Austria to create Simon Wiesenthal award for fighting anti-Semitism

Annual prize of about $17,000 meant to encourage more people to combat hatred of Jews; far-right Freedom Party only parliamentary group to oppose award

Austrian Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal during an event in Vienna, March 19 1999. (Ronald Zak/AP).
Austrian Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal during an event in Vienna, March 19 1999. (Ronald Zak/AP).

BERLIN, Germany (JTA) – An Austrian parliamentary committee has paved the way for the creation of an annual prize to encourage the fight against anti-Semitism.

An amendment passed last week would create an award named for Simon Wiesenthal, the late Austrian Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter. The winner would receive about $17,000 annually. Two additional awards of about $8,500 each would go to those who have made a “special civil society commitment against anti-Semitism and for education about the Holocaust,” according to a parliamentary statement.

The amendment is expected to be formally adopted this week.

The goal is “to encourage others to raise their voices,” said Wolfgang Sobotka, president of the National Council, Austria’s lower house of parliament.

Then Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka attends a press conference in Vienna, September 12, 2016. (Ronald Zak/AP)

Sobotka, a member of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, said he came up with the idea for the prize while on a trip to Israel two years ago.

“Simon Wiesenthal was a great Austrian who did not get the recognition he deserved during his lifetime,” Sobotka reportedly said.

Oskar Deutsch, head of Austria’s Vienna-based Jewish community, said the prize was a tribute to Wiesenthal, who died in 2005 at the age of 95. Deutsch said the prize would support projects that “strengthen Austria and the whole of Europe, in keeping with humanistic principles.”

Wiesenthal’s daughter, Paulinka Kreisberg-Wiesenthal, said in a written statement that the prize sends an important signal “at a time of rising racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.”

Statistics released in May show a gradual rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents and crimes in Austria in recent years.

Austria’s far-right Freedom Party was the only party that did not support the prize because it objected to the the name, suggesting instead former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, a left-wing politician of Jewish background with whom Wiesenthal had clashed.

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