Holocaust survivors exhibit slashed and daubed with swastikas in Austria

A photograph exhibition of Holocaust survivors was slashed and daubed with swastikas in three attacks in Austria this month.

German-Italian artist Luigi Toscano said the “destruction is the worst possible scenario”, but stressed the vandalism helps to emphasise why his work is so important.

Mr Toscano’s “Lest We Forget” exhibit is on display in a central area of the Austrian capital Vienna.

He said: “These survivors trusted me when I took their photos and now their pictures have been defaced – I’m shocked.”

Ten large portraits of Holocaust survivors were slashed across their faces in the most recent attack on Sunday.

Three photos were cut and four were defaced with swastikas and antisemitic slurs earlier in May, Mr Toscano said.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen, who opened the exhibit, condemned the attacks.

He said Vienna police were investigating.

The exhibition on part of the Ringstrasse, a busy road that runs around central Vienna, is made up of 80 portraits of Holocaust survivors.

Mr Toscano said he talked to some of the survivors after the vandalism occurred and though they were hurt, they told him that “now more than ever before these portraits need to be shown”.

The artist also said he received support from many people in Vienna.

A group of young Muslims, a Catholic youth group and a Viennese theatre group arranged for an around-the clock vigil that started on Monday night.

Mr Toscano said more than 60 people showed up to protect the exhibit all night.

Some brought along tents, lit candles and even showed up with sewing kits.

The artist said: “I was especially touched by the women who came and stitched the photos back together.

“I didn’t even think it was possible.”

The supporters in Vienna said they would continue their vigil until the exhibit closes on 31 May.

The portraits, which are 2.5 metres (8ft) tall and 1.5 metres (5ft) wide, are made from a textile-like material that is water-repellent.

They have been shown in 13 countries worldwide so far.

Mr Toscano said an exhibit in San Francisco just ended without any incidents, while another that is currently on show at the banks of the Rhine river in the western German city of Mainz is getting police protection.

The United Nations Human Rights office condemned the attacks on the exhibition, and expressed concern “about the rise in antisemitic incidents taking place in a number of European countries and the United States”.

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