Austria marks 80 years since annexation by Hitler
Austria on Monday marked the 80th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany, with the country’s President Alexander Van der Bellen urging young people not to be “taken in” by neo-fascist and far-right ideologies.
On March 12, 1938, Adolf Hitler ordered 200,000 soldiers, SS officers and police to invade Austria, his native country, subsequently declaring its “Anschluss” or annexation by the Third Reich. A “Day of Commemoration” was held on Monday to mark the events of 1938 that changed the course of Austrian history and served as a prelude to World War II.
Many events marking the Anchluss anniversary feature eyewitnesses of the time, while public debates will focus on the responsibility of Austria and everyday Austrians in Hitler’s seizure of power.
Talking about such issues in public was almost unheard of until the late 1980s, as Austria preferred to hide behind the status of Nazi victim that the Allies had officially conferred on it. Such denial has prevented Austria from embarking on the very painful “Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung” or self-examination and coming to terms with the past that Germany has undertaken.
In a country in the throes of an identity crisis following the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and in full economic slump, anti-Semitism flourished as early as the 1920s. “Everything had already long been ready by the time the Nazis arrived,” Kitty Suschny — who was just 13 in 1938 — told a conference, recalling that a ban on “dogs and Jews” was imposed overnight in the grounds of Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace.
Austrian conservatives began paving the way for Nazism as early as 1933 when they put an end to parliamentary democracy, then crushed the Social Democrats in 1934 and set up a one-party regime. The persecution of Jews began in the early hours of the Anschluss. And on March 15, a euphoric crowd greeted Hitler in Vienna.
An artistic installation was unveiled Monday at the site where the dictator made his first speech after the annexation of the country. On Wednesday, Chancellor Kurz will ask his cabinet to approve a proposal for a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust to be erected in the centre of Vienna.
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