“Austria”, has a wholesome ring to it, doesn’t it? Most people don’t think of much when they hear that word, and we Austrians don’t mind. It means that people don’t think of anything bad, as that usually stands out more than something positive. Austria was a safe place, at least for the time being.
I have been living in Vienna my entire life, and have felt safe the whole time. However, having a French mother and an Israeli father made me more aware of the dangers of the world, especially in the last few years when terror attacks started again. I attend a French school, therefore I knew the risks of being French and Jewish, and it has never been easy, but somehow Vienna made it easier. I didn’t feel safe in France, and I honestly didn’t feel safe in Israel, as I grew up in an environment that was so incompatible with danger.
Although my cultural background might have reinforced this feeling of safety, everyone I know felt the same way about Austria, which is why we have never been so devastated as we are now. Not only because of the horrifying things that happened but because no one saw it coming.
On November 2nd, I went out with my sister to the first district, the center of Vienna, to our usual café. That night was the last before the new COVID-19 lockdown, which they had announced a couple of days prior. It came as no shock that everyone was outside that night, for one last celebration with friends, or the last diner at a restaurant, or even a last-minute shopping spree. We all knew it was wrong to go out that night, the infection numbers went up drastically at the time, but we all did it anyway. Later that night, my sister and I met up with my cousin and her friend and we decided it was time to go home. It took us about 15 minutes to get home by foot, and about 10 minutes after we arrived my parents told us that gunshots had been fired at the exact same place we were at just half an hour ago.
Quickly videos and clips of the attack started circling around social media, rumors of hostages, bombs, and accomplices were spreading, and all we could do was wait. We waited for 3 hours to get actual information about the attack, not knowing whether we were still in danger or not. Naturally, we couldn’t blame anyone, the police were all over it and actually did a fantastic job. Meanwhile, my other sister was stuck in a theater in the same district until 2 am, as they wouldn't let anyone out until the crime scene was neutralized.
As it turns out, there was one gunman who ran across the first district and the Jewish center of Vienna, shooting civilians along the way. He was put down within 9 minutes after the shots had been fired. The people in the streets hid in various restaurants and apartments, and most had to wait for hours, like my sister.
The next day I had to get out of the house just to walk around and clear my head, and the streets were completely empty. Suddenly I didn’t feel safe anymore. The night of the attack we were all deeply shocked and confused over what had just occurred, but the next day I knew for sure this changed our city forever. As a result, I didn’t leave my house for another week.
After a while, I couldn’t avoid it anymore, and I had to leave the house to shoot a remembrance video in honor of the persecuted Jews during the November pogrom. The location of the shoot wasn’t far from where the attack had taken place. When I passed through the city I saw hundreds of candles spread out on the floor, along with flowers and pictures of victims. It was a beautiful gesture, and I wish I could have lit a candle. However, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t summon the strength. It would be too real, and I wasn’t ready to face the fact that it broke me, along with everyone else who was there that night; it destroyed the illusion of our safety that we had believed in until now.
Vienna’s different now, and we all feel it, we didn’t see this coming, so we’re trying to anticipate what can happen next, even though it’s practically impossible. For the first time ever, on the night everyone wanted to be free and have fun one more time, it was taken away from us.
Today, three weeks later, things are looking up. Just yesterday, I was passing by the first district, and I almost forgot about what had happened, until I saw the candles flickering through the darkness. The accomplices have been arrested, and the shooter has been put down. We’re healing little by little, and although things are different now, Vienna’s still Vienna and I’m lucky and grateful that I’m okay.
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