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Behind the Headlines: Austria’s Minister of Education Wages War on Right-wing Extremism

April 24, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

From his strategic position as minister of education and arts, Rudolph Scholton wages relentless war against right-wing extremism and resurgent neo-Nazism on the most sensitive of fronts: the nation’s schools.

Scholton, at 38 the youngest member of the Austrian government, has reacted swiftly to new attempts by neo-Nazi groups to recruit pupils by handing out their literature near school grounds.

“Everybody has to be alert to this,” he explained, “because in times of spiritual relaxation, the danger of seduction is much greater.”

Scholton is the son of a Spanish countess and a Jewish father of Czechoslovak origin who survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. He seems strongly attuned to his Jewish heritage, which may account for uncompromising opposition to any manifestation of nostalgia for Austria’s Nazi past.

Although it is on his ministerial agenda, Scholton will boycott the Austrian Film Festival in Wels, in the province of Upper Austria, because he refuses to shake hands with Karl Bregartner, mayor of the host city.

Though Bregartner is a fellow member of the Social Democratic Party, Scholton will not forgive him for retaining a memorial plaque to the Kameradschaft IV, a subdivision of the infamous Waffen SS, in the community chapel. The mayor argues that Kameradschaft IV is a legal association which never “caused any harm.”

But the education minister remains adamant. Bregartner, moreover, refuses to change the name of the Ottokar Kernstock-Strasse, despite the requests of many citizens who do not want to be reminded of the pro-Nazi priest and poet who composed the Swastika Hymn.

The same holds for the Moritz Etzold-Hall in Wels. Petitions to rename it were rejected by Bregartner, who argued that while Moritz Etzold may have been a Nazi Party educator, he was never sentenced.


“We can no longer tolerate this sloppy attitude toward the history of the Third Reich,” Scholton said. “Everybody is called upon to put his cards on the table. Otherwise, we cannot fight this poison.”

The minister has taken the offensive in the fight against neo-Nazi influence in Austrian schools. He has issued a new brochure which refutes the Holocaust revisionists who claim no one was gassed at Auschwitz.

He will reprint an earlier brochure countering the revisionist view of Nazi history. It will include the latest amendments to the Verbotsgesetz, the law barring renewed Nazi activities.

A popular Austrian television commentator, Hugo Portisch, will produce a video series on the political events that led to fascism and Nazism.

A countrywide essay contest on anti-Semitism has been started.

Scholton has sensitized teachers, parents and police to be on guard against neo-Nazi indoctrination. Students have confronted teachers they consider to have “brown spots” — neo-Nazi sympathies. Several have been dismissed.

On the other hand, a role model has been made of Albert Kaufmann, a teacher from Graz, in Styria, who won the International Peace Prize for educators awarded by the Dolores Kohl Foundation in Chicago.

Kaufmann was nominated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles for his efforts to fight anti-Semitic pamphlets and videogames distributed by neo-Nazi groups. He is the first European teacher to win the prize.

Scholton visited Israel earlier this month, becoming the first Austrian minister to do so since Israel withdrew its ambassador from Vienna upon the election of Kurt Waldheim as president in 1986.

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