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Divided Austria to Commemorate 50th Anniversary of Anschluss

On March 11, an internally divided Austria will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Anschluss, the country’s annexation by Hitler’s Third Reich.

The year of the commemoration would have come anyway, Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky told journalists last week, but he said the discussion about Austria’s role before and during World War II is fiercer than anyone could have predicted two years ago.

Then, Austria’s image was largely of prancing stallions, apple strudel and waltzes. But former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s successful run for the presidency split the country and changed its image abroad.

The president is becoming increasingly embarrassing for Austria, as he is on the U.S. “watch list” of undesirable aliens and will not be received by any Western country.

The fact that Waldheim lied about his war-time activities has caused many Austrians to ponder their own behavior during the Nazi era. Younger Austrians have become increasingly critical of their fathers and forefathers.

Critics accuse Austria of not accepting its share of guilt in Nazi war crimes after the annexation, which was welcomed by many Austrians.

Yet, the country will commemorate the destruction of Austrian state and sovereignty in a dignified way. For the first time, Austria will hold a nationwide minute of silence, during which work, traffic and school lessons will stop. At 11:10 a.m. Friday, the church bells will ring to commemorate when Austria became the Ostmark and was wiped off the map for seven years.

The central and official acts of commemoration will be held in the Austrian Parliament and the Hofburg Palace. Waldheim will be present at both events, but government, political parties and the National Assembly agreed that he would not utter a word at these occasions.

ONGOING EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES

Activities dealing with the problems of the Anschluss began weeks ago and will continue throughout 1988 — evidence of an internal reevaluation of Austria’s role in the Nazi-period.

They include symposia probing the historical, military and political background of the Austrian trauma of 1938.

“Forgive Us Our Sins” is the theme of an ecumenical gathering and religious service to be held outside the former Gestapo headquarters here. This is only one of the many activities organized by the Catholic Church, whose leaders back in 1938 openly welcomed the Third Reich.

“Youth Under the Swastika” and “Catholic Church and National Socialism” are two other projects by the official church of Austria these days.

Austrian radio and TV have produced a number of high-quality documentaries dealing with the period.

Viennese theaters have planned special dramas dealing either with persecution of Jews, anti-Semitism or the rise of Hitler.

The Socialist Party and the trade unions are commemorating the killing of many prominent socialists.

The Union of Austrian Students has created a 10-day-program that they call “1938-1988: History and Responsibility.” The students will present an exhibition about the history of the University of Vienna, where anti-Semitic riots began.

JEWS DISENFRANCHISED, MURDERED

“Economy without Jews” is the March 1988 cover story of the largest Austrian business magazine, Trend.

The article deals with the fate of Jews after March 11, 1938, when wild, unorganized looting was followed by organized bureaucratic repression. The history of the Jews in this country is documented as is the financial benefit of their disenfranchisement for Austrians and consequently Germans.

Some 26,236 Jewish factories and shops were registered in order to be taken over legally by the Nazi authorities. Any wealth exceeding 5,000 Reichsmarks had to be reported.

While 47,768 Jews registered their property, some 40,000 needy Jews were lining up for poor house soup.

The financial loss of the Jewish community was estimated at $1.2 billion (1938 rate), not including art objects and jewels.

Two thirds of Austrian Jewry, 128,500 people, left the Ostmark primarily for New York, London, Shanghai, Buenos Aires and Jerusalem. But 65,459 Austrian Jews perished in the Holocaust.

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