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

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 4 Jan, 2022 Updated Tue 4 Jan 2022 09:43 CEST
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Demonstrators light flares during a rally held by Austria's far-right Freedom Party FPOe against the measures taken to curb the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, at Maria Theresien Platz square in Vienna, Austria on November 20, 2021. - Austria will impose a lockdown for all and make vaccinations mandatory, Austria's Chancellor Schallenberg announced on November 19, making the country the first in the EU to take such stringent measures as coronavirus cases spiral. The Alpine nation plans to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory from February 1 next year, while the lockdown will start from Monday, November 22 and will be evaluated after 10 days. (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP)

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.

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.

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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”.

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