The Austrian government and the country’s Jewish community have signed an agreement that would see federal funds to secure Jewish institutions increase threefold, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced on Thursday.
“The last weeks have shown that we have to act together to protect Jewish life in Austria even more determinedly,” Kurz wrote on his Twitter profile. “That’s why we as a state will support the Jewish community with its increased security costs.”
According to the agreement, which will be anchored in legislation, the Austrian government will pay €4 million (NIS 16 million, $4.7 million) to the Jewish community every year.
“With this historic step the Austrian government is manifesting Jewish life as a natural and inseparable part of Austria,” Oskar Deutsch, the head of Austria’s Jewish community, wrote in a letter sent to community members.
The community has reached a “historic agreement with the federal government of Austria to safeguard and foster Jewish life in the long term,” he said.
“The core of this undertaking is the financial support by the federal government for the Jewish Community in the amount of 4 million euros annually. This means tripling the assistance for security expenses we are currently receiving through an agreement with the Federal Ministry of the Interior.”
Currently, the Jewish community’s expenses for security amount to €3.7 million, according to Deutsch.
“The new assistance will not only support our security budget: The new law will enable the consolidation of the Jewish community; it will secure our infrastructure and therefore the varied services the [the community] has to offer. This includes schools, culture, youth, care, social support, public relations, security and many other areas that we can be proud of.”
That Jews in Austria have to be protected by professional security agencies was a “sad but necessary reality,” Deutsch went on. “At the same time, the close cooperation of our security staff and commission with Austrian authorities have made us one of the safest communities in Europe.”
Kurz is known as a staunch supporter of his country’s Jewish community and as one of Israel’s staunchest allies in Europe. Among other initiatives, he advanced legislation that allows those who were persecuted by the Nazi regime and their direct descendants to obtain Austrian citizenship without giving up their existing passports.
Last week, a Vienna-born Israeli man who left Austria 76 years ago at the age of eight became the first Jew to receive Austrian citizenship under the new law.
Ben Zion Lapid, 84, received his official passport at the Austrian embassy in Israel on Friday, days after the new law went into effect. Thousands of Jews around the world are expected to apply for Austrian citizenship under the new law.
Lapid told the Austrian newspaper Der Standard that his grandchildren urged him to reclaim his Austrian citizenship.
“I’m in the autumn of my life, I don’t care who or how I am, but I want to leave something to my four children and eight grandchildren. You can now also become Austrians, and if you ever have to leave here and need refuge, then you have a place,” Lapid said he told his family.
What a moving & joyous occasion! Ben Zion Lapid, Holocaust survivor from Vienna, was the first person to receive Austrian citizenship based on the new law. @mengel999, thanks for joining us & celebrating with us. pic.twitter.com/1ZzWa1cK2B
— Hannah Liko (@HannahLiko) September 4, 2020
“For me it comes full circle… I didn’t go of my own will; I was a child. Israel is my home, of course, but it’s also something like coming home. Because I still speak German and I’m interested in what’s happening in Austria. And because my brother lives in Austria,” he told the newspaper. “Now I’m coming back as Ben Zion Lapid after 76 years.”
Lapid fled Austria with his mother in 1944, residing in Slovenia and Italy before boarding a crowded boat for Mandatory Palestine. The British intercepted the boat and he spent nine months in a refugee camp in Cyprus, separated from his mother, before being smuggled into Israel. He was later reunited with his mother.
JTA contributed to this report.