Vienna Violated

Reflections of a resident the day after the 2 November bloody terror attack

By Caroline Shklarek Zelman

Austria is a small and peaceful country. The sounds from our city of Vienna are typically from musical instruments not the instruments of war. Murder and mayhem never occurs where we live, only on television – elsewhere. Our Vienna is an “island of the blessed” as we residents are apt to fondly say.

Until last night!

Map of Murder and Mayhem

We are currently living in a global Corona pandemic. When the virus surprised Austria in March, the country reacted quickly with a lockdown. It was a shock to the people; we were confronted with something that we had never experienced before. Compared to other countries, our case numbers were very low. We shuddered as we looked first to our neighbour Italy and then France seeing their frightening experiences through a very painful crisis. Then came the summer and with it the good feeling akin to a newly won freedom. Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived as we were reminded – the virus was still amongst us and hitting back with a vengeance!

COVID-19 pandemic development in Austria (Feb. – Nov.)

The result was the announcement of the much-dreaded return to a lockdown this time with stricter curfews from 8‘oclock in the evening to 6 in the morning. This had never happened before. Or had it? A populist politician from the opposition used the deeply affected emotions of the population to compare the new curfew with what followed when skirmishes erupted between the Fascists and the Socialists in February 1934.

A very painful comparison, since this date marked the beginning of a civil war in Austria, the beginning of the abolition of parliamentary democracy, which paved the way to the darkest period of Austrian history – Nazi tyranny!

Today, our Corona case numbers are over 6000, so it was back to no cinema, no concerts, no restaurants and no coffee houses – this hits the Austrian soul.

However,  something far more disturbing was to suddenly darken our Austrian soul.

Vienna in Turmoil

So, what happened yesterday, November 2nd in Vienna?

It began with the feeling as our last day of freedom before the looming midnight curfew. It was a wonderful mild evening, 22 degrees Celsius, and our city center and its terraces were full of people who were out drinking and eating enjoying the warm embrace of Vienna which they all thought they had until midnight.

Police on the Prowl. Police move through central Vienna on Monday night as there were reports of multiple gunmen.

It was not to be!

At 8 pm. in the Jewish quarter in the middle of the city center, shots were suddenly fired in the street that is home to the Austrian capital’s main synagogue.  Shots followed elsewhere and tranqual Vienna was in turmoil. All broadcasts were stopped, sirens and helicopters could be be heard until the early hours of the morning. Everyone was afraid. We all knew of friends and acquaintances who had wanted to enjoy a nice evening in the city with their loved ones. Instead, horrifying videos began to circulate, first on WhatsApp, then on other platforms on social media. The police asked the people not to leave their homes while at the same time, called on those who were in the city centre and who might have filmed with their cellphones the unfolding horror, to send their videos to the police for evaluation.  They needed to have as much intimate information they could get to identify and assess the killer or killers. The magnitude of the panic was  evident with over 20,000 videos received by the police from the public. This helped in providing important  clues to catch the perpetrator.

We heard of people who were thankfully safe but also of those terrifyingly stuck in pubs, concert halls and the opera houses. They were afraid and did not know what to expect or what to do. In a show of solidarity across the city centre, local residents opened their homes offering protection to people in the streets as did a central hotel  which offered their rooms at no expense to people on the run.

Face the Music. The State Opera where one can expect to hear from a tenor not a terrorist, armed policemen stand guard in front of the main entrance of the State Opera in the centre of Vienna following the shootings.

Jasmin Kapp, a member of our Austrian WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) was caught up in the chaos with her husband, Daniel. Barricaded in their office, they ventured out to bring to safety a young woman and her friends who were in danger at a restaurant and brought them to safety.

Fleeing in Fear. Women run away near the State Opera in central Vienna as shots ring out following several attacks in the city.

It took many hours before people could emerge from hiding – sound familiar – and safely return home.

In many of the cultural venues people had to wait crowded together for several hours. During these tragic hours, the pandemic receded into the background although its impact from coinciding with the terrorist attack and forcibly forcing people to dispense with social distancing, may be a topic for the day after tomorrow.

Violence in Vienna. Graphic images blood spattered across the front of a cafe and chairs and tables hurled over among broken glass and plates.

What remains are traumatized eyewitnesses and a shocked country and city that had never experienced anything like this before.

Counting the Cost

Today our mood shifted from fear to sadness as we heard the news that four people were killed – may their souls rest in peace – and 22 others wounded, seven with life-threatening injuries.

A Nation MournsAustria’s political leaders honoured the victims in Vienna as the nation mourned

We also learned about the young man who terrorised our city. Armed with an assault rifle, a pistol and a machete, 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai had previously been jailed for attempting to join Islamic State in Syria. Before his early release in December, he had taken part in a deradicalisation course but who, according to our Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, “deceived” his handlers about his true intentions.

Ready to Kill. Isis shared this photo of Kujtim Fejzulai, who had pledged allegiance to Isis in an Instagram post hours before the rampage in central Vienna. It shows him posing with the automatic rifle, handgun and machete he was armed with during the attack.

That deceprtion resulted in a bloodbath on the streets of Vienna!

While searching his apartment, the officers came across a large arsenal of weapons. An inquiry will need to delve into this issue  as we also learned that Slovakia’s intelligence service had previously warned Austria that Kujtim had tried to buy ammunition. Apparently, this information was lost in a communications breakdown!

What remains in the wake of the devastation and loss of lives on our once peaceful streets of Vienna are many unanswered questions.

Aftermath. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gestures to President of the Vienna Jewish Community Oskar Deutsch (left) as they participate in a wreath laying ceremony in the city centre the day after the deadly shooting spree.  

We praise  our services in the way they rapidly responded  to this heinous act of terrorism and to all the people and WIZO Chaverot (friends/members) around the world  for their outpouring of sympathy and support. We need to be ‘one family’ when it comes to dealing with terrorism whether its on the streets of Paris, Pittsburgh, Jerusalem, London or Vienna.

Austrians have much time now to reflect. We are now in Lockdown II.

VIENNA – From the scene after gunman attacked from six locations in central Vienna on Monday starting outside the main synagogue, killing four people and injuring at least 14 in what Austria called a “repulsive terror attack”.

About the Writer:

Caroline Shklarek Zelman is a resident of Vienna and a member of WIZO Austria.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

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