NEW YORK (JTA) — The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee this week honored Austria for providing a haven for hundreds of thousands of Jews seeking asylum over the past several decades.
Austrian President Thomas Klestil was presented with the JDC's International Humanitarian Award at the agency's board meeting Sunday.
"No generation has a choice in the problems it inherits, but every generation does have a choice in the way it chooses to face these problems. And Austria faced courageously its challenge by becoming a point of refuge and transfer for hundreds of thousands of Jews seeking asylum," said Ambassador Milton Wolf, president of the JDC, in presenting the award.
"Austria has opened its borders offering shelter and relief to those people on their way to freedom," he said. Most of the refugees were Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Klestil, who last year became the first Austrian president to visit Israel, reiterated to the JDC board remarks he made in Jerusalem about Austria's responsibilities during the Holocaust.
"When I visited the Holocaust Memorial in Washington two days ago I was again deeply moved by the horrors that took place also on Austrian soil," said Klestil. "No word of apology can ever expunge the agony of the Holocaust."
German parties seek money for survivors
BONN (JTA) — Germany's two major political parties have formed a coalition to demand financial reparations for Jewish survivors of the Holocaust now living in the Baltic nations.
Members of the ruling Christian Democratic Union Party and the opposition Social Democratic Party recently held a news conference here, calling for the Baltic nations to take action. The Greens also joined in the initiative.
The number of Jews who survived concentration camps during World War II and are now living in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is estimated at 300 to 400.
Like other Nazi victims in the former Soviet bloc, they have received no financial compensation for their suffering.
The German government has refrained from compensating these Jews because of a concern that it might spur demands from non-Jewish victims and Jews from other countries.
The future of the initiative is seen as bleak, because many German parliamentarians oppose further compensation of Holocaust survivors.
Germany also has offered the governments of the three Baltic states funds for the construction of elderly homes for Holocaust survivors. Estonia is the only country to accept the offer.
Recently, the German government returned four pieces of property in Berlin to the city's Jewish community.
Mayor urges park for Mussolini sibling
ROME (JTA) — The mayor of Latina, a city south of Rome, has stirred controversy with his plan to rename the city park after the brother of wartime Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Mayor Aimone Finestra is a member of the right-wing National Alliance Party, which grew out of the now-defunct, neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement party.
He wants to rename the park, which is currently undergoing a major cleanup operation, after journalist Arnaldo Mussolini, who died in 1931.
"It is proper to name the park for a man of culture and [a] counselor of his illustrious brother," Finestra was quoted as saying in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera.
Corriere della Sera published a sharp editorial on the affair, saying that such moves hampered the attempt by National Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini to rid the party of its old neo-Fascist ties and place it within the mainstream right.
Minyan brings Polish shul to life
KRAKOW, Poland (JTA) — Hebrew prayers resonated in what once was a synagogue in southern Poland when a small group of Jews recently held Shabbat services there for the first time in decades.
Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the Poland representative of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, organized a minyan to travel June 30 to the town of Lesko and pray in the remote former synagogue, which now is used as a museum.
Most of the minyan consisted of young Jews from Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw, Poland.
The Shabbat coincided with the opening of an exhibition on Jewish life at the museum.
English scholar Jonathan Webber helped with the organization of the event, which included a kosher meal.
"The concept was that during the exhibition there should not just be artifacts, but a chance for the synagogue to be a synagogue again, even if only for one Shabbos, " Schudrich said.