Profuse Words and Silent Remembrance

Der Standard

A day of speeches in Parliament, followed by a ”night of silence“ on Heldenplatz: Wednesday marks Austria’s  70th year observance of the “Anschluss.” The government approved of building a Simon Wiesenthal Center in Vienna.

Vienna – Austria’s annexation by Germany merely 70 years ago was commemorated through the night until early morning with 8,000 candles lit for 80,000 known victims. Contemporary witnesses of the Holocaust and National Socialism reported that it was on Vienna’s Heldenplatz where Adolf Hitler declared “the integration of my homeland into the German Reich” before masses of jubilant people. Until 6:00 a.m. the next morning 80,000 names were projected continuously onto a screen in silent remembrance.

The Federal government commemorated the events of March 12, 1938 in Parliament with a decision taken by the Council of Ministers to build a Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Institute will move into the Strozzi Palace in the Josefstädter Straße by 2011. The costs will be shared by the Federation and the City of Vienna.

Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer (SPÖ) spoke about the significant contribution of the Simon Wiesenthal Center to Holocaust research, and Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer considered it a memorial to “never again“ and to “never forgetting.” Both emphasized that Austria viewed itself too long only as a victim of National Socialism.

During the commemoration, President of the National Council Barbara Prammer warned against the claim that what happened in the past is over with. It was especially the “prevailing anti-Semitism in Austria” at the time which drew many to accept the National Socialists, she emphasized. Apart from Prammer, Gusenbauer and Molterer, President Heinz Fischer also held a speech.

According to a survey made in 2007, some 82% of all Austrians see their country today as an independent nation; 7% reject the idea of an Austrian nation and 8% see a development heading in that direction. Opinion polls as to a national consciousness were first made in 1956. At that time those for and against were of equal number. Since the 1980s, German nationalism is “no longer a topic,” says the pollster, Peter Ulram. According to Ulram, it is a “small minority” consisting of 17% of supporters of the “third parties” (FPÖ, BZÖ), that question the idea of an Austrian nation.