Hannah Lessing

Heldenplatz Speech on May 5, 2003

My grandmother, Margit Lessing, was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942 and gassed in Auschwitz in 1944. My father fled to Palestine in 1939.

My name is Hannah Lessing. I direct the Austrian Reconciliation Fund for the Victims of National Socialism. Our bureau was established by the Austrian Parliament in 1995 in order to acknowledge and honor the fate of the survivors through settlement by means of a symbolic sum.

I would like to thank you, students, in the name of those people who confided their life stories during the last eight years to the National Fund. Survivors, who suffered the unimaginable and have told us – in many cases for the first time – of their fate.

Remembrance of the once beloved schoolmate, who pretended from one day to
the next not to know one, causing to this day endless pain.
Separation from the parents at the railway station, as the one train guided the children to a safe country, while the other train brought mother and father to their death at a concentration camp.

No amount of money, no gesture, can make up for what befell them. The only thing one can give these people is hope: hope that we Austrians have learned from the era of National Socialism and the developments leading up to it, and will do everything to prevent such events from happening again.

I would like to thank you for having brought so many victims of National Socialism out of anonymity. Often, much too often, one speaks of “the” or “those” 80,000 victims. This tendency of consolidating information in neat little packages according to numbers or mass abstractions often camouflages the picture of single incidents suffered by people individually. You have made life stories with names and events out of sheer numbers. As you now know through your work, there were many individual cases which fit into no scheme nor form, and about which listing the facts in history books alone can never do justice.

At that time people were categorized according to groups. Some, because they were “different,” were excluded from society. By so doing, it was easier to rob them of their human dignity.

Karl Stojka, survivor of Auschwitz and prominent advocate of the Roma, whom many of you got to know personally before he prematurely died three weeks ago, fought against such categorizing his life long. The thought of him reminds us of our responsibility to continue speaking out against putting people into little niches.

Sorting out all the historical facts is the only basis for living together cooperatively, for recognizing the responsibility we have toward history as toward the victims. Only by writing this commitment into our hearts does the hope of all victims of National Socialism live on: that this must happen never again.

I thank you for your contribution to this sense of hope and wish the balloon flown for my grandmother a peaceful flight.