Vienna ghetto monument 521.
(photo credit: Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT))
Forty-two percent of Austrians believe that “not everything was bad under
Hitler,” according to a poll conducted by the Viennese newspaper Der
That’s very telling, especially this week when Austria marks
the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss – its merger with Nazi Germany.
the postwar years, Vienna sought to shirk all responsibility for the Holocaust
by pretending that it was merely another conquered and victimized European
country, whose citizenry was forced against its will to endure German
occupation. But not all truth can be conveniently rewritten.
indisputable fact is that the homeland of both Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann
enthusiastically cheered what was later expediently portrayed as a hostile
takeover. Hitler’s so-called annexation was cause for rapturous celebration and
no one – not even the Germans – matched the Austrian alacrity to rob the Jews,
persecute them, humiliate and brutalize them. In many ways Berlin learned
pernicious lessons from Vienna.
Given all that, the anniversary-eve poll
exposes an old mindset that, much as it was once assiduously denied, appears to
survive vibrantly among significant portions of the population.
nostalgia for the Hitler era, other findings attest to lack of contrition. Thus
54% of respondents thought that neo-Nazi groups might succeed in Austrian
elections, if they were been barred by law from running. In other words, over
half the Austrians believe it probable that Nazis could today be elected if only
allowed to campaign.
As far as 61% were concerned, Austria had already
adequately dealt with its Nazi record. Presumably Austrians can put it all
behind them and quite well out of mind.
But perhaps most disturbing was
the finding that 61% of Austrian adults want to see their government headed by a
“strong man.” This relates not to perceptions of the past but to the here and
This is scary because it pertains to more than Austria, which anyhow
is not anywhere near the power it was a hundred years ago. But Austria is still
quintessential Europe and its moods reflect sentiments elsewhere on the
continent, both east and west.
Austrian public opinion, which on par with
other European countries has never spared Israel its stinging disapproval of our
self-defense or national revival, can be regarded as a touchstone. It indicates
just how fragile European democracy is, despite copious political correctness
and seductive lip service to human rights.
Beneath the ostensibly civil
and progressive surface, other passions seethe. Foremost, the yearning for a
“strong man” at the helm is not a throwback peculiarity exclusive to Third World
states. In many democracies, despite all their undoubted advantages, there lurks
a wish that an omniscient and dominant leader would take things decisively in
This predisposition becomes all the more dangerous in times of
economic crisis, as the German-Austrian experience taught us all too
traumatically. There is no denying that the world is again in the grips of
recession and unpredictability that can unleash the worst in apparently cultured
True, historical analogies are never absolute. There are no
lines in front of soup kitchens and no runaway inflation of the sort that
provided such propaganda fodder for Hitler and assorted European
The world has changed a great deal since the 1930s.
one thing, Europe has lost its clout and is not threatened by homegrown tyrants
who wait in the offing for their opportunity. But there is too much
socio-political alienation and superficiality to afford us smug
Demagogues and hate-mongers are getting elected to European
parliaments. Even if they do not threaten the status quo, they indicate deep
Anti-Semitism among Europeans – to say nothing of Muslim
immigrants – is on the rise as never before in the postwar era. Even if today’s
Judeophobia seems subtler, it is no longer concealed. It is furthermore
especially treacherous, given its persistent duplicitous pretexts of opposition
to Zionism (the Jews’ national liberation movement) or to the policies of Israel
(the Jewish state).
Three-quarters of a century after the Anschluss, too
much of its noxious legacy lingers.