Hundreds of Holocaust survivors in Austria and Slovakia receive first dose of coronavirus vaccine, acknowledging past suffering with special tribute 76 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp, where the Nazis killed over a million Jews and others.
More than 400 Austrian survivors, most in their 80s or 90s, receive their first vaccine on Wednesday at Vienna’s largest vaccination center, in the congress center of the Austrian capital.
“We owe them this,” said Erika Jakubovits, the Jewish community in Vienna who organized the vaccination campaign. “They have gone through so much trauma and felt even more insecure during this pandemic.”
Some of the survivors are brought there by shuttle or ambulance, while others arrive with their children. The fittest among them plan to take the metro.
Jakubovits organized the vaccination campaign with the support of the Austrian Ministry of Health and officials from the city of Vienna. Twelve doctors, all members of the Viennese Jewish community, volunteered to vaccinate the survivors.
‘A duty to the survivors’
Although organized to take place on what is known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the vaccinations were not offered only to Holocaust survivors, but also to all other elderly Jews in the region. over 85 years old.
Some survivors of Vienna’s 8,000-strong Jewish community had already been vaccinated in December when residents of the community’s nursing home were vaccinated, Jakubovits said.
More broadly, a majority of older Austrian people living in nursing homes have already received the first vaccine, Austrian news agency APA reported.
Earlier this week, the president of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) called on all countries in the European Union to ensure that Holocaust survivors have access to coronavirus vaccines as quickly as possible.
With the end of World War II more than seven decades ago, the estimated 240,000 Holocaust survivors around the world are all elderly. Since many were deprived of adequate nutrition when they were young, today they suffer from many medical problems.
In addition, many live in isolation, having lost their entire families and are suffering psychologically from their persecution under the Nazis.
Over six million European Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Third Reich.
The vast majority of those killed in the Auschwitz death camp were Jews from across Europe, but other non-Jewish prisoners, including Poles, Roma and Soviet soldiers, were also among the victims.
About 192,000 Jews lived in Austria before World War II. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, enthusiastically supported by many Austrians, more than 100,000 Jews fled the country.
Tens of thousands of people were murdered in death camps, and by the end of the war in 1945, very few Austrian Jews remained in the country, most of them in hiding from the Nazis.
The EJC estimates that only 20,000 Holocaust survivors still live in the EU.
“Throughout their lives they have shown great strength of mind, but in the current crisis many have sadly died alone and in pain, or are now fighting for their lives, and many more suffer from extreme isolation, ”said Moshe Kantor, head of the EJC.
“We have a duty to the survivors to ensure that they can live their last years in dignity, without fear and in the company of their loved ones.”
Vaccinations during a “ symbolic day ”
Vaccination efforts in the 27 EU countries got off to a slow start with insufficient doses, which led to widespread criticism from officials.
In a project similar to the one in Vienna, the Jewish community in Bratislava in Slovakia was also due to vaccinate the survivors on Wednesday.
“We are very, very grateful that the vaccinations take place on this symbolic day,” said Tomas Stern, head of the Jewish community in Bratislava.
Some 128 survivors were due to receive their first injection at the Jewish community center in Bratislava on Wednesday and 330 more across the country in the coming days.
In Israel, home to many Holocaust survivors, more than 80% of those over 70 have already received at least one dose of the vaccine and nearly 60% have received the second dose.
Because Israel’s vaccination campaign has progressed so rapidly, there was no need to nominate Holocaust survivors.
Still, around 900 Holocaust survivors died from COVID-19 in Israel last year before vaccines were available and around 5,300 survivors were infected, according to Israel’s national statistics office.