Feature

Complicit in the horrors of the Nazis

Austrians are guilty of selective amnesia, said Egon Schwarz in the Zurich, Switzerland, Neue Z

Egon SchwarzNeue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland)

Austrians are guilty of selective amnesia, said Egon Schwarz in the Zurich, Switzerland, Neue Zürcher Zeitung. They are trying to pretend that Austria was as oppressed by Hitler’s Germany as Poland or Czechoslovakia. Last month, on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi annexation of Austria, or Anschluss, the elderly Otto von Hapsburg, son of the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary, had the effrontery to say that “no country in Europe has more right to call itself a victim” than poor little Austria. As a Jew who was there at the time, I beg to differ. Austria in 1938 was swarming with homegrown Nazis who were champing at the bit to join the Third Reich. When Hitler marched into Vienna, practically the entire city turned out to welcome him enthusiastically. “It wasn’t just joy, it was manic joy.” And once Austria was part of the Reich, the Austrian Nazis wasted no time in launching their pogrom, “laughing as they set Jews’ beards on fire.” No troops from Germany were necessary: The Austrians acted as though “the lid had been lifted” and they were finally allowed to brutalize their Jewish neighbors. My family, like so many others, fled, leaving everything behind. In subsequent decades, of course, Austria began to grapple with its complicity and guilt. But comments such as Hapsburg’s show that, even now, it is easy to succumb to denial.

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