NEW YORK, June 12, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Austria bestowed one of its highest honors on American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris. The Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria was presented today to Harris during the AJC Board of Governors meeting.
"Throughout his life, David Harris has made it his goal to prevent and combat all forms of antisemitism. In doing so, he also had a major influence on Austrian activities in the fight against antisemitism, BDS, and terrorist groups like Hezbollah, and in support of Israel," said Austrian Member of Parliament Martin Engelberg, who, together with Austrian Consul General Helene Steinhaeusl, presented the award on behalf of Austria President Alexander van der Bellen.
"David has made a significant contribution to Austria being today one of Israel's closest friends in Europe and one of the leading nations in the fight against antisemitism — and being recognized internationally for these efforts, especially in the United States and Israel."
Harris, the son of Holocaust survivors, "has spent his life promoting international understanding and coming to terms with the crimes of the Shoah, especially the dialogue with postwar Austria and the often difficult confrontation with its role in the Nazi era," Engelberg said.
He noted that Harris's father was a Jew from Austria "who was able to save himself from persecution by the Nazi regime" by fleeing initially to France, "While his father, until his death in 1998, never managed to be reconciled with Austria, David was able to recognize the steps taken to come to terms with what is happening in today's Austria, and to send a clear signal by accepting Austrian citizenship."
"I grew up in a home that had strongly negative feelings about Austria. My father personally experienced Austria's betrayal of the Jews before, during, and even after the war," said Harris. "But in recent years, I've seen a welcome turnaround in Austria's outlook towards its own history and, notably, regarding Israel, largely triggered by Sebastian Kurz in his role as foreign minister, then as chancellor. That gave me new confidence in Austria, a willingness to accept the citizenship offered to me, and, today, a sense of gratitude for this meaningful award presented by my dear friend, Martin Engelberg."
Past recipients of the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold include Kofi Annan, Willy Brandt, Stuart Eizenstat, Anna Freud, and Simon Wiesenthal.
David Harris is the most decorated Jewish organizational leader in American history, having been honored nearly 25 times by foreign governments.
SOURCE American Jewish Committee