A Jewish grave and Romany stories

On 26-27 September, 2000 Czech Ambassador to Austria Jiri Grusa hosted discussions of the Stories Exchange Project at the Czech Embassy and the Czech Centre, Vienna.
The program began with presentations by the Ambassador and Project Director John Erwin at the grave of an early victim of anti-Semitism defended by the founder of Czechoslovakia, President Tomas Masaryk. This was an historic first presentation by a representative of the Czech Republic at the Jewish Cemetery, Vienna.
Ambassador Grusa
“Jakub Hilsner was accused of committing a ritual murder of a Christian.
He was sentenced to death in Kutna Hora, but he was defended by a small group of Czech intellectuals, and his verdict was changed to life imprisonment. The last Habsburg emperor reprieved him in 1918. But he spent eighteen years in jail. Freed, he lived here in Vienna and died under the name Leo Heller.
The majority of Czechs believed at that time in such an absurd accusation. Based on an old critical anti-Semitism that has created the most shameful example of xenophobia in modern history.
Tomas Masaryk, later the founder of Czechoslovakia, was the most outspoken critic of this superstition. But you can see we have two traditions.
We will discuss today and tomorrow the new phenomena of xenophobic hatred. It is good to understand the old ones. It is good to seek for ways and means to overcome the past, to analyze the present and to win the common future in this old burdened past of Europe.”
John ErwinDirectorThe Stories Exchange Project
“It is an honor for us to be here at a place where such suffering is evident and tangible.
Eighteen years ins prison for an unjustified—for a crime he did not commit – was the price that was paid by one man for an imbecility, a total lack of understanding on the part of European culture and world culture: a stupidity that continues and no one knows where it will stop. This stupidity knows no color or race. It’s a stupidity that covers the earth. And it is based on fear.
This is a fear that we need to address directly and honestly. We have to admit that we all are afraid: every one of us is afraid of the other person who is different from us.
We are responsible for changing history. This is a responsibility that is too large: we will never be able to do enough. But the kind of conversations that we are beginning here in your company – a conversation which we bring from the Czech Republic to Austria – may be able to do a small, a very small amount. And we have a responsibility to make that as large a contribution as possible.
As a pledge of this attempt I will lay in turn my stone on the grave.”
On the following day presentations at the Czech Center of stories gathered by the Stories Exchange Project stimulated conversations with representatives of Romano Centro, Vienna about possibilities of cooperation in the Drom cultural preservation studio project [see NEWS at this Web-site] and other efforts by the Stories Exchange Project to ground social and economic development in cultural programs.