Austrian Holocaust Institute Loses Key Members

By: Veronka Oleksyn - AP Writer
By: Veronka Oleksyn - AP Writer

Key members of an Austrian Holocaust research center have quit in a dispute with the city's Jewish community.

The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies began
provisional operations in January after being bogged down for years
with funding problems. Its aim, among other things, is to give
scholars from around the world unique access to roughly 8,000 files
of the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and to parts of a vast
archive belonging to the Jewish Community Vienna. But reluctance by
the Jewish community to provide full access to its trove of
historic information had crippled the center over the past 10

On Friday, frustrated by a lack of progress, Ingo Zechner, the
institute's business manager, announced he was quitting.

"The concept of the (institute) is based on goals that can't be
realized in the given situation," Zechner said in a statement.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Zechner
explained that the biggest problem was that the Jewish community
had agreed to only open the 1919 to 1970 section of its archival
material and only a limited selection from those years. It had also
insisted on reserving the right to remove pieces at will, he said.

"This is about censorship of material," Zechner said, adding
that independent research would not be possible under such
restrictive conditions. "This is really not easy for me, but we
fought for months," added Zechner, who has worked on the project
for the past seven years.

The institute's executive committee, under Anton Pelinka's
leadership, resigned in protest in July, but it continued to attend
negotiation sessions with the Jewish community in the hope that a
compromise could be reached. That process appeared to end Thursday
night when Pelinka and three other executive committee memgers said
they were leaving the project for good.

In an e-mail to the AP, Pelinka said his decision also was based
on the fact that independent research would not be guaranteed due
to the restrictions insisted on by the Jewish community.

"It is not the end of the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute, but it
is the end of the institute as it was designed by the majority of
the outgoing executive board," Pelinka said.

A new executive board was elected Thursday following a meeting
of all groups involved in the project. It now includes Ariel
Muzicant, the head of the Jewish community.

"The lending agreement between the (Jewish Community Vienna)
and the (Vienna Wiesenthal Institute) related to the archive is
ready for signature and will be signed soon," the Jewish community
said in a statement announcing the formation of the new committee.

"I wish the new executive board all the best - but I am very
skeptical," Pelinka said.

Wiesenthal, who died in his Vienna home in September 2005 at the
age of 96, had been personally involved in planning the center.

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