded. It began by not allowing children to go to school because they were of Jewish descent, for example.”

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The Austrian Union of Jewish Students, together with the Executive Councilor of the World Jewish Congress, and a board member of the Association of Jewish Victims of the Nazi Regime (BJVN), has asked state prosecutors to investigate whether these comments fall under the Austrian crime of “gross trivialisation of the Holocaust”.

Sashi Turkof, President of the Jewish Austrian University Students, said: “The statements by Herbert Kickl must be understood as a massive danger for us all. The comparison with the Nazi regime and the constant and open trivialization of the Shoah are a conscious tactic and pave the way for the normalization of anti-Semitism and the relativisation of history.”

Only the state can file criminal complaints under this law, which is why the associations have called on Vienna prosecutors to begin an investigation into the comments.

READ ALSO: Vienna Nazi art show seeks to address Austria’s WWII legacy

Signs comparing Covid-19 measures to the Holocaust have been shared by protestors at several Covid rallies, including likening Austrian politicians and health officials to Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor and SS officer who performed deadly and unethical medical experiments on prisoners of the concentration camps. Other protestors have worn yellow stars with the word ungeimpft (not vaccinated), in a nod to the Star of David many Jews were forced to wear during the Nazi era.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer has condemned the anti-Semitic elements of the protests, and warned of extremist groups who he said saw the protests as a “golden opportunity” to exploit tensions.

In a statement given while Interior Minister, Nehammer said these statements “insult the millions of victims of the Nazi dictatorship and their families”.