VIENNA – Portraits of Holocaust survivors that were on display as part of a public exhibition in Austria’s capital have been vandalized and covered in swastikas, authorities said on Monday.
Luigi Toscano’s “Lest We Forget” project is the result of a year of interviews with Holocaust survivors in Germany, Israel, Russia, Ukraine and the United States, and is a collection of 200 portraits of the individuals who shared their stories with the German-Italian artist.
“It deeply affects me that the exhibition ‘Lest We Forget’ was brutally destroyed. I know that the overwhelming majority of Austrian society has a clear, negative attitude towards Nazi atrocities,” Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen said on social media.
“It must be an incentive for us to place empathy and human dignity at the center of words and deeds. #NeverAgain can not become an empty phrase – we have to live it daily!” he added.
At least eight of the close to 100 giant portraits that are printed onto a robust fabric have been vandalized.
Toscano’s art installation has fallen victim to acts of violence and vandalism twice in the course of the last week.
Several of the portraits were defaced with swastikas and others were covered with offensive antisemitic messages. These have since been removed.
“Dear friends, I’m deeply upset. Unfortunately, there was a right-wing radical attack on my exhibition in Vienna. Several pictures were smeared with hook crosses. That really affects me. My team and my partners in Vienna have decided that we will not bow to nothing or anyone,” the artist said on his Instagram page.
The exhibition of portraits has been on tour around the world and has already visited San Francisco in the US and Mainz in Germany.
“Lest We Forget is more than just a look back at our past, as remembrance has a great influence on how we feel and act,” the photographer and filmmaker says about the project.
“The 94 year old protagonist Susan Cernyak-Spatz shared a quote with us that gets to the heart of it: ‘If we forget the past, we are condemned to repeat it.’” Toscano adds.
Austria actively participated in the Holocaust and the mass killing of six million Jewish people at the hands of Nazi Germany in World War II.
In Austria alone, some 65,000 Jews were murdered. Around 135,000 managed to escape.