Eizenstat: The World Has Still Not Fully Learned The Lessons of the Holocaust

The Austrian Parliament (05/04/2005)

In terms of human rights, Austria can call the world to task.

Vienna - "It is clear that the world has still not fully learned the lessons of Mauthausen and of the Holocaust when we consider the killing fields of Cambodia, the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the genocide in Rwanda, and now another in Darfur. Austria has the moral stature to speak to the world." With these words, the former U.S. Under Secretary of State, Stuart Eizenstat, who contributed considerably over the past few years to solving restitution issues, closed his speech in Parliament’s historical assembly hall. Eizenstat was the main speaker at the Commemoration Day Against Violence and Racism.

In a thank you speech eliciting sustained applause from the audience, Eizenstat recalled the liberation of Mauthausen sixty years ago as well as the contribution made by the United States toward Austria’s independence. Around 200,000 people were kept as prisoners at Mauthausen; between 105,000 and 119,000 of them were exterminated, and about one third of them were Jews. Mauthausen, opened a few months after the Anschluß, served a double purpose: Elimination of political prisoners and Jews as well as the extraction of profit through the use of slave laborers. Within the entire network of Nazi concentration camps, Mauthausen was designated as the only Class III camp (entailing "extermination by work," and "return not desired.") The cruelty of the Nazi guards remains to this day beyond human comprehension.

"How then do we properly honor the victims who died, those fortunate enough to survive, and their families and at the same time make this special Commemoration Day against Violence and Racism relevant to today’s 21st century world?" Eizenstat asked. "We know we can’t restore the past. We cannot bring back to life musicians and writers, poets and artists, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists, farmers and shopkeepers, ministers and rabbis and, yes, we can’t bring back to life mothers and fathers, and children never able to add their spark to the world. All of these people are irreplaceable."

"But, permit me to suggest three ways of remembering," continued Eizenstat, "in many of which Austria is taking the lead, and commendably so: First and foremost is to perpetuate the memory of those who suffered by telling the brutal and harsh truth of Mauthausen and of Austria’s complicated role in World War II. And this, Austria is now doing," Eizenstat stated. "Austria is not alone among nations in struggling with the passage of time to confront the past." He then added that it took his country, the United States, 40 years to come to terms with the forced internment of Japanese-Americans in U.S. camps. And even more so, there was the long road towards the emancipation of American slaves. Too, we have only recently seen how Japan’s inability to fully face its past has caused tension throughout Asia, he contended.

For decades after the war, Austria did not confront its involvement in Nazi crimes because Austria "confirmed in assuming this attitude by the Moscow Declaration - viewed itself as "the first victim of Hitlerite aggression," Eizenstat continued. While no one can precisely date when Austrians began to face the full picture of their wartime involvement, there were two precipitating events, he maintained: The official reception of Reder after his discharge from imprisonment in Italy and the Waldheim debate. Then several courageous Austrian political and religious leaders acted out of conscience and conviction, Eizenstat continued, mentioning the names of Cardinal König, Federal Chancellor Vranitzky and Federal President Klestil. He, moreover, recalled the creation of the Historical Commission chaired by Clemens Jabloner, the unveiling of the Holocaust memorial in Vienna’s Judenplatz as well as the initiatives undertaken to teach young people about the Holocaust.

A second way of remembering is by doing justice to living survivors and the families of victims during their lifetimes and, beginning in the 1990s, Austria has done just that, said Stuart Eizenstat. The Holocaust was not only history’s gravest and most systematic genocide; it was also the greatest theft in history. Austria has made efforts to rectify this wrong, Eizenstat continued, making reference to the National Fund, which was created in 1995, well before there was international pressure. In addition, Austria was the first country to agree to contribute to a Reconciliation Fund for Nazi Victims; it was also the first country, and virtually the only one, to incorporate into its national legislation the Washington Principles on Art from the Washington Conference in 1997 dealing with looted art.

Eizenstat then spoke about the General Settlement Fund, the sum of which 200 million dollars, has not yet been disbursed because of the lack of "legal peace" for Austria in U.S. courts. "I hope that all the parties, including the U.S. judges responsible for this unconscionable postponement of justice, will be inspired by today’s commemoration to act immediately. I intend to intervene on my own in the case to stress the human dimension of the delay," Eizenstat announced.

However, he also added that it is critically important for Austria to rededicate itself to support and sustain the tiny but vibrant Jewish community that has emerged in the years after the war, contending that it is, moreover, painfully evident that anti-Semitism in Europe did not end with the Holocaust. All forms of anti-Semitism in Europe did not end with the Holocaust. All forms of anti-Semitism should be forcefully condemned and, where appropriate, punished.

The third way of remembering is to apply the lessons learned from the terrible crimes committed in Mauthausen by turning the Commemoration Day Against Violence and Racism into an agenda of action, Eizenstat concluded, mentioning Austria’s commitment to human rights as an example.

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