The Viennese journalist and contemporary witness Karl Pfeifer died on January 6, 2023 at the age of 94. His authority as an incorruptible fighter against totalitarianism and antisemitism was undisputed but also brought him numerous enemies. Born in Baden near Vienna in 1928, he fled to Hungary with his parents after the “Anschluss” in 1938. There he became a member of the socialist-Zionist youth organization Hashomer Hatzair, which had a decisive influence on his future path. In 1943, he followed his older brother to Palestine, where he lived on a kibbutz and fought in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. He returned to Austria in 1951, where “old Nazis” still held many of the key positions in public life. “According to Austrian law, I was not a ‘Heimkehrer’ (‘homecomer’) because I had not served in the Wehrmacht or in the Waffen SS,” Karl Pfeifer stated laconically when he received the Grand Decoration of Honor in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria in 2018 – much too late.
After difficult early years in which he worked in different professions, Karl Pfeifer began his career as a journalist. He advanced to become the longtime publisher and editor of Die Gemeinde, the official magazine of the Jewish Community of Vienna, and worked for Israeli radio and various Austrian and international magazines. Again and again he reported from Hungary, both during the communist dictatorship and after the “Turnaround” in 1989. Early on he warned about anti-democratic developments and spoke out against human rights violations, not only when they were directed against Jews but also when they targeted other minorities, such as Sinti and Roma in Hungary.
Until the very end, Karl Pfeifer fought in his articles against antisemitism, which today often hides behind the criticism of Israel. If he thought it was important, he didn’t shy away from engaging in a wild war of words. He remained a critical spirit and was not blind in any eye.