It was a special commemoration. Because someone who took part in an official capacity at the commemoration ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust in the former Mauthausen concentration camp on Thursday has a personal history with this place: Israel’s Foreign Minister and alternating Prime Minister Yair Lapid also commemorated his grandfather Béla Lampel in the former camp complex in Upper Austria. He was murdered there on April 5, 1945 – a month before it was liberated by US troops.
How exactly Lapid’s grandfather died is not known. Because the causes of death, which the “camp doctors” documented in writing for each individual prisoner, actually served to cover up the crimes. What is known, however, is that Béla Lampel died in Ebensee, one of the more than 40 satellite camps of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex.
Lampel was first deported to Auschwitz on the night of March 18/19, 1944. 77 years ago yesterday, on January 27, 1945, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Soviet troops. In 2005, the UN made this date International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A memorial service has also been held on this day in Mauthausen, where around 90,000 people were murdered between 1938 and 1945.
From person to number
“My grandfather was taken to Auschwitz,” Lapid said. “And then he came here, to Mauthausen.” When he arrived at the camp, Lapid said he was no longer a father and a person. “He was a number.” The consistent numbering of the prisoners would have helped the National Socialists to persuade themselves “these are not murders, these are statistics”.
Israel’s Foreign Minister made his visit to Mauthausen together with Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, Interior Minister Gerhard Karner and Upper Austria’s Governor Thomas Stelzer (all ÖVP). “We must never forget their names,” said Nehammer in his speech about the victims of the Holocaust. “And most importantly, we need to tell their stories.” On behalf of the Republic, the Chancellor apologized for the crimes committed by Austrians and assured that the government would continue to do everything possible to combat anti-Semitism. Close ties are maintained with Israel: “We stand together.”
Schallenberg also emphasized solidarity with Israel. “For far too long Austria saw itself only as a victim of National Socialism,” he said. “We shied away from acknowledging our historic responsibility.” Today one takes this responsibility fully, which “by no means only refers to the past”. “Now and in the future” it is about decisive and consistent action against all forms of anti-Semitism. This also includes a special relationship between Austria and the state of Israel and its security. “Only if Jews all over the world can live in safety and freedom,” said Schallenberg, “can a ??never forget?? really become a ??never again??.”
Karner also emphasized this guideline, which means a historical responsibility for Austria. It is not only a personal concern for him as the minister responsible for the Mauthausen Memorial, but also “as a democrat and a person”.
Finally, the Israeli Foreign Minister made the urgent conclusion to the commemoration, which was not announced in advance for security reasons, with reference to his homeland: “The Nazis thought they were the future and that Jews could only be found in a museum,” says Lapid. “Instead, the Jewish state is the future – and Mauthausen is a museum.” Lapid concluded his speech by saying, “Rest in peace, grandfather. You won.”