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Her Father Escaped Vienna. Now She Returns to Help Syrian Refugees.

Lives of refugees packed into large plastic bags.

Lives of refugees packed into large plastic bags.

Hineni: Day One, Vienna

Each person who is here in Vienna helping the Syrian refugees transit through Austria has his/her own story. Karin, a fourth-grade teacher, lives in the neighborhood of the Westbahnhoff, the West Train Station where Caritas, the Catholic refugee service, has set up a major assistance operation. She tells me she first started volunteering weeks ago when she couldn’t sleep at night knowing that she was warm and comfortable while refugees only blocks away were cold, displaced, and needed her help.

Tim is in charge of the food station next to the tracks where trains arrive from Lower Austria jam packed with refugees. He greets me in English through a thick German accent, glad to see me, a fellow American. Though he was born in Germany, he has fully embraced being an American, even though he only lived in Queens for 12 years before marrying an Austrian woman and moving to Vienna. He wants no association with anything German – except his grandparents. He is here because they hid Jews during the war, and he wants to fulfill the expectations he imagines they would have of him were they still alive. Not only does he volunteer for Caritas most days, but he has rented the apartment next to his to house an Iraqi refugee and her children. “My grandparents hid Jews for years. The least I can do is put this woman up for a year while she waits for her husband to join her.”