Leo Baeck Institute works to preserve and promote the history and culture of German-speaking Jews.
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Doris Bures, the President of the National Council of Austria (the upper house of Austria’s parliament) visited LBI in New York on August 27, 2015 to learn about the Institute and meet two young volunteers who are working to document stories of Austrian refugees in lieu of their mandatory military service in Austria.
Jan Dreer (19) and Simeon Gazivoda (18) both from Vienna, opted to spend the year after their graduation from Gymnasium recording the stories of former refugees from their homeland and helping expand and maintain the Institute’s Austrian Heritage Collection of nearly 400 recorded oral history interviews. “Gedenkdienst makes an important statement: that we must never forget,” said Bures, referring to the German name for the program of voluntary service with Holocaust memorial organizations. “These young people are making an invaluable contribution to our coming to terms with the darkest chapter of our recent history,” she continued.
“It is a personal enrichment for me to meet people all over New Jersey, Connecticut and New York to record their remarkable life stories,” said Dreer, who also photographs his interview subjects. “It allows me to see Austria and its past through different eyes.” Gazivoda linked Gedenkdienst to his concern about contemporary social issues. “I see documenting this history as a way to fight xenophobia in today’s world as well” he said. Bures also offered a statement in support of draft legislation that would open the possibility of recognized civil service to young Austrian women. “This is a long overdue step, since women have always played an important role in the fight against every form of racism, violence, and discrimination, not just in today’s civil society,” said Bures.
Over 40 Gedenkdienst volunteers from Austria have spent a year at Leo Baeck Institute, NY since 1995.