Holocaust survivor warns Austrians against far-right vote

Vienna pensioner calls on young people to support Hofer’s rival

Gulf News

Vienna: An emotional video appeal by a Holocaust survivor warning Austrians not to vote for the far-right candidate in a presidential election rerun has gone viral, reaching close to three million views on Monday.

The Vienna pensioner, identified only as Gertrude, said Norbert Hofer’s anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe) aimed to “bring out the worst in people”, in a throwback to the anti-Semitism unleashed by the Nazis in the 1930s.

“The thing that bothers me the most is the denigration of others, the attempt to bring out people’s most base feelings instead of their decency,” the 89-year-old said in the online video published late last week.

“I have seen this once before ... and it hurts and scares me”.

She called on young people to support Hofer’s rival, the Greens-backed Alexander Van der Bellen in Sunday’s vote, being closely watched after populist Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

Gertrude was 16 when she and her family were deported to the Auschwitz death camp. She is the only one to have returned.

She said she was particularly shocked by FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s recent remarks that migrants could spark a “civil war” in Austria.

“It sent shivers down my spine. You can’t even allude to something like that,” Gertrude said.

“I have witnessed a civil war as a seven-year-old and have never forgotten it. That’s when I saw my first dead bodies, and unfortunately not the last ones.”

“This is probably my last election ... But young people have their whole lives in front of them and they need to make sure that they’re doing well,” Gertrude said.

Her video, first posted by Van der Bellen on his Facebook page, has had more than 2.8 million views and thousands of comments.

Gertrude said Sunday she was “pleasantly surprised that the words of an old lady had been taken seriously”.

Opinion polls suggest Sunday’s race is too close to call.

Van der Bellen, 72, narrowly beat his 45-year-old opponent in May, but the FPOe got the result overturned over procedural errors.

A rerun set for October was again postponed because of faulty postal vote envelopes.

Like other populist groups in Europe and Trump in the US, the FPOe has won support by stoking concerns about immigration and what it portrays as an out-of-touch elite.

The party is currently tipped to win the next general election scheduled for 2018.

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