Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kreisky is Gone, Yippee!

The Austrians once had a chancellor by the name of Bruno Kreisky. He held the job for 13 years, routinely won elections, and - unusual for Austrian politicians - attained significant international recognition. (Quick, don't stop to think: who's the Austrian chancellor today?)

He was also Jewish, though he preferred to describe himself as "being of Jewish descent" (juedischer Abstammung), which was a way of distancing himself.

He was cordially detested by most Israelis. Rumour was that he had a brother in Israel, and a nephew who was a pilot in the Israeli air force, but this, if anything, made matters worse. The nadir of Kreisky's relationship with Israel came in September 1973, when a group of Palestinian terrorists took as hostages a group of Soviet Jews who were in Austria on their way to Israel. The terrorists demanded that Austria cease in assisting the transit of Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel, and Kreisky complied with indecent alacrity. This was known as the Schoenau incident, named after the Austrian castle which had been serving as a transit facility.

The other day, one of our professional declassifiers showed me an interesting document. In the course of routine declassification of Foreign Ministry files, he had come across a September 6, 1983 letter from Israel's ambassador to Austria, Michael Elizur, to his boss in Jerusalem. The declassifier thought it was interesting because the new Austrian Chancellor, Fred Sinowatz, had authorized the transfer to Israel of the historical archives of the Burgenland region (which has had no Jewish community since the Holocaust). Look Yaacov, the declassifier said, a tidbit that ties in with the case of the Vienna archvies.

Read the full letter, however, and it's subject is of greater interest: "... we are seeing a process of emancipation of the current government from Kreisky's rule," gloated the ambassador with non-diplomatic glee, and enumerated a list of events which demonstrated improving relations between Austria and Israel. That word - emancipation - is in itself about as close to a cheer as a diplomat can get, even in a letter classified at the time as "secret."

A few years later Kurt Waldheim was elected President of Austria and relations with Israel went into deep freeze, but the ambassador's letters from then are in a different box.


  1. Here is a link to an article about the brother.,5812639