Austria: Remembrance without remembering

Pointing out the danger of nuclear annihilation only elicits reproach for exploiting the Holocaust.

Nazis 298.88 (photo credit: )
Nazis 298.88
(photo credit: )
For Austria as well as Israel, 2008 is a year of commemoration: here of the Anschluss 70 years ago, there the founding of the state 60 years ago. But almost nobody in this country seems interested that these events are linked. In particular the refusal on the part of almost all of Austria's important politicians to acknowledge the extent of the current Iranian threat to Israel and to act accordingly, beyond lip service, amounts to a disgrace. It is not surprising that the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), the inheritor of German-born racial anti-Semitism, regards Israel's enemies as its friends. Recently, one could read in the academic magazine Die Aula, which is close to the FPÖ, that "Israel and the lobbies supporting it" were "doing everything they could to embroil us in World War III." Iran should, even must, accelerate nuclear armament, it writes, so that "the Israelis would become aware of the clear possibility of their own annihilation," thereby making it possible for others to blackmail them. Seventy years after the Anschluss pogrom, which fed into the November Pogrom and fatally radicalized National Socialist policy regarding Jews, it is possible to speculate openly in Austria about the annihilation of Jewish women and men. To FPÖ foreign affairs politician Andreas Mölzer, the attempts on the part of the international community to prevent Iran's atom bomb are nothing but "threatening gestures by the US" from which the EU must distance itself. In place of sanctions and diplomatic pressure, Mölzer would like to see "respect" for the mullah regime. The fact that the FPÖ has been endeavoring to establish contact with the Iranian regime for some time rounds out the picture. In addition, the FPÖ is supporting Moishe A. Friedman, a pro-Iranian agitator who participated in the December 2006 Teheran international conference of Holocaust deniers, in his fight against Israel. Friedman's example demonstrates the broad political spectrum of Israel-haters - some observers even speak of a Querfront (front cutting across the usual political lines): Friedman's contacts reach across the board from the FPÖ to the Palestinian community, which is close to the Social Democratic Party of Austria, all the way to radical left-wing splinter groups. Time and again, this motley group convenes to demonize Israel in public and to make light of Iran's threat of mass murder. The recent election of the right-wing extremist Martin Graf as the third president of the Austrian parliament by 109 members of parliament (out of a total of 183), again highlights Austria's problematic relation with its past. FPÖ-member Graf refuses to talk about Jews murdered in the Nazi gas chambers. Confronted with criticism from Israel, party colleague Harald Stefan announced that he will open a bottle of champagne if the Israeli ambassador to Austria leaves the country. SERIOUS RESEARCH today no longer doubts that the rise and success of National Socialism was encouraged decisively by the reactions of the rest of Europe. It was not until appeasement became policy that Hitler was perceived as being on the right track and the German military machinery set in motion. Few deny that this hesitation and wavering plunged the world into war, making it possible for the Nazis to carry out their program of annihilation. But this historical insight remains strangely isolated from daily political routine. What is more: Whoever points out the danger of Islamic anti-Semitism and the possibility of a second, this-time nuclear annihilation must count on being reproached for exploiting the victims. In this way, the sting is taken out of remembrance, and accordingly, official commemoration appears empty. The Iranian mullah regime stands comparison with that of the Nazis. The regime denies the Shoah and at the same time threatens Jewish women and men with new annihilation. Israel's destruction is just the first step on its agenda: the preachers of the Islamic-revolutionary apocalypse will fight on until the entire globe is cleansed of the infidels, "until the call 'There is no God but Allah' and 'Mohammed is the prophet of God' rings out through the whole world," in the words of the founding father of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Khomeini. JUST ONE year from now, Iran is likely to have control of the technology necessary to enrich enough uranium for an atom bomb. That would be the point of no return. It would mean living with a nuclear regime whose actions even today against its own population - such as executing children, homosexuals and "Zionist agents" - demonstrate what it is capable of doing. Instead of confronting this threat, Austria strives to expand its relations with a regime sanctioned for violating international law. At the EU level, Austria is one of the few states working to prevent further sanctions being applied against Iran. Its trade with Iran - such as the planned billion dollar deal of the partially state-owned gas company OMV - is flourishing. How can anyone expect Austria to use its non-permanent seat in the UN security council to expand sanctions on Iran? That the Austrian government is willing to engage its 30% share of OMV with a country out to destroy Israel speaks louder than any diplomatic double-speak. Nothing about this fundamental separation - between mellifluous avowal of solidarity with the victims of anti-Semitism on the one hand, and diametrically opposite activities on the other - is going to change. In psychology, this process is called isolation: an event, especially a traumatic one, may be remembered, but this "cold" or emotionless memory has absolutely no effect on one's thinking or action. Commemoration is ritualized accordingly: The emotions that are lacking are replaced by formulaic phrases. Simone Dinah Hartmann is spokesperson of STOP THE BOMB Austria ( and co-editor of the book Iran - An analysis of the Islamic Republic and its European Supporters (Studienverlag 2008). Heribert Schiedel is a scholar of right-wing extremism, and among other works has written "Der rechte Rand. Extremistische Gesinnungen in unserer Gesellschaft" ("The right-wing fringe. Extremist sentiments in our society") (Edition Steinbauer 2007).