Together with a group of students from the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Victoria (Canada), Associate Professor Helga Thorson and Stewart Arneil, Manager of the Humanities Computing and Media Centre, created an interactive website based on the Servitengasse 1938 database that digitally maps the trajectories of the Jewish residents and shopkeepers of the Servitengasse between 1938 and 1945. You can retrace what happened to each of these individuals through the following link: https://hcmc.uvic.ca/servitengasse/.
The 9th district, Alsergrund, had the highest percentage of Jewish inhabitants in Vienna after the 2nd district. Yet despite this, there are relatively few places today where these people are remembered. The project Servitengasse 1938 is a citizens' initiative, supported by the local council, which actively carries out memory work.
The project's aim is to initiate a many-layered discussion of our own past in dialogue with local residents. To this end, the fates of the persecuted and deported Jews of an entire street - the Servitengasse - were investigated in a research project.
The results showed that over half of the residents in March 1938 came from Jewish families. But who were these people? Where did they work? Did they have children? Did they manage to escape the Nazi terror or were they murdered in a concentration camp? Are there survivors or descendents? These are the questions motivating the group.
Commemorating the victims of National Socialism, initiating and maintaining contact with survivors, as well as dialogue with local residents, are at the heart of the group's activities. A book of the research results, a film about the project, a memorial in the centre of the Servitengasse and several events testify to these efforts.
In order to inspire similar projects, the group co-operates closely with schools, exchanges ideas with other groups and also passes on its knowledge through adult education courses. Activities are co-ordinated in regular group meetings, where current issues and future goals are also discussed. The search for survivors from the Servitengasse also continues.
Dear Barbara, dear Fabio, dear Livio, dear fellow mourners
Peter Koppe was the chairperson of our association “Servitengasse 1938”. This citizens’ initiative has been going since 2004, so for 16 years now. Its aim was to research the fates of Jewish residents driven out of the Servitengasse. And over the years, two memorials in public space, a book, a film, exhibitions, adult education courses, regular memorial events and much more has come out of it. Behind all this was the aim not to let what happened back then, not to let all 462 people from Servitengasse affected by forced emigration and murder, be forgotten.
Peter was one of the initiators of this project, he accompanied it throughout and drove it forward with great energy. He led our group in a way that impressed me greatly. Ideas which, to me, seemed too bold he pursued with tenacity until they became reality. He also strived to place the project on a solid academic footing, securing the necessary finances for this. It was always Peter who, with patience and determination, had the necessary discussions with local authorities until the memorial was approved; I can assure you that both these things, patience and determination, were indispensible here. He also spent months searching for an exhibition venue in the neighbourhood and despite some setbacks, despite the time this took up, he kept on searching until he found one. When a task needed doing and no one in the group volunteered, then he took on that task. Nothing was too arduous for him and for years he also cleaned and maintained our memorial without complaint, sharing information about the project with passers-by. Similarly he obtained and transported road signs, sourced and put up benches for events, scheduled meetings, sent round minutes and looked after the website.
Peter always understood how to motivate us to carry on if, at times, we ran out of steam pursuing the project’s objectives. He himself appeared tireless. He was always in good spirits, without this appearing artificial; quite the opposite, he was an incredibly upstanding person with great integrity as well as warmth and empathy. He was positive, humorous and fair. He could improvise better than anyone, always following the principle: surely it must be possible, there must be a way. And always with personal commitment, often late into the night. As Barbara Kintaert put it on his death notice: his candle burned at both ends.
Privately I came to know Peter as a wonderful host. He liked to celebrate, in the apartment in Servitengasse and at the family’s garden near to the Alte Donau. At parties he would serve up what felt like 50 different dishes, all made himself and labelled with little signs. The recipes came from all corners of the globe and tasted delicious. Peter also cooked for his family. I can picture him now, wearing his djellaba, his favourite thing to wear at home, chopping vegetables and stirring several pots at once.
Peter was also an active and enthusiastic environmentalist, a defender of minority rights and of a democratic society. Here too his involvement was marked by his passion, enthusiasm, dynamism and management skills. Consequently he travelled around by bike, in summer and winter. For holidays, usually to Italy, a destination much loved by the family, he had a red Mercedes bus that he had converted into a camper van. This vehicle, which had umpteen years on the clock, seemed somehow attached to him. This bus has its own character, almost a personality you might say.
Dear Peter, we will miss you most dreadfully in the project group. You, together with your wife Barbara, were the soul of the group. Who knows whether the regular meetings in Leo would have taken place without you, or whether the association would have continued as such in recent years. Rest assured that we will endeavour to carry as you would have done.
Dear Peter, personally you showed me how to tackle important undertakings by thinking how an idea might best be realised, rather than putting it off indefinitely at the first hurdle. This has stayed with me, and I thank you for it.
Dear Peter, you left us simply far too soon and far too fast.