Austrian Gedenkdieners Join Staff as Full-time Interns, Holocaust Memorial Center Newsletter

01.03.2000

Project Description

Holocaust Memorial Center Newsletter Spring/Fall 2000

Austrian Gedenkdieners Join Staff as Full-time Interns

In February 2000, Martin Doblhammer and Daniel Leithinger joined the staff of the Holocaust Memorial Center as full-time interns under the auspices of Austria’s Gedenkdienst.

Founded in 1991 by Dr. Andreas Maislinger, a political scientist from Innsbruck who took the basic idea from Germany’s Aktion Suehnezeichen (Action for Reconciliation), Gedenkdienst (Remembrance Service) is an alternative to Austria’s compulsory national military service. In 1993 Dr. Maislinger’s idea was given further impetus when Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky gave a speech at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that said of the Holocaust, “we do not admit a collective Austrian guilt but rather a collective responsibility to remember and a responsibility to search for justice.”

Since 1992 some 100 interns, mostly in their twenties, have served in seventeen different institutions that are working to study and preserve the history of the Holocaust. Interns serve for fourteen months and receive a stipend for their support directly from the Austrian government. The program is run completely by volunteers (the Verein fuer Dienst im Ausland), who must work for six months before becoming eligible to apply for foreign service. Candidates for the service must apply directly to the organization for which they’d like to work and must complete six months of preparation, including reading books on the Holocaust and participating in ten events such as field trips to the sites of former concentration camps, Jewish museums, exhibitions, lectures, etc.

There are currently twenty-one interns working at such institutions (in addition to the HMC) as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles; the Holocaust Museum, Houston; the Center for Holocaust, Genocide, and Peace Studies, Reno, Nevada; the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Deportation, Paris; and the Holocaust Memorial Centre, Montreal.

Like their counterparts at other participating institutions, Martin and Daniel are involved in a variety of activities at the HMC, including maintaining the museum’s web site, creating written summaries of videotaped interviews with survivors and other witnesses, helping to schedule tours, and coordinating the process of digitizing our oral history videos.

Martin Doblhammer is from Linz, an industrial center about thirty-five miles from the town of Braunau, Hitler’s birthplace. His parents are both teachers and were very supportive of his decision to choose alternative service. He has a university degree in tourism/leisure time management and hopes to apply for a job in the U.S. after completing his internship. Martin chose Gedenkdienst because he believes young Austrians need to learn about the past, admit their country’s guilt, and work to make amends. He feels that the relationship between Austria and Israel, which has not been good, could be improved if more Austrians got to know Jews on a more intimate level than is possible in Austria today, where few individuals have any private contact with anyone who is Jewish.

Daniel Leithinger is one of seven children and was raised in Eberstalzell, a small farming community near Linz. His parents also encourage his choice of Gendenkdienst—his father is himself particularly interested in the Holocaust. Daniel is interested in computers and industrial design and intends to begin his university studies after he completes his service. He chose Gedenkdienst because he feels this is a way to do something positive and serve as a kind of ambassador for Austria. He also wanted to improve his English and experience living in the U.S.

Both Daniel and Martin were afraid that survivors of the Holocaust might be prejudiced against them as Austrians. They are happy to report that this has not been the case. The survivors and local Jewish community have been very welcoming. Martin says he has found that the HMC provides “an excellent atmosphere, a very friendly environment.” Daniel remembers that he had “reservations about being young,” but he feels that he has “been able to contribute. People are so friendly and helpful.” Both find the work they’re doing to be very interesting and an excellent opportunity for learning.

Gedenkdieners (remembrance interns) are in demand as speakers at schools and other community groups in Austria, and when they return home, Martin and Daniel hope that by communicating their experience they can help their fellow Austrians avoid prejudice.

Project Details

  • Date 2. July 2016
  • Tags Pressearchiv 2000

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