Menu JTA Search

Austrian Acknowledgement of Guilt for Holocaust Welcomed by Survivors

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

Holocaust survivors and other prominent Jewish voices are praising Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky for making a strong statement this week acknowledging Austrian collusion with the Nazis.

But those same voices are calling on Austria to translate the chancellor’s words into deeds, especially in the area of education.

Vranitzky told the Austrian Parliament in Vienna on Monday: “We acknowledge all the facts of our history and the deeds of all sections of our people, the good as well as the evil. And just as we take credit for the good, we must also apologize for the evil to survivors and relatives of the dead.”

He said it was his desire to make an explicit statement on the issue, in the name of the Austrian government, “as our contribution to the new political culture in Europe.”

His declaration was made in the context of an uproar that ensued after a remark by a right-wing politician, Jorg Haider, who last month praised the Third Reich.

Haider, the 38-year-old leader of the right-wing populist Freedom Party, was voted out of office as governor of the Austrian province of Carinthia last month, after he told a Socialist rival in Parliament, “They had a sound employment policy in the Third Reich, which is more than your government in Vienna has managed.”

When Germany invaded Austria and annexed it in March 1938, huge throngs filled the streets of Vienna to cheer the Anschluss. But in the years after the war, Austria maintained it had been a victim, not an accomplice, of the Nazis.

“Many Austrians,” Vranitzky said, “greeted the Anschluss, supported the (Nazi) regime and upheld many levels of the hierarchy. Many Austrians took part in the repressive measures and persecution of the Third Reich, some of them in prominent positions.

“Even today, we cannot brush aside a moral responsibility for the deeds of our citizens,” said the chancellor, who is a Social Democrat.

‘BETTER LATE THAN NEVER’

In New York, Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, welcomed Vranitzky’s public acknowledgement and called on him to follow up his remark “with actions, particularly in the educational sphere.”

“In addition, we hope that you will take the lead in bringing to justice individuals living in Austria who participated in atrocities against Jews,” Foxman wrote in a cable to the chancellor.

Michael Berenbaum, project director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, said Vranitzky’s “very strong” statement “puts to rest” Austria’s traditional declaration that it “was the first of Germany’s victims.”

He said that while Vranitzky’s statement “is to be commended,” Haider’s “negative statement reveals Austria’s anti-Semitic problems. It is an Austrian problem, not a Jewish problem.”

In New York, leaders of the American Jewish Committee observed Vranitzky’s words “with great gratification.”

A statement issued by Alfred Moses, the group’s president, and David Harris, its executive vice president, said the chancellor’s remarks show that AJCommittee’s controversial decision “to engage those forces in Austria prepared to confront their past has now been justified.”

In Los Angeles, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called Vranitzky’s remarks “very important, insofar as they should lead to a public debate in Austria” over that nation’s support for Adolf Hitler, who was born in that country.

In Baltimore, Rosa Marx, a Vienna native who fled her homeland in 1939, said, “I’m glad I’m still alive to see it happen. But in all honesty, it’s something they should have done many years ago.”

Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald but lost much of his family in the Holocaust, called the chancellor’s declaration “better late than never.

“This should be a beginning and not an end — a beginning of an educational process that would teach those people the values and necessities of remembering,” said Wiesel, who was reached in Washington.

With the impending departure of President Kurt Waldheim, who announced two weeks ago that he would not seek re-election, “Austria has a new opportunity,” said Wiesel. “I hope the Austrians seize it.”

(Ira Rifkin of The Baltimore Jewish Times contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY