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Will the Austrian election make Norbert Hofer Europe's next far-right leader?

    Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer (left) with party head Heinz-Christian Strache
    Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer (left) with party head Heinz-Christian Strache

    An Austrian Holocaust survivor has recorded a heartfelt video message warning her fellow citizens not to vote for Norbert Hofer, the far-right candidate, in the re-run of the presidential election this Sunday.

    The video of the woman, known only as Gertrude, an 89-year-old from Vienna, has been watched more than three million times online.

    Gertrude was 16 when she was deported from Vienna to Auschwitz with her parents and two brothers. She was the only one to survive. She said that Mr Hofer and his Freedom Party reminded her of the antisemitic atmosphere of the 1930s.

    The Freedom Party was formed by former SS officers in the mid-1950s and has been dogged by reports of antisemitism and Holocaust denial ever since.

    Mr Hofer's policies emphasise "Austrian identity", which has been interpreted as alluding to racial purity. He frequently poses with firearms and has been seen wearing the blue cornflower badge, which was a symbol of the inter-war pan-German parties that gave rise to the Nazi party.

    Hofer warning: survivor Gertrude
    Hofer warning: survivor Gertrude

    The Freedom Party has stoked fears about immigration and migrants, one of the issues that has fuelled its surge in the polls. Mr Hofer has said that carrying guns is a "natural consequence" of immigration and has also approved the banning of burqas.

    "The thing that bothers me the most is the denigration of others, the attempt to bring out people's most base feelings instead of their decency," Gertrude said in the five-minute video. "I have seen this once before… and it hurts and scares me."

    According to the Austrian Forum Against Antisemitism, reported incidents involving hatred of Jews increased in the country last year by more than 80 per cent, to 465.

    Austria's constitutional court annulled the result of May's presidential election after a probe revealed irregularities in the count of the vote in several constituencies.

    Mr Hofer had lost by just 30,863 votes to Green-backed Alexander Van der Bellen. If Mr Hofer wins, he will become western Europe's first freely elected far-right head of state since 1945.

    In the clip, posted on the Facebook page of Mr Van der Bellen's campaign, Gertrude urged people to support him when they go to the polls on Sunday.

    Responding to the widely shared video, she added: "I am overwhelmed by the tremendous response. The thousands of appreciative reactions and the personal words that have been conveyed to me move me a lot. Thank you."

    On Tuesday, the head of Austria's Jewish community, Oskar Deutsch, urged voters to back Mr Van der Bellen.

    He had been "a friend of the Jewish community and Israel for many decades", Mr Deutsch said.

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