" Demonstrative Act for NS Deserters"

Die Presse (01/20/05)

At a conference of historians, Federal President Heinz Fischer demanded extensive rehabilitation of the deserters of the Armed Forces.

Vienna - Federal President Heinz Fischer inaugurated a conference of historians on Austria’s resistance from 1938 to 1945 with a surprising political statement that deserting the flag was also an act of resistance. "I, therefore, think it is justified that all of the verdicts passed down by the courts on desertion be entirely abolished through a demonstrative act of the legislators," said Fischer. A reason should be given "according to our current day standard of knowledge." It concerns a new way of looking at resistance. And the special courts at that time had nothing to do with law and justice.

Deserting Hitler’s army cannot be compared to deserting an army under the German Democratic Republic (DDR): "Didn’t we welcome the so-called "flight from the Republic" during DDR times and the numerous cases of desertion?"

With this sensational statement, the academic conference on resistance got off to a big start and had to be moved from the budget office in Parliament to the plenary hall due to large interest. The hosts included members of the Political Academies of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) under the direction of the historian, Stefan Karner, in Graz.

In his greeting of some four hundred attendees, President of the National Council, Andreas Khol, pursued the question why dealing with the topic of resistance was delayed so long: For many Austrians it wasn’t considered an Austrian war and, therefore, we didn’t identify with the resistance.

Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel reminded the audience that there were three quarters of a million Austrian members of the National Socialist Party. "Much is true about Austria’s role as victim. But there was also a lot of individual guilt among Austrians - together with the denial after 1945." Dr. Helene Partik-Pablé, spokeswoman for Justice Affairs of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), explained to the Austrian Press Agency that she sees "hardly any need to act" in rehabilitating the deserters of the Armed Forces; the matter has been "legally taken care of."

"Resistance came from below"

The conference handled all of the aspects of the resistance: The illegal socialist cells, the activity of the Austrian Communist Party, the Jewish resistance, but also the obvious contradiction between the position taken by the official Catholic Church and that of the committed laymen: "The Church remained silent - active resistance came from below," formulated Maximilian Liebmann, Professor Emeritus from the Theological Faculty at the University of Graz.

Karner cited the numbers: A total of 2,700 resistance fighters were murdered. Some 32,600 Austrians died in prisons and concentration camps due to political persecution. About 100,000 people spent at least three months in prison.