Hundreds of Austrian, Slovakian Holocaust survivors get vaccinated

Hundreds of Holocaust survivors in Austria and Slovakia get their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, an acknowledgment of past suffering and a tribute to resilience 76 years after Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

More than 400 Austrian survivors, most in their 80s or 90s, are expected to get shots at the convention center in Vienna. Some are brought by shuttle or by ambulance, while others were accompanied by their children. The fittest among them took the subway.

“We owe this to them,” says Erika Jakubovits, who organized the capital vaccination drive for the Jewish Community of Vienna. “They have suffered so much trauma and have felt even more insecure during this pandemic.”

A vial and a syringe of the Pfizer/BioNTech Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine at the Bordeaux CHU hospital, January 7, 2021. (MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP)

Jakubovits set up the vaccination drive with support from the Austrian Health Ministry and Vienna city officials. Twelve doctors, all members of the Viennese Jewish community, volunteered to administer shots to older Jews.

While the event took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, vaccinations were not limited to survivors of the Shoah. All Jews in the area older than 85 were eligible to receive them during the special tribute drive.

In a similar project to that in Vienna, the Jewish community of Bratislava in Slovakia also vaccinates Holocaust survivors on Wednesday.

“We’re very, very grateful that the vaccinations are taking place on this symbolic day,” says Tomas Stern, the head of the Jewish community in Bratislava.

Some 128 survivors were to receive their first shot at Bratislava’s Jewish community center on Wednesday and another 330 across Slovakia in the coming days.

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