Persecuting Grandfathers, Interviewing Grandsons? Austrian Gedenkdienst in New York

A cassete recording of a Gedienst oral history interview.

In 1995 the New York Leo Baeck Institute established a fascinating new project: Young Austrian conscientious objectors came to New York to do the equivalent of their military service by working at the Leo Baeck Institute interviewing Austrian refugees from their grandparents’ generation.

These encounters have gradually evolved into the Austrian Heritage Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute. Today it is among the most significant oral history projects on Austrian modern history that includes numerous documents and well over 2,200 biographical entries.

This unique collection is the starting point of the exhibition, “Persecuting Grandfathers, Interviewing Grandsons?” Its focal point is the often difficult communication between the generations as a result of the catastrophic historic events of the last century.

The exhibition takes visitors to the places where the emigrants and the Gedenkdiener meet. Photographer Arno Gisinger has captured the atmosphere in the New York apartments in a series of panoramic photos. Interviews with the emigrants and the Gedenkdiener give an idea of how young Austrians, descendants of the perpetrator generationg, were able to develop mutual trust and understanding with the older Austrian Jews who were forced to flee their once loved Heimat.

The exhibition was shown simultaneously at the Leo Baeck Institute New York and at the Jewish Museum Vienna.

May 23 – September 2, 2002 at Leo Baeck Institute

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