University of Vienna honors 2,200 Jews expelled by Nazis
Online databases contain names of Jews forced to leave the university after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.
Kurt Elias vividly remembers the day in 1938 when the Nazis barred him from entering the University of Vienna because he was Jewish.
"I had to send someone else in to get my dissection kit and coat," said the 90-year-old Elias, a medical student at the time.
Shortly thereafter, the Vienna native left Austria with just one suitcase and several dollars in his pocket. He ended up becoming a doctor in the United States and now lives in New York City.
Elias is one of more than 2,200 people listed in an online database launched this week containing the names of students and teachers - most of them Jewish - who were forced to leave the University of Vienna after Adolf Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938.
The database also contains the names of people who were stripped of their academic titles - including famous writer Stefan Zweig, whom the Nazis in 1941 deemed unworthy of the philosophy degree he earned in 1904 because he was Jewish.
"This is a belated, symbolic initiative," reads the virtual memorial book.
While some entries consist of just a name, date of birth, basic biographical information and copies of inscription forms, others - such as the page dedicated to Elias - also include photos and life stories.
Some reflect the horrors of the time.
"She was deported and died in Auschwitz (Oswiecim/Poland) on January 1st, 1943," reads the final sentence of the entry dedicated to Antonie Frank, also a former medical student.
Project leader Herbert Posch said he and his team spent years identifying and trying to track down as many people as possible who were expelled from the University of Vienna 71 years ago.
In the end, he said, they reached about 150 and conducted some 100 interviews either in person, by telephone or via e-mail. Links to 14 videos of interviews are to be posted online in the near future.
But the search for victims is not over.
"It's a work in progress, Posch said, adding he hoped visitors to the Web site would help supplement entries with missing details - and help create new ones.
"We're presenting an incomplete list that, over the course of further research, will have to be complemented, expanded and possibly corrected," said his colleague, Friedrich Stadler, who heads a forum that investigates the history of the University of Vienna in the 20th century.
Still, Esther Fritsch, a Jewish community representative, described the memorial book as a big step forward.
Organizers also compiled a handwritten memorial book that is on display in a light-filled former Jewish prayer house on campus. It has blank pages so that more names can be added as the project progresses.
To Elias, the database will help maintain the memory of what happened to him and many others.
"It's a very good idea to make sure the truth isn't forgotten," he said in a telephone interview from New York.