Austrians Running Out Of Ways To Fake Contrition Over Nazi Past
Vienna (AP) – When the Vienna Philharmonic posthumously stripped several Nazis of honors it had conferred upon them in the 1940s, members of the organization’s board wondered both why they hadn’t thought of the idea earlier, and what else they could still do to pretend they regret their complicity in the Holocaust.
The popular perception of the Third Reich coercing a weak Austria into the 1938 Anschluss has long held sway, but remains at odds with the historical record of cheering crowds and enthusiastic Austrian participation in all things Nazi, including the persecution, deportation, and murder of Jews. Unlike Germany, which the world saw as bearing direct responsibility for the Second World War and the Holocaust, Austria was viewed, especially during the Cold War, as forced to do Hitler’s bidding, though Hitler himself was Austrian; he was raised in Linz.
Austrians now worry that as the last remaining Nazi war criminals die off after living in the country unmolested for nearly seven decades, they will lose one of the few remaining vehicles though which to feign horror and remorse: each time the quiet life of a former Nazi official or death camp guard would come to light, Austria would erupt in a predictable chorus of mea culpas; they were shocked, just shocked, that such a monster could be allowed to dwell in their midst.
While Germany – first only West Germany, and then, after reunification in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the eastern part – has never ceased demonstrating recognition of the moral and historical burden it bears, Austria has largely lacked the impetus to engage in any such internal reckoning, and shows no sign of considering any. Austrian claims that Nazism and the Holocaust were essentially German enterprises fell on willing ears as the West sought ways to stem the tide of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe. The postwar generation of Austrians eagerly promoted the Sound of Music version of history, in which Austria struggled mightily to assert its cultural independence from the yawning maw of Nazi Germany.
The Austrian Ministry of Education is considering a program that would train students in the proper methods of paying lip service to Holocaust commemoration and expiation. Currently, only licensed tour guides – such as those taking foreigners on trips to such locales as the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex – are formally trained to feign remorse that such atrocities could take place on Austrian soil.