Sunday, 17 March 2013

"Lingering anti-Semitism still plagues Austria, 75 years after Nazi takeover"

Nazis invade Austria in 1938 and incorporates the country into greater Germany, even though such unification was expressly forbidden under the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I in 1919.

 Austria's tiny Jewish population still bears the scars of World War II, when the country embraced invading Nazi troops and enthusiastically aligned with Germany.

Austria almost immediately fell upon its Jews, forcing two-thirds to leave the country and allowing thousands to be sent to concentration camps to be killed.

Austria's Jewish population of nearly 200,000 was reduced to just 2,000 when the war in Europe ended in 1945, Reuters said.

"The most terrible thing was not the way hundreds of thousands of Austrians celebrated Hitler's arrival, but the enthusiasm with which they dispossessed the Jews," said Ari Rath, a Holocaust survivor who fled Vienna when he was 13.

Memories of those inexplicably horrific days have risen to the surface in Austria this week, the 75th anniversary of Anschluss, the German-language name for the Nazi invasion, according to the Reuters international news service.

Particularly noticeable has been the change in Austrian thinking, as the country began to recognize its contribution to the disaster of World War II, instead of doggedly insisting of itself as a Nazi victim as it did until the 1990s.

"It's a different Austria now, but you cannot forget it took until 41 years after the war ... before Austrians began seriously to confront the Nazi past of this country," said Rath, who escaped to what is now Israel and became an editor of the Jerusalem Post.

Much of Austria's reawakening coincided with revelations in the 1980s that its president, former U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, had hidden his past as a Nazi military officer, Reuters said.

The revelations triggered a kind of soul-searching in Austrian society and an examination of its role in the Nazi genocide, Reuters said.

Jewish groups demanded, and won, restitution payments from the government and elimination of some glaring public manifestations, such as the renaming of a Vienna boulevard that had been named for a 19th-century anti-semitic mayor.

"Vienna was a very important place for the fate of all European Jews because the automated driving out of Jews was perfected here," said Joachim Riedl, author of several books on Jewish history and Vienna.

But a recent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Austria have prompted heightened concern among the country's 15,000 Jews and many of its leaders, Reuters said.

Recently, the head of Austria's far-right party posted a cartoon seen as suggestively anti-Semitic, a rabbi was verbally abused by hooligans and a public debate began on the legality of infant circumcision, a Jewish religious rite, Reuters said.

"We must bear this responsibility," Parliament president Barbara Prammer told Reuters.

"We must bear this responsibility."

Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Congress acknowledged the change in Austria since a 1991 poll found Austrians wanted to put the Holocaust behind them.

"There was still a social anti-Semitism that kind of defied embarrassment," Baker said.

"The Austrians have come a long way since then, but they had a long way to go."

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