Last minute 'reprieve' for Austrian refugee, 87

By Jessica Elgot, July 28, 2011
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An 87-year-old former refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria received a last-minute invitation to an Austrian Embassy commemoration event, after being told the event was full.

Vienna-born Alice Malcolm, 87, complained to the JC last week that despite travelling from Glasgow to London, and her daughter Vivien Lobell flying from New York, the embassy had told her that the event to mark the 70th anniversary of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) was "fully booked".

The AJR said 50 survivors were on the waiting list for the reception.

Just 45 minutes before the event began, Mrs Lobell received an email inviting her and her mother to attend the reception. She said: "We had given up. But when we got back to our hotel after a few days away, we had a message to say we could go to the reception. We decided to go for it, and I'm so glad because my mother had a wonderful time. The ambassador and the staff were exceptional. It's all thanks to the JC."

Around 100 survivors attended the event at the embassy. Refugee Evi Labi, 89, who escaped Nazi-occupied Austria in March 1938, and now lives in Belsize Park, said: "I would like to do everything in my power, despite my seriously advanced age, to try to give young Austrians an understanding of the past, without apportioning blame, for something that happened many years before they were born."

Alfred Kessler, 81, came from Vienna aged nine on the Kindertransport. Now living in Surrey, he said: "It was a beautiful reception, and I was impressed by the ambassador. I do think they are facing up to the terrible injustices committed against the Jewish population."

The UK has the world's fourth highest Austrian survivor and refugee population. Many of them now return to speak in Austrian schools about their experiences.

Ambassador Emil Brix paid tribute to the "impressive, unflinching and tireless work of the AJR". AJR chairman Andrew Kaufman said: "Through the Austrian Holocaust Survivor Emergency Assistance Programme, we have distributed more than £2.5m to Austrian Nazi victims with the greatest needs."

    Last updated: 1:56pm, July 28 2011