President Shimon Peres began a state visit to Austria on Sunday, where he attended, along with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, a Holocaust memorial service in the Judenplatz in Vienna.
The service was attended by members of the Jewish community of Vienna.
"I begin my visit to this country by bowing my head before this memorial. Paying respect to the thousands of Austrian Jews sent to death camps from Vienna,” said Peres.
“The Judenplatz was at the heart of a vibrant, thriving Jewish community. And with the horrifying tragedy of the Shoah, we lost a culture and heritage like no other. From the 176,000 Jews of Vienna, only 5000 remained after the dark chapter of the Holocaust.”
Peres continued, “The State of Israel is our victory. A fortress of triumph against the dark hand of the Nazis. A home to the memory of our six million brothers and sisters. A promise to the survivors of the horrors. A hope for the future of the Jewish People. Let this be a warning to us and to posterity. We may not weaken for a single moment our common effort to uproot hatred and strife. To convert sword and war into brotherhood and friendship between peoples. To replace ruin and destruction with redemption and Tikkun Olam, bettering the world."
President Peres ended with the Kaddish prayer which he recited in honor of the victims of the Holocaust.
President Fischer spoke at the ceremony about the way in which Austria dealt with the Holocaust in the years that followed.
"The Judenplatz thus bears witness to a particularly tragic chapter in Austrian history, and also to the way this history has been dealt with by all too many – namely by forgetting and repressing it for years as well as by late remembrance,” he said.
“We have to acknowledge that the way this country dealt with the time of National Socialism even after the end of the war was over a long period largely dominated by an uneasy silence, a guilty conscience and attempted repression,” added Fischer.
“It is only in the last 25 years that Austria – as a result of a difficult process of awareness-raising – has eventually undergone a fundamental and important change in its historic awareness: From forgetting to remembering. From repressing to admitting and accepting co-responsibility for Nazi crimes. From downplaying anti-Semitism to clear, unambiguous and consistent condemnation of any form of anti-Semitism – an absolute and unequivocal condemnation, which I wish to again confirm most strongly here today,” continued Fischer.
“Indispensable steps in this process were the search for the truth as well as clear words of regret and apology," he added.
President Fischer continued and said, "It is an expression of the commemoration of the 65,000 Austrian victims of the Shoah and an expression of the responsibility we bear for the deeds of the past. By laying wreaths here at this memorial today in a ceremony with the President of Israel, we jointly commemorate the men and women who were killed during the Holocaust and honor the survivors of this tragedy of mankind. An integral element of our remembrance is the promise that we are willing and determined to learn from history. The suffering and death of the victims to whom we bow and pay tribute to together must not and will not have been in vain – nor will it ever be forgotten."
Adolf Hitler’s Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and wiped out its once-vibrant Jewish community.
Late last year, the famed Vienna Philharmonic orchestra stripped six former senior Nazi officials of honors awarded them.
The decision to was made in the wake of research by historian Oliver Rathkolb, who documented the orchestra's close cooperation with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and other top Hitler associates after Germany's annexation of Austria.
Rathkolb and the other historians discovered as part of their research that Helmut Wobisch, the former head of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra, was a member of Nazi Germany's elite paramilitary SS and collaborated with the secret police.
The Austrian Academy of Sciences has also acknowledged that many of its scientists were members of the Nazi party and that some of its students served in the SS.
Also on Sunday, Peres held a diplomatic working meeting with Lamerto Zanier, the Secretary-General of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). During the meeting he expressed his hope that there will be progress in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
"We are in the midst of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and the sides are working around the clock in an effort to reach a breakthrough in the talks, but the process is ongoing. It is difficult to overcome the difficulties and I hope that in the coming days there will be positive developments in the negotiations,” said Peres.
“Your organization has a central role in preserving stability in the Middle East and bringing economic prosperity to all the people of the region," he told Zanier
Zanier thanked President Peres and said that OSCE welcomes the talks and any progress in the negotiations between Israel and the PA. He added that the OSCE sees Israel as an important partner for security cooperation in the Middle East.