40th anniversary of terror attack on Vienna synagogue commemorated

1981 attack during bar mitzvah killed two congregants and wounded 18 others.

Dan Verbin ,


The 40th anniversary of the 1981 terror attack on Vienna’s Seitenstettengasse synagogue by two Palestinian Arab terrorists was commemorated on Sunday, August 29.

Vienna Jewish community leaders, city and federal officials, civil society representatives and others came together at Desider Friedmann Square to honour the victims of the attack, reported ORF.

Elvira Gluck, who was a 20-year old student working as a part-time security guard on duty that day at the synagogue, spoke at the event. She recounted what occurred.

She said that the security guards were not armed. She heard gunshots and saw one of the terrorists throw something. She initially thought it was a ball but it turned out to be a grenade.

“Instinctively, I closed the door. Forty years later, I still feel the aftereffects of the attack,” said Gluck.

Juwal Grauss also spoke at the memorial. He was 11-years old during the attack in which he was shot by the terrorists.

He recalled pretending to be dead.

Though he was badly wounded, when he realized he’d been placed in the same ambulance as one of the terrorists, he jumped out.

He noted that while the lasting trauma from the attack was with him for many years, it also “[made] me a strong, self-confident, Zionist Jew in Austria.”

The attack occurred on August 29, 1981. Two terrorist of the Abu Nidal Organization committed a mass shooting and grenade attack that killed two congregants and wounded 18 others during a bar mitzvah. The two attackers were able to enter the 155-year old synagogue as they disguised themselves as Jews. After the shooting began, the terrorist started a shootout with two wounded police officers. Later, a Jewish business owner’s bodyguard rushed to the synagogue and shot one of the terrorists and overcame the other. Police arrived and conducted a house to house search fearing more accomplices and hidden bombs.

The two victims who were killed in the attack were Nathan Fried and Ulrike Sarah Kohut. They are both commemorated with a memorial plaque.

Kohut died when she placed her body over that of her friend’s three-year old son, Markus Kohn, shielding him from the gunfire.

At the event, Kohn quoted from the Talmud: “A person who saves a human life is credited as saving the whole world.

“That’s also how she made it possible for me to start a family later,” said Kohn who named his daughter Sarah after Kohut.

Oskar Deutsch, the president of Vienna’s Jewish community, spoke of his sadness and anger, but also of a sense of triumph that so many people had survived the attack and were at the memorial.

“You didn’t let it bring you down,” Deutsch said.

However, he lamented that today Jewish life in Austria is only possible with heavily armed security. The event had to take place with a large contingent of armed police officers.