It was June of 2015. Jerusalem was hot and grimy. It was starting to feel like clammy Baltimore, and I was getting cabin fever. One Shabbos, someone who was hosting me for a meal told me that he had vacationed in the Austrian Alps one summer at a kosher hotel there. “The mountains weren’t as high as in Switzerland, but you get the feel of Switzerland – and it’s cheaper,” he said. The name of the hotel, with its predominantly chasidishe clientele, was Alpen-Karawanserai, about an hour-and-a-half by car from Salzburg.
I was a bit wary of patronizing Austria. Yes, I enjoyed the movie classic “The Sound of Music,” which was about a singing Austrian family that defied the Nazis and featured breathtaking scenes of the Austrian Alps. But I have other scenes of Austria in my head: pictures of Austrians wildly cheering Hitler after the Anschlus (German annexation of Austria) and the famous picture of the Hitler Youth forcing middle-aged Jews to scrub the streets of Vienna on their hands and knees. Austria was home to the concentration camp Mauthausen, and the Austrians are unrepentant of their past to this day. (“What? Pay the Jews reparations?”)