Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky this week acknowledged his country’s complicity with the Nazi Final Solution and decried those who belittle the Holocaust.
The chancellor also struck a strong blow against right-wing extremism in remarks during a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Mauthausen death camp.
More than 20,000 people from 40 countries gathered for the ceremony Sunday at the site of what was the largest concentration camp on Austrian soil.
Among them was Col. Richard Seibel, who, as commander of the 11th Armored Division of the U.S. Army, was the first to enter Mauthausen on May 5, 1945.
“I am not here for myself, but for those many soldiers who were here helping me in this hell,” the 86-year-old veteran said. Choking back tears, he added: “I want to salute the survivors. They have surmounted evil and insanity — you are the heroes here.”
Of the 200,000 people detained at Mauthausen and in various subcamps between 1938 and 1945 throughout the province of Upper Austria, more than half were killed.
Many died working as slave laborers in Mauthausen’s infamous quarry. Others were shot or killed in the camp’s gas chambers.
Memories of the liberation and warnings for the future were combined in an address by renowned Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, a former prisoner of the camp who was liberated there after surviving 12 other camps.
During Sunday’s ceremonies, each religious group held its own commemorative services. While Roman Catholics gathered to remember the priests and other clergy imprisoned and killed at Mauthausen. Jews chanted the “El Male Rachamim” memorial prayer and “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.
Vranitzky was joined by all 10 of the Social Democratic ministers of his Cabinet and by one minister of his Christian Conservative coalition partner.
In his keynote address, the chancellor made it clear that Austrians had a remarkable share in the “ice-cold planning and executing of the infamous Final Solution.”
Stressing the importance of memory, Vranitzky said, “We will not tolerate anybody who does not accept the historical truth and tries to belittle the horrible mass murder in this laboratory of violence.”
And referring to the recent electoral success of Jorg Haider’s right-wing extremist Freedom Party, the chancellor called upon Austrian youth not to believe in “any new fuhrer who incites people to hate each other.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.