Beliefnet
Salzburg, Austria, June 18--(AP) Visitors stopping at Salzburg's memorial to Theodor Herzl can't be faulted for thinking he found refuge here from the anti-Semitism that shaped his life, leading to his struggle for Zionism and ultimately the creation of Israel.

"I experienced some of the happiest hours of my life in Salzburg," reads a quotation from Herzl on a plaque in this city of baroque beauty.

But there is a darker side of the story that municipal officials chose not to publicize - one that clashes with Salzburg's promotion of itself as the city of Mozart and "The Sound of Music" that helps draw close to 7 million visitors each year.

"I would have been happy to stay in this city. But as a Jew, I never would have been promoted to judge," reads a further sentence from the quote - omitted on the plaque - that Herzl wrote in his diary after he moved to Salzburg to work as a legal clerk following his graduation from Vienna law school in 1884.

The plaque was put up on the side of the baroque court building in the western Austrian city last year. Municipal officials say they cannot be faulted for dropping the less favorable words about Salzburg because Jewish leaders agreed to the partial quote - and to omitting any mention of Herzl as the founder of Zionism - fearing anti-Semites would deface the full statement.

Salzburg's past - and present - support such fears. Fervent supporters of Adolf Hitler staged Austria's only "book-burning" in Salzburg after Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938 and that same year the city was among the first in Austria to declare itself "free of Jews."

Even now, veterans of Hitler's feared Waffen-SS gather here to honor fallen comrades each year. Just a few months ago, vandals defaced a poster at city hall publicizing an anti-Nazi exhibition inside. Municipal officials say they have decided to exchange the partial quote with the full one, after new consultations with Jewish leaders. They expect to have a replacement plaque ready within a few weeks. The one thing I don't want is for people to think that we are sloppy in depicting our past," Mayor Heintz Schaden told The Associated Press. "I consider it important to show our true colors."

Still, it took a word from above to bring about the change in heart. President Thomas Klestil urged a revision earlier this month. In a letter sent to Schaden and made available to the AP, he urged "sensitivity in dealing with the remembrance of Theodor Herzl, particularly in Austria" - a pointed allusion to the country's tradition of anti-Semitism that reached full bloom in the 19th century, helping form the thinking of Austrian native Hitler, who decades later unleashed the Holocaust.

Ariel Muzicant, the head of Austria's Jewish community, also pushed for the change, even while acknowledging that Marko Feingold, the 92-year-old leader of Salzburg's Jews who spent time in Nazi death camps, might have originally backed the incomplete version. "There is a big difference if someone was in a concentration camp and is afraid," Muzicant said. "I am not afraid. They need to have the truth out there and not hide behind half a sentence that says exactly the opposite of the whole sentence."

After his law studies, Herzl became a journalist and playwright. Deeply affected by the Dreyfus affair in France - the unjust conviction of Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus as a German spy - Herzl wrote the book "Der Judenstaat," or "The Jewish State." He was acknowledged as the father of Zionism by the time he died in 1904, a little more than four decades before his dream was realized with the founding of Israel.

With official Austria moving from denial to acceptance of its part in the Holocaust over the past two decades, Salzburg's decision last year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the city's synagogue by honoring Herzl was seen as yet another tip of the hat to the country's famous Jews.

But the gesture backfired, just a few months after the plaque went up. On Aug. 29, German artist Wolfram Kastner completed the quote, scrawling the missing words with a thick black marker on the wall below the plague and identifying their author as the father of Zionism. The Munich artist said he did it to rectify the "misuse of the quote for the purposes of tourism marketing." Authorities smeared white paint over his work and pressed charges for vandalism, punishable by up to three years in prison.

Burned by the fallout from the debate, authorities now are offering to drop the case if Kastner pays damages - something he refuses to do, arguing he should not have to pay for "doing something useful." "You cannot speak of vandalism here," he says. "We improved the plaque instead of damaging it."

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