It’s ironic that the Austrian chancellor, Mr. Christian Kern, was invited to attend the official opening ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem. Austria’s role in the Holocaust was quite damning. Although they later portrayed themselves as victims of an occupation, many believe that the Austrians supported Hitler’s regime enthusiastically. Hitler a was of course Austrian by birth and even lived in Vienna for several years at the turn of the previous century. Indeed the very first photos of shameful Nazi excesses—forcing elderly Jewish women to climb trees and sing like birds— were Austrian.
For a long while, well into the 21st century, Austria had a problem facing its past. Kristalnacht was “observed” in Austria, and its no surprise that Mauthausen, a terrible and deadly place, was established in Austria in 1938. Kurt Waldheim (the Nazi-tainted UN secretary general and president of Austria) was Austrian. ( He only died in 2007.) The anti semitic Viennese mayor, Karl Lueger who inspired Hitler, only had his street name changed in 2012. Moreover,the 2006 fight that Austria put up for Gustav Klimt’s portrait of of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a Jewess and Socialist, many of whose friends and relatives were gassed in Nazi death camp, was quite historic. Indeed Arch Nazi “Marshall” Hermann Goring liked her art and jewelry despite her Jewish heritage. Maria Altman, Even at Auschwitz Birkenau in 2009, (when I was there) the Austrian pavilion was closed for disputed historical accuracy.
Indeed thing undoubtedly changed with the rise of new generations because now Austria is considered a great democracy. To its young people, the Holocaust s ancient history. It’s a new world with new dramas and political bed fellows but Jews have long memories and the rise of the hard right in Europe is not encouraging. Reminding us of what was, is of course the movie and book about the Bloch Bauer case which only came out some two or three years ago.
Indeed haute bourgosie Jews like the Bloch Bauers, were wealthy, assimilated and at the cultural vanguard. Many of these people had Nazi relatives as well as relations who died in death camps. Indeed its no wonder that so many Austrian Jews—especially those who loved Austria— committed suicide in the Lodz ghetto as well as in other places.They felt no connection to the black-caftaned Jews or to foreign Jews in general. The fancy Austrian Jews brought forth people like Sigmund Freud, Gustave and Alma Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and many others. They owned paintings, lovely homes, important books and precious things— many looted by Nazis and others.
There were ordinary Jews who were less hi profile and plenty of eastern Jews or “Ostjuden” (Jews from the East). Altogether there were some 192,000 Jews in Austria — most were killed. I don’t know if the Bloch Bauer Jews ever understood why their country turned on them or what Hitlerism was all about. They could baptize themselves from dawn till dusk but it didn’t really save them. I hope by now Austria returned all its Jewish owned assets to heirs or to the Jewish community otherwise the Chancellor’s presence here on Yom Hashoa was pointless.