All eyes now turn to Jerusalem. Not satisfied with Pope John Paul II’s general apology to the world on Sunday, some Jewish leaders are hoping the pontiff will come through with an unprecedented and specific declaration about Christian responsibility for the Holocaust and 2,000 years of anti-Semitic acts when he visits the Yad Vashem memorial next Thursday.
He will meet with survivors from the Polish town of Wadowice, where the Pope was born 79 years ago.
Israel and Jewish organizations adopted a wait-and-see posture Tuesday following the resignation of Joerg Haider as leader of Austria’s rightist Freedom Party, even as Haider’s successor vowed to prove wrong critics of the party.
“I don’t see any racism or xenophobia in the party,” Susanne Riess-Passer told The Jewish Week by phone from Vienna. “We have a good program and we will succeed in acting according to our program. I’m sure that many critics will be ashamed in the end.”
The president of the Austrian Jewish community lashed out at the head of the Jewish Agency for calling on Jewish groups to refrain from negotiating Holocaust-era claims with Austria as long as the rightist Freedom Party is part of the government.
“It is up to us to sit down and find a common solution, and not up to politicians of the Jewish Agency to make politics on our behalf,” said the president, Ariel Muzicant.
The plaintiff is British, a historian of World War II who has asserted that Jewish claims of genocide by the Nazis are exaggerated, that the Auschwitz gas chambers were built after the war by the Polish government as a tourist attraction, that Adolf Hitler did not become aware of the full extent of the Final Solution until 1943.
The defendant is American, a scholar and leading authority on Holocaust denial.
In one of his first acts after being sworn in as chancellor of the controversial new government in Austria, Wolfgang Schuessel faxed a letter to the World Jewish Congress in New York promising to move ahead immediately to resolve all outstanding Holocaust-era claims, The Jewish Week has learned.
Jewish leaders were split this week on how to react to an Austria governed in part by a rightist party whose leader, Joerg Haider, has made and apologized for comments praising some of Hitler’s policies but has been adamant in his refusal to open Austria’s borders to more immigrants.
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said Austria must be made to “understand the international consequences [of such a government]. It will pay a very heavy price for going down this road.”