Austrian shares Holocaust research at Legacy Gallery

Campus News
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Photo by Barbara Kintaert (provided)

On Jan. 22, Legacy Gallery hosted the first of four lectures to take place this spring, titled Racism, Memory, and Politics of the European City. Victoria welcomed Dr. Barbara Kintaert from the Austrian Chamber of Labour, who presented the projects she had dedicated her research to since 2003.

Her research began with the 27 Jewish residents of Vienna’s Servitengasse 6 in the 1930s, an apartment complex where Kintaert has lived since November 1984. Their names are now memorialized on a plaque in front of the building, alongside an art installation called the Keys Against Forgetting. “A list doesn’t bring back the victims, but it’s a testament,” Kintaert said at the lecture.

Kintaert was originally born in Belgium and moved to Vienna in the midst of completing her university degree to live with her boyfriend, now husband, at Servitengasse 6. In 1999, inspired by meeting her father-in-law’s cousin, she began to informally research his relatives—many of them killed or forced to emigrate during the Holocaust.

“If the Holocaust had never happened, my father-in-law would have had 12 relatives that all could have had children and grandchildren—so my kids, 70 years later, would have had a lot of uncles and aunts, but now they have nobody,” Kintaert said in an interview with the Martlet.

She describes her extended family’s history as a carpet, torn apart and irreparable since the Holocaust. “A carpet is full of threads, horizontal and vertical—the carpet is full of holes, because it was torn apart in the Holocaust,” she said. “You can’t mend the threads. Our family carpet is full of holes, and I’m trying to reconstruct the fate of the family members.”

In 2002, due to lack of available documentation, she was stuck. Kintaert placed her research on hold, and instead decided to “dig where I stand—to look [at] what happened in the building I was living in, in the 9th district,” she said. “It evolved with the help of more people, who helped me do research and carry it on.”

The apartment building had 28 apartments at the time—half of them rented by Jewish families, and the other half by non-Jewish families. Kintaert said she was well prepared for the atrocities she would come across while tracking the various families torn apart by emigration, deportations, exterminations, and unimaginable living conditions for many during the Holocaust. She was, however, unprepared for meeting the survivors.

“What I wasn’t prepared for [was] the survivors that I got to meet, [and how] they lost part of their family in the Holocaust—but they survived. But they are still suffering now,” she said. “This was a very important lesson. They are happy, but there’s still sadness in them. They have nice experiences now, but they have nightmares at night. This was hard to cope with.”

After researching and tracking the life of 27 Jewish residents and shopkeepers from the building, she unveiled the memorial plaque in Sept. 2005. The monument lists each of their names, and is in the shape and size of a person. “We don’t know why but [visitors] hug it,” she said at the lecture.

The project began to take a life of its own, she said. In 2006, 180 hours of research and interviews were compiled into an hour-long film. Within the same year, the group organized a survivor’s reunion of former school friends from the building. In 2007, the group of researchers published a book on their findings, and exhibitions were held in 2010 and 2012. The project has now extended to studying other buildings on the street.

In 2012, with years of research experience, Kintaert was able to finish her family’s research, and fill the gaps that were missing in the threads of her family’s heritage.