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On eve of Kristallnacht, activists ‘rename’ Vienna streets honoring antisemites

Protest, publicized by the Austrian Union of Jewish Students, sees street signs named for Nazis and SS members pasted over with a temporary homage to resistance leaders

Yaakov Schwartz is The Times of Israel's deputy Jewish World editor.

An activist places a sticker honoring Hannah Senesh over a street sign named for Hans Kloepfer, a prominent doctor and writer who welcomed Hitler's annexation of Austria and joined the Nazi party, on November 8, 2021, in Vienna. (Courtesy)
An activist places a sticker honoring Hannah Senesh over a street sign named for Hans Kloepfer, a prominent doctor and writer who welcomed Hitler's annexation of Austria and joined the Nazi party, on November 8, 2021, in Vienna. (Courtesy)

Activists “renamed” some 23 streets in Vienna overnight Monday-Tuesday which they said honor antisemites, former members of Hitler’s Nazi party, and even soldiers and officers in the SS and SA paramilitary groups known for their participation in the Holocaust.

The protest was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogroms on November 9 and 10, and involved roughly 20 activists, a source told The Times of Israel.

The activists plastered over the current nameplates with new signage honoring Jewish and non-Jewish heroes who fought to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust and opposed the Nazi regime, such as Hungarian-born British operative Hannah Senesh and partisan leader Abba Kovner. Half of the new signs honored women in the resistance.

A video clip showing people on ladders placing replica street sign stickers over the existing signs was posted Tuesday morning on the Twitter page of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students, along with “before and after” photos of a number of individually renamed street signs. No group took responsibility for the renaming of the signs.

“As the president of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students, I’m very happy that these activists took matters into their own hands,” said Sashi Turkof, a 20-year-old education sciences major at the University of Vienna.

“In Austria we have a [Holocaust] remembrance culture that’s officially very strong, but on the other hand, it’s very hard for us as a minority to oftentimes not feel heard — that’s why it’s so important that we say these signs cannot remain this way, they need to be changed.

Sashi Turkof, president of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students. (Courtesy)

“We are not okay sharing our streets with Nazis and antisemites,” she said.

The controversy over the street signs is not new. In 2013, Vienna’s Department of Culture commissioned a report into 4,300 city streets named after people. The commission, headed by historian and University of Vienna professor Oliver Rathkolb, found that 170 of the street names were problematic, of which 28 honored people “who have aggressively and sustainably represented anti-Semitic attitudes or other group-related misanthropic prejudices,” as well as “active members of the [Nazi Party] or active members of the SS or SA.”

Following these findings, the city did not rename the streets but did place additional signs containing historical context below the existing signs.

It is not known why the activists plastered over 23 rather than all 28 signs.

Turkof said that the issue of public monuments to antisemites has been a “huge debate, a huge part of our activism” at the Austrian Union of Jewish Students.

She said there is an ongoing campaign to remove a statue and rename a square dedicated to former Vienna mayor Dr. Karl Lueger, who is known for modernizing the city at the turn of the 20th century as well as for introducing populist antisemitism into Austrian politics. In his 1925 manifesto “Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler cited Lueger as an inspiration.

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