A Jewish doctor who returned to care for the same Austrian townspeople who had expelled him during the Nazi era has been honoured with a plaque.
The memorial has been put up in Fischamend, a small town near Vienna airport, in memory of Dr Richard Winter, who was forced to leave the town in 1938 simply because he was a Jew.
Thomas Ram, the mayor and a former candidate for the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) before he left it to become an independent MP, said he welcomed the initiative.
He told a local newspaper: “This is exactly how good and sensible community politics should work, implementing good ideas together, free from party political disputes. Together, we have demonstrated how it can and should be done. Thank you to everyone involved.”
Dr Winter, born in 1897, was Fischamend’s respected doctor but the community turned on him after the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938. He was repeatedly beaten in public and even his girlfriend, a teacher, spat in his face.
He was eventually forced to leave the town and spent the Second World War in Kazakhstan, then in the Soviet Union.
He returned to Fischamend in 1947 and quietly resumed his medical practice from his house in Gregerstrasse, which is today the town hall.
He never referred to his ordeal and expulsion and continued looking after the town folk until he retired in 1963. He died in 1977.
Ram’s endorsement of the memorial plaque has surprised some. The FPÖ has repeatedly been accused of antisemitism, most recently by the Austrian Jewish Student Union, which sued party leader Herbert Kickl for allegedly making “repulsive and antisemitic” statements during a radio interview about anti-vaccination protests during the Covid pandemic.
But not all think that this should be an issue. Renate Strauss, a member of the Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ) and of the joint community political action platform that led the campaign to honour Dr Winter, told the JC: “Dr Winter was an important citizen to this town.
He came back here after the Second World War, despite everything he had endured.
“Party politics has no place in all this. This was really close to our hearts and Dr Winter was respected across all party lines.”