Making School Children Aware of NS “Yay Sayers”

Der Standard (11/13/2006)

by Irene Brickner

In Wiener Neustadt discussions held on educating schools and universities about the NS – Searching for Ways out of the “perpetrator-victim dilemma”

Wiener Neustadt – The history of Wiener Neustadt during the NS era is representative for the program of events, claims teacher and historian, Peter Niedermair: “The Allied bombings before the end of the war leveled a major portion of the city. The sorrow over the devastation made it impossible for those concerned to confront the previous NS crimes against the Jews in the region,” explained the co-organizer of this year’s main seminar on how to deal with the topic of “National Socialism and the Holocaust” in domestic education.

This taboo lasted throughout succeeding decades, longer than anywhere else in Austria. It was not until some fifteen years ago did one begin to talk about the flourishing Jewish communities that existed in 1938 in Wiener Neustadt and Baden, the consequences of an insufficient confrontation with the “perpetrator-victim dilemma.”

This proven dilemma – an apparently unsolvable contradiction of value judgments – is the core subject of the meeting of experts and interested parties, which took place from Friday to Sunday in Wiener Neustadt.

Apart from lectures by high-profile historians such as Ernst Hanisch, Winfried Garscha, Gabriele Anderl, Eleonore Lappin and others, excursions are planned to “Jewish Baden” or “Jewish Wiener Neustadt.” Like the four main seminars previously, the events will be financed by the Ministry of Education. A part of the entire project of remembrance, an annual excursion of teachers to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Israel, is being organized.

Promoting Empathy
There are many areas of life, according to Niedermair, where dilemmas of value exist also today. These areas are totally accesible to today’s school children and students. One of the areas to be checked off within the modern-day educational system is that of National Socialism: “Basically it concerns developing the preparedness to feel with others, to have empathy.”

This ability can make one immune - to name one current example - to the NS praising “yay sayer” à la Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) neo-parliamentarian, Wolfgang Zanger, along with the game of rightist political circles “denying the Nazi era and their talk about it.” Otherwise, there is the danger that the statement made by Zanger praising NS economic policy, despite his eventually being alienated, continues to resound. That is to say, as a “signal for the like-minded.”