We had no intention of founding senior citizens' clubs, but when an interviewer spends up to a dozen hours with an interviewee, they often establish bonds neither side wants to break.
That is why, in May 2006, after we completed our last Vienna interview, we invited nearly 100 Holocaust survivors to a Kaffee und Kuchen reception. Later that afternoon, as we prepared to leave, one person asked, “Can we do this again next month?”
Indeed, we could. And we did. We’ve been holding 11 events every year in Vienna and six to eight in Budapest. In Vienna, some of Austria’s best-known actors and novelists have read to them, and federal ministers, the speaker of the Parliament, ambassadors, and a US senator (Ben Cardin) have come to speak to them.
Tanja Eckstein directs our Café Program in Vienna, which is funded by The National Fund for the Victims of National Socialism, the City of Vienna, the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, and, on occasion, the Federal Chancellery, the Future Fund, and our Board Member, Daniel Kapp.
In Budapest, Erzsi Sándor has been directing Café Centropa since 2019. The program has been .supported primarily by the Claims Conference and the Gallic Fund, with occasional support from the German, Austrian, and US embassies. Our Budapest program was founded by Dr Szilvia Czingel in 2006.
Holocaust survivors and high school students
Although Covid put a temporary halt to our school visitation program, a genuine highlight for Café Centropa members has been bringing high school students to meet with our Holocaust survivors in Vienna and Budapest, something we’ve been doing regularly since 2008.
Although we sometimes have an individual Holocaust survivor speak to a class, we prefer to bring up to 40 to 50 students to the Vienna Jewish Community Center or the Balint JCC in Budapest, where a half dozen teenagers gather around one of our seniors at each table. We ask the students to read that person’s Centropa interview online before they meet them; then they sit and discuss that family’s story.
Considering that our survivors often went to the same schools in the same cities as the students, both sides greatly benefit from these exchanges. Teenagers, as we know, don’t do poker face, and they are often crestfallen and saddened by what they hear, but before too long, the stories of favorite teachers and best friends float to the surfaces, and so do the smiles and laughter.