Festival of Joy 2020

Day of liberation

May 8, 1945, is the day of unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht and the official end of the Second World War in Europa.

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liberation from the Nazi reign of terror, Mauthausen Committee Austria (MKÖ) will host the Festival of Joy for the eighth time on 8 May 2020 at 7:30 pm at Vienna's Heldenplatz. The Vienna Symphony Orchestra will again perform a free open-air concert with German conductor Alexander Liebreich and Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva. However, May 8 will not only celebrate the liberation from National Socialist rule; the millions who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis will also be remembered. The victims and the resistance will be commemorated on this day at Vienna's highly symbolic Heldenplatz, and the liberators will be celebrated. In 2020, the Festival of Joy is dedicated to the thematic focus "Humanity without borders".

The Festival of Joy takes place in close cooperation with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and with the support of the Jewish Community, the association Gedenkdienst (in service of remembrance) and the Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance.

The highlight of the festivities will be the speech by contamporary-witness Erika Kosnar. Erika Kosnar comes from a Viennese working class family of Jewish faith. Her mother converted to Judaism in 1931. From 1938 on, Erika suffered insults, harassment and atrocities. Thanks in part to her mother's civil courage, she survived the Nazi terror in Vienna. To this day she continues to campaign for "Never Again".

The celebration will begin with the welcome address by MKÖ chairman Willi Mernyi and the words of Federal President Dr. Alexander Van der Bellen.

The Vienna Symphony Orchestra will again perform a free open-air concert in 2020 under the direction of the German conductor Alexander Liebreich. Alexander Liebreich himself lost relatives to the murder machinery of the National Socialists. In 2020, the music performance of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra will again be closely linked to the overall theme of the celebrations. The moderator will be actress Katharina Stemberger.

The Festival of Joy will open with videos about the Festival and its thematic focus "Humanity without borders" with statements by ambassadors of the liberating nations, the Jewish Community, the association Gedenkdienst (in service of remembrance), and the Documentation Archive of Austrian Resistance.

This year again, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation will broadcast the Festival of Joy live from Vienna's Heldenplatz. This will be the highlight of extensive thematic emphasis on the history of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and its satellite camps.

In the past 7 years, more than 68,000 visitors at the Festival of Joy have sent a strong signal for the establishment of a worthy commemoration on May 8 as Liberation Day.

Alexander Liebreich


The 2018/19 season saw Alexander Liebreich begin his tenure as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. He held the position of Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) since 2012 until the end of the 2018-2019 season.

In 2018 he took over as Artistic Director of the Richard Strauss Festival in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, opening the first edition in June 2018 with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Next to that he was elected head of the Richard-Strauss-Society, following Wolfgang Sawallisch and Brigitte Fassbaender in this position. Alexander continues as the Artistic Director until 2023.

In 2014 he inaugurated the new "NOSPR" concert hall in Katowice, the orchestra’s home, with a performance including the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with Krystian Zimerman.
The ECM Classics release of Tigran Mansurian’s "Requiem", with RIAS Kammerchor received a nomination for a Grammy Award in 2018 and won the ICMA Award 2018 in the category "Contemporary Music".

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Erika Kosnar

Contemporary witness

The highlight of the ceremony will be the speech by contemporary witness Erika Kosnar. Erika Kosnar comes from a Viennese working-class family of Jewish faith. Her mother converted in 1931 to Judaism. From 1938, Erika had to suffer abuse, harassment and atrocities. Thanks in part to her mother's civil courage, she survived the Nazi terror in Vienna.

For decades, Erika Kosnar did not speak publicly about her experiences. She has been speaking at events since 2000, especially at schools. Even today she is well informed about the political situation and is committed to civil courage and humanity. Solidarity in the small everyday situations is also important to her. "Often only the first person has to dare", she says.

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Dr. Alexander Van der Bellen


Alexander Van der Bellen (born in 1944) took office as the Federal President of the Republic of Austria on 26 January 2017.

From 1994 to 2012, Alexander Van der Bellen was a member of the Austrian National Assembly, and from 1999 to 2008 Chairman of the Greens’ Parliamentary Group. From 1997 to 2008, he served as Federal Spokesperson for the Austrian Greens.

Apart from being a politician, Van der Bellen also pursued an academic career. From 1980 to 2009, he was appointed as Full Professor of Economics at the University of Vienna, and from 1990 to 1994, Deputy Dean and then Dean of the University of Vienna School of Social and Economic Sciences.

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Willi Mernyi

Chair of the Mauthausen Committee Austria

Has been the honorary chair of the Austrian Mauthausen Committee since 2000 and, since 2011, the vice chair of the Camp Community Mauthausen as well as board member of the Documentation Centre of the Austrian Resistance.

He has written publications on a range of topics, with a particular emphasis on political education (including the Handbook of Simulation Games, 2005, and "Our (?) America – Austro-American snapshots in context of the US Election 2012") and communication strategies against right-wing extremism (Demystifying Demagogues, 2010, Far-Right Extremism: Symbols. Codes. Music. Laws, 2011, Stopping Right-wing Agitators – Audio CD 2013).

In acknowledgement of his on-going engagement, Mernyi received a medal (Bundesehrenverdienstzeichen) from the Federal Government for services to tolerance and human rights as well as the Marietta and Friedrich Torberg Medal in 2014.

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Julia Lezhneva


Julia Lezhneva is one of the leading artists of her generation. The young Russian soprano with the voice of "angelic beauty" (The New York Times), "pure tone" (Opernwelt) & "flawless technique" (Guardian) brings "unforgettable spiritual expression" & "perfect artistry" (Guardian) performing worldwide. Her international career skyrocketed when she created a sensation at the Classical Brit Awards at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2010, singing Rossini’s Fra il padre at the invitation of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Opernwelt named her "Young Singer of the Year" in 2011 for her debut at La Monnaie in Brussels. The following year she performed at the Victoires de la Musique Classique in Paris and appeared at the Salzburg Festival in Handel’s Tamerlano opposite Plácido Domingo and Bejun Mehta.
Her debut in Handel’s Alcina as Morgana at the Staatsoper Hamburg was widely celebrated in September 2018; on the spot, she was invited to return for Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini) and the re-opening of Alcina.

In the upcoming season 2019/2020 she will give her debuts with the Berlin Philharmonic and Adam Fischer in October 2019 and with the Musikverein Wien in February 2020.

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Katharina Stemberger


Katharina Stemberger is an Austrian actress, professor, producer and civil society activist.

Her acting repertoire ranges from light television entertainment to tragic heroines on stage. She has appeared in numerous theater productions and TV and cinema films. She also regularly appears in Jaqueline Kornmüller's "Ganymed" series in the "Kunsthistorisches Museum".

Since 2018 she has been chairwoman of the board of directors of the Integrationshaus Vienna and artistic director of the theater festival HIN & WEG. Days for contemporary theater entertainment in Litschau (together with director Zeno Stanek and Ernst Molden). In June 2020 the new "TonFilmFestival NETZHAUT" in Wr. Neustadt will take place for the first time under the artistic direction of Stemberger / Eder.

Wiener Symphoniker

As Vienna’s cultural ambassador and concert orchestra, the Wiener Symphoniker handles the lion’s share of symphonic activity that makes up the musical life of the Austrian capital.

The orchestra’s activities centre on innovative projects that are associated with the purposeful cultivation of important Viennese musical traditions.

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Choir Superar

Active musicianship connects, strengthens and inspires. The non-profit association Superar uses this potential of music and tries to change society positively.
With the free range of orchestra, choir and musical courses for children and teenagers in seven European countries.

Around 3,000 children in Europe currently take part in Superar courses on a regular basis. In Vienna Superar is active with the choir program at 10 schools with 36 classes and over 700 children.

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Mauthausen Commitee Austria

In 2000 the MKÖ was officially designated the successor orgainsation of the Austrian Camp Community. The MKÖ is responsible for the preserving and continuing the legacy of the former concentration prisoners.

Upholding the memory of victims of Nazi crimes, particularly those committed in Mauthausen Concentration Camp and its sub-camps, as well engaging in anti-racism and anti-fascism work, particularly with young people are the main tasks of the MKÖ.

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