Responsibility Cannot Be Shared
The law concerning the foundation of the Fund for Reconciliation, Peace and Co-operation was passed by all the members of the Nationalrat. This unanimity clearly shows the importance that the legislator, and thus the representatives of the Austrian voters, attributed to this gesture from the Republic towards former slave laborers and forced laborers. This fact, and likewise the naming of the Fund, placed high demands on the sense of responsibility, the empathy, expert knowledge and productive capacity of our employees from the very outset.
The name of our Fund begins with the word "Reconciliation." It was clear to all of us that we cannot demand reconciliation from those men and women whose sad lot it was to suffer forced labor. Our work allowed us, and indeed required us to do our utmost to create an atmosphere in which reconciliation is offered to victims and at best can be experienced by them. In view of the forced laborers' advanced age and the health damage suffered by most, it was imperative that in addition to accurately carrying out our daily work, everything possible had to be done to avoid omissions, delays and bureaucratic obstacles. The objective was to exhaust every conceivable possibility to reach all those victims who were still alive. On its own initiative, Austria could only offer survivors of forced labor a gesture of deepest sympathy and of understanding, to recognize them as victims of the Nazi regime. It was particularly distressing to hear that on returning to their home countries, a great number of the victims still were not granted their full freedom. The material aspect of the Republic's gesture is being raised by the generations whose work now finances it. Through a great number of publications and discussions, it was possible to give them a better understanding of the moral necessity and the significance of their efforts towards overcoming the shadows of the past and towards permanently strengthening peaceful co-existence in Europe.
Because "old" responsibilities and debts cannot merely be cleared away by "wanting to forget." However regrettable it is that this gesture is very late in coming, it must at least be realized to the greatest extent possible.
When we commenced our work, we were frequently asked: "Why do you only take care of former forced laborers from the distant past instead of doing more to support victims of international human rights violations today?"
There is only one answer to that: "We took on the task with which we have been entrusted out of conviction, and we want to fulfill it to the best of our ability." We are by no means indifferent to the misery in the world around us today. Quite the opposite, dealing with the fate of the forced laborers strengthened our conviction that all human rights violations must be combated from the word go and with full commitment. It also strengthened our will, our awareness and our sense of responsibility to give our full support to the peaceful development of relationships between nations.
The human and political significance of our task was without doubt deeply felt by all of us in our daily work. This also applies to the cooperation with our partner organizations to a great degree. Peaceful cooperation is not only found in declarations of intent, international agreements and treaties in big politics, but also in the manner in which one implements and makes tangible the contents of such declarations, agreements and treaties in individual areas of responsibility.
It was a marvelous experience for me to work together with this extremely committed team on an important task in the interests of the former forced laborers, but also in the well-understood interest of our identity as Austrians. All the more so, as it is not presumptuous to say that we have come very close to meeting the high targets of the Austrian Reconciliation Fund.
Ambassador Dr. Ludwig Steiner,
Chairman of the Committee of
the Austrian Reconciliation Fund