Holocaust survivor Gertrude Pressburger, who became famous during Austria's 2016 presidential campaign with a video message in which "Mrs. Gertrude" warned of hatred and exclusion triggered by the far right, has died at 94. Pressburger died Friday after a long illness, her family said Saturday. The AP reports that Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen tweeted: "The death of Gertrude Pressburger fills me with deep sadness ... Mrs. Pressburger had the courage to tell her story as a Holocaust survivor. She had the courage to stand by her opinion. To address facts. To speak the truth."
Pressburger was born in Vienna, the daughter of a carpenter. Her Jewish family converted to Catholicism in the early 1930s but nevertheless was persecuted by the Nazis after Austria was annexed by Germany. After her father was tortured by the Gestapo for alleged political activity, the family escaped to Yugoslavia and later to Italy. In 1944, the family was captured and deported to the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp in Germany-occupied Poland, where her mother and two brothers were murdered. Her father was also killed by the Nazis. Pressburger returned to Vienna after the war, but initially did not talk about her sufferings. Eventually, she did. "I did not come back to Vienna to be oppressed again. I swear to myself that I will not put up with anything anymore. I'm going to fight with my mouth," she said.
In 2016, Pressburger addressed Austria's younger generation in an online video, warning against the humiliations and exclusion of minorities amid the far-right rhetoric in the country's presidential election. She called on young Austrians to vote. The video was watched and shared several million times. "I just said what I thought. That's it. And that hit home. I never understood why," she said afterward. Van der Bellen, who is from the Green Party, later said he was sure her video influenced the election, which he narrowly won only after a rerun against the far-right Freedom Party candidate. "We will never know for sure, but that it had an impact, that is to say an effect, and especially on young and very young people, I am convinced of that," Van der Bellen said.
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