Hannes Richter

The 1960s and Austria’s Long-Held Image of “Sound of Music”

Hannes Richter

Otto Zundritsch (1967 - 1976)

Dr. Johann Kronhuber (1955 – 1959) and Kurt Hampe (1959 – 1967) succeeded Eugen Buresch. In 1976 Dr. Otto Zundritsch took over as head of the Information Service. Zundritsch came from the Federal Press Service in the Federal Chancellery, which was then responsible for the Information Service in New York. Although initially assigned to Washington, D.C. as Press Counselor, he later became director of the Austrian Information Service in New York on December 17, 1967, where he remained for nine years.

During this time, he recalls, “we had good contact with various media from the TV to the press, which was an advantage being located in New York,” and broadcast journalists like Walter Cronkite, legendary CBS anchorman who also hosted for many years the annual Vienna New Year’s Concert on PBS, frequented the events held by the Austrian Information Service. Today the TV networks of ABC, NBC and CBS no longer dominate the news but have been largely replaced by cable news stations, which have much larger viewership. During that time, he recalled, “We were a quiet, little country, and we wanted to promote Austria as a country that had a lot more to offer than just the cliché of the “Sound of Music;” in other words, a country not only with beautiful landscape but also a country rich in culture. There was no controversial issue affecting relations; it was more a matter of avoiding that Austria be mistaken for Australia, which happened again recently during Austria’s election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. In view of this positive atmosphere, we were easily able to promote Austria. During my time I traveled throughout forty-five U.S. states holding interviews and giving speeches.” In 1976 Zundritsch left the U.S. and was assigned to Brussels as Press and Cultural Counselor.

Erich Fenkart (1976 - 1979)
From 1976 to 1979 Dr. Erich Fenkart headed the Austrian Information Service. Fenkart, who had been a journalist with Die Presse before he began his career at the Foreign Ministry, together with his assistants Peter Marboe and Ulf Pacher, made an effort to intensify relations with U.S. newspapers, radio and TV stations as well as with the huge corps of international correspondents accredited with the UN in New York. Press coverage of Austrian events improved considerably; press conferences with Austrian members of government visiting the UN or on visits in the U.S. were held, and numerous questions of newspaper offices had to be answered daily in a prompt and unpretentious way. For special events in Austria, visits of U.S. journalists were arranged. Several newspapers or journals, for instance The New Yorker used to counter-check details of reports from their correspondents in Vienna before publishing them. UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim was highly esteemed within the UN Press corps at the time. The Austrian Information Service in New York worked in close cooperation with the Austrian Embassy in Washington and circulated Austrian information material among Austria’s Honorary Consuls in the U.S. The Austrian Information Service tried to promote Austria, too, by travelling throughout the country and participating in cultural events. For instance, in May 1978 Fenkart visited newspaper offices and radio stations in Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, Atlanta Georgia, and participated in the “Spoleto-Festival” in Charleston, South Carolina by opening an exposition on Contemporary Austrian Art. Fenkart recalls one subject that involved Austria and was of special interest to the U.S. media. In the 1970s and 1980s, Vienna was a central turntable for Jewish emigration from the Sovjet Union to Israel and to western countries.

On September 28, 1973, Austria became victim of a terrorist attack by Palestinian guerillas. They took four people hostage who were riding on a train from the Sovjet Union - three Jewish emigrants and an Austrian border official. The terrorists demanded that the Austrian border transit camp, located in Schönau Castle, should be shut down. The Austrian government under Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky after long negotiations finally had to give in to the demands of the hostage takers, who were flown out and the camp was closed. Austria was severely criticized by the U.S.media, but the Information Service could inform U.S. journalists, strictly “off the record," that a secret new transit camp was opened in Wöllersdorf and later in Kaiserebersdorf, Austria. No details were published and endangering further emigrants could be avoided.
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Dr. Erich Fenkart was born in Bludenz, Austria in 1928 and studied Journalism, English and Philosophy at the University of Vienna, graduating with a Ph.D. in 1954. From 1954-1960 he served as a Foreign Editor for the Austrian Press Agency in Vienna before working as Foreign Editor for the daily newspaper, Die Presse, in Vienna. At the end of 1964 he joined the Federal Press Service of the Federal Chancellery before beginning his career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 1965-1976, he served as Counselor for Press and Culture with the Austrian Austrian Embassy and Austrian Mission to the European Community in Brussels. From 1976-1979 he headed the Austrian Press and Information Service in New York before returning to the Foreign Ministry in Vienna in 1979 where he remained until 1981. From 1981-1986, Dr. Fenkart served as Attaché for Culture and Science at the Austrian Austrian Embassy in Bonn, Germany, and from 1986 –1991 as Counselor for Press and Culture at the Austrian Embassy in Brussels.