The hate that forced my grandfather to flee Vienna is alive and well in Austria today
MY GRANDFATHER’S parents were taken from their home in Vienna by the Gestapo and sent to the Lublin Ghetto. My grandfather — then a 14-year-old boy — sailed to the shores of the future Jewish state to take shelter.
There, he was spared the horrors of the following years that resulted in six million dead Jews, murdered by those who made no secret of their intentions.
My grandfather’s parents did not think it could ever happen, and were sent to the gas chambers.
Since then, many of us were brought up with the mantra “Never again”.
Austria is a country that dutifully memorialises the Holocaust — despite the fact that its ideological and practical involvement in the “Final Solution” is still talked of by some of its citizens and political leaders as if the country was “the first victim” of National Socialist imperalism.
Whenever there is a major Shoah anniversary, conferences are held, memorials organised and TV documentaries broadcast. Talking about dead Jews has become business as usual — if not an obsession — in the successor states of the National Socialist empire.
And yet Austria harbours one of Europe’s most successful far-right political groupings: the Freedom Party. The party doubled its votes to finish a strong second in a regional election late last month. It has also scored more than 30 per cent in recent national opinion polls, overtaking the Social Democrats and Conservatives. There is also concern that the anti-immigrant party could win the upcoming Vienna mayoral election, having gained poularity in the wake of the refugee crisis.
Shockingly, the Freedom Party continues to sponsor the annual ball of the infamous Vienna Korporationsring, an association of German-nationalist fraternities that maintain a gateway between the extreme political right and neo-Nazis.
In 2012, the ball took place on January 27, the very day Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army.
These fraternities (“Burschenschaften”) can be traced back to the 19th century, the birth years of a German nationalism that was based on the antisemitic and anti-liberal “völkische” ideology. At the founding of these fraternities, the Wartburgfest of 1817, books by Jewish authors and the Code Napoleon were burned by Teutonic students. A witness, German poet Heinrich Heine, wrote in 1821: “That was only a prelude, where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”
It was no surprise, therefore, that the Germannationalist fraternities played an important role in the rise of National Socialism. Key figures of the Austrian and German extermination machinery were members of these fraternities. Even in the present day, most of these Burschenschaften are proud of being “Judenrein”.
Central figures in the Austrian Freedom Party, including its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, have connections to these fraternities. The same goes for the former president of the Austrian parliament, Martin Graf.
Graf is linked to the notorious “Olympia” fraternity, which had been scheduled to host a lecture by wellknown Holocaust denier David Irving before he was arrested.
Now, what would my grandfather think about a country where figures like these dance a waltz close to the Heldenplatz, where hundreds of thousands of Austrians welcomed their “Führer” in 1938?
What would he think about a government that does not put a stop to this? Simone Dinah Hartmann is founder of the European coalition Stop The Bomb and has written extensively on matters related to Austria’s far right. A version of this piece originally appeared on www. thecommentator. com
A far-right anti-Islam protester at a demo in Austria earlier this year