Hannes Richter

Hugo Portisch (1953 - 1955)

Hannes Richter

The renowned Austrian journalist, Hugo Portisch, who worked for the Austrian Information Service from 1953 to 1955 regarded those times as a very valuable formative experience. In 1953, Dr. Eugen Buresch took over as head of the Information Service in New York. The Information Service, which previously was a section of the Consulate General in New York, was established as an independent office located within the Consulate General. In these years before the signing of the State Treaty, relations between Austria and the U.S. were very strong. Portisch, who began in 1948 as a journalist working for the Wiener Tageszeitung, came to the U.S. as one of ten participants in a program for journalists financed by the Rockefeller Foundation in cooperation with the State Department and the University of Missouri. The academic program was followed by several internships with various U.S. newspapers throughout the country, giving him a clear insight and understanding of the U.S. media. He was keenly interested in extending his stay and was offered the opportunity to join the team of the Information Service in 1953.

Work in those days consisted of approaching American journalists, particularly those working for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, with whom there was always excellent exchange and rapport, despite the fact that there was very little media coverage of Austria. Two important goals were to get out issues such as cultural exchange in the media and to provide information about Austria to schools and elite universities such as Harvard or Princeton, etc.

Another very important goal of the Information Service was to fulfil Austria’s moral obligation to Holocaust victims by reaching out to Autrian émigrés forced to leave during the war. For Portisch, his presence was viewed as that of a journalist rather than as a representative of the Consulate. It was therefore easier to initiate discussion; moreover, it was very much appreciated that an Austrian representative attend public events where these questions were raised, answers were given and contributions were offered. Looking back on those years, Portisch recalls that he had developed a particular awareness of the sensitivity of these issues. The White House and Secretary of State John Dulles knew of the Jewish Claims Conference’s efforts to address this issue and offered American support and financial help in coming to an arrangement similar to that of the German government.

In November 1954, Federal Chancellor Julius Raab paid a state visit to the United States in order to meet with President Eisenhower and Foreign Minister Dulles in Washington. This was followed by travels to Florida, Chicago and the Northeastern part of the U.S., something which proved to be a logistical challenge for the small team working at the Information Service. Federal Chancellor Raab was accompanied by his secretary, Franz Karasek and the Political Director Josef Schöner. Accompanying Federal Chancellor Raab on his travels were also Austria’s Ambassador Karl Gruber and Hugo Portisch who acted as press spokesman for the delegation, also releasing the final statements. In addition, he sent daily reports to the Federal Press Service in Vienna.

In general, Portisch felt that Federal Chancellor Raab’s visit to the U.S. went very smoothly, however, there was no official statement regarding Austria’s moral responsibility for crimes committed under the National Socialists. Some form of apology was expected by the Americans. As a result demonstrators gathered in front of the Consulate General building displaying banners of protest. Portisch could not convince Raab that something should be said during the final conference held at the National Press Club. At the end of Raab’s visit, while sitting in the Waldorf Astoria, Portisch received a telegram from Hans Dichand. He had just taken over as head of the daily newspaper Neuer Wiener Kurier and he asked Portisch to join him in a cooperative effort. Thus, in 1955 he returned to Austria to work for the Kurier and later on succeeded Dichand as Editor-in-Chief.

----

Dr. Hugo Portisch, one of Austria’s most well-known journalists after World War II, was born in Bratislava in 1927. He studied history, German- and English Studies as well as Journalism and holds a Ph.D from the University of Vienna. Having begun his journalistic career in 1948 writing for the Wiener Tageszeiting, he studied in the USA in 1950, and in 1953 was assigned to the Austrian Information Service in New York, accompanying Federal Chancellor Juilius Raab during his visit to the U.S. in 1954. In 1954 Portisch joined the Kurier through Hans Dichand, succeeding him as Editor-in-Chief. He also worked with Bavarian television as political commentator. In 1968 Portisch became chief commentator of the Austrian Broadcasting Company, ORF. Alongside his profession, he wrote numerous books and contributed to well-known television series; for many years, he worked in London as foreign correspondent with Austrian Radio and TV. He was awarded with two Golden Cameras, three Romy distinctions for most popular commentator in 1990, 1992 and 1993, and in 2002 received the platinum Romy for his lifetime work.