Tag Archives: The Austrians

The Anschluss – 80 years on | ecbinvienna

12 Mar

10 years ago I wrote the text linked below. Reading it again, I am struck by how quickly we have moved to just such a situation historians and survivors warned about then. Let us remain active and keep lighting those candles, every day.



The Anschluss – 75 years on

13 Mar

The text below was written on 12 March 2008 after I attended a commemoration ceremony at Heldenplatz. It is no less timely today.

Vienna, 12 March 2008 – Islands of Light

It was a beautiful evening today at Heldenplatz—clear, cool without being cold, with graceful clouds passing through overhead. Perhaps it wasn’t all that different 70 years ago when the German troops marched in to annex Austria and to clear the way for Hitler and his historic speech to over 200,000 cheering Austrians on 15 March 1938 at Heldenplatz.

This evening, in 2008, the thousands who gathered came to light candles—one for each of the over 80,000 Austrian people who suffered imprisonment and were killed under the Nazi regime. They came to light candles against intolerance. Many came, too, to be strengthened in their resolve never to let such a violation of human rights, human dignity, and human life happen again.

Although the organizers of the commemoration called it “Die Nacht des Schweigens” (The Night of Silence) in deliberate contrast to the rowdiness the night of Hitler’s speech, there were speakers. A prominent Austrian historian, now 83, who has spent her life speaking out against race hatred; a former Austrian Chancellor who was the first high-ranking Austrian official to challenge Austria’s image as poor victim and to speak officially also of Austria’s role as perpetrator; a young woman of 19 involved in a project commemorating victims of the Holocaust called A Letter to the Stars; and a survivor of five concentration camps now 82, who had to watch her mother go to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

I take away three messages from the speakers: that it is impossible to make reparation for crimes of this magnitude, that the fight goes on, and that it is important also to remember each person who suffered and was killed.

Reparation implies being able to repair a situation and to indemnify people, that is, to restore them to the position they were in before disaster occurred. The German equivalent Wiedergutmachung when taken apart piece by piece means to make good again. Essentially, we can never understand what it was—or still is—like for the victims and their families and no matter how much money we pay to restore property or compensate for slave labor, for example, we can never make it up to the people who suffered, were tortured and killed. We cannot make it good again.

As we stood under the stars and moon at Vienna’s Heldenplatz, peaceful and unthreatened, amid islands of light created by the 80,000 candles, the other message was that the battle goes on. Precisely because we can never truly make reparation once such crimes have been committed we all have a responsibility to make sure that our countries do not participate in such crimes again. Although we, at the moment, have democracy, peace, enough to eat and are relatively tolerant of the ethnic and other minority groups in our midst, that can change. We are in all probability facing the kinds of times where life gets tougher, where the feeling that there is not enough to go around makes it harder to be tolerant and to act justly. Those are the kinds of times when it is easier for unscrupulous or fanatical leaders to mobilize large numbers of people to oppress, imprison and finally murder their fellow citizens. We must beware.

It is hardly to be hoped that we have more resources for behaving bravely and morally than the people who came before us. For this reason, knowing what we know about the years of the Nazi regime, we need to re-commit every single day to fighting the forces that allowed such a regime to gain power. We need to combat anti-semitism and other forms of racism and intolerance wherever and whenever we encounter them, and if we fail to do so one day we have to get up the next day and try again.

In the words of Susanne Lamberg, the survivor of five concentration camps mentioned above: “When the candles that we light tonight go out we must light more tomorrow. We must decide every day to light the candles. It is tiring. But it is our only chance.”

As I was leaving Heldenplatz the Night of Silence had begun along with the commemoration of the 80,000 victims. The name of each man, woman and child was being projected on a screen—four screens, one name per screen, two seconds per name. The projection is to go on until six o’clock in the morning to get through the names of all the known victims.

Don’t waste food

7 Mar

I’ve had a egg carton sitting next to my computer for days to remind me to write about a new text in the cartons. I’ve long thought that the Viennese are better at putting their money where their mouths are than my compatriots, and I feel this backs me up.

One would think that egg farmers would want to sell as as many eggs as possible, never mind if food gets wasted. Well, not everywhere. There is now a heart with a stem printed inside the egg cartons in Vienna with the motto “Food is precious” [“Lebensmittel sind kostbar!”]. Next to this is the following text (translation mine): Food is precious! So don’t throw any away. Eggs, for example, can safely be used after their expiration date for baking and cooking, or enjoyed as hard-boiled eggs. It’s simply important to heat the egg thoroughly before eating.

Given the choice between selling more eggs and trying to prevent the waste of food the Austrians have clearly come down on the not wasting food side of the debate. Perhaps that is what happens when you still have people in your population who remember the cold and hunger of war?

Another reason I live in Vienna – the Austrian mentality

13 Jan

This is perhaps not the most understandable statement for any U.S. American who has spent any time especially in Vienna. The Viennese in particular can be quite grumpy and rather closed. Yet there are parts of the Austrian mentality I treasure and can identify with.

In my early years (about 20 years ago) there was a referendum about (a) should Austria build a hydroelectric plant and (b) should Vienna co-host the World Fair together with Budapest. The Austrians voted yes to the hydroelectric plant (green, modern thinking) and no to the World Fair, which, apparently, they felt would bring too much crime into the country. The money it would have brought wasn’t important enough to them to balance what they saw as the disadvantages. In general, the Austrians are willing to put their money where their mouths are. (Take a look at the tax rate and, on the other hand, the social services some day.)

In a similar vein, I saw today in the free newspaper “Heute” that in an opinion poll 42% of Austrians said yes to the higher taxes and the austerity package the government is proposing. They understand that you can’t go on spending money you don’t have and that you need to get money somewhere (e.g., from taxes) if you have a deficit. I can really respect such pragmatism and only wish my country were willing to let some of this rub off on them.

“We are the champions”

7 Nov

This was the title last Friday of an article in the free city newspaper Heute (Today). The subject of the article? The recent WorldSkills fair in London (http://www.worldskillslondon2011.com/), where people between the ages of 17 and 25 compete to see who is best at his or her job. Austrians won three Gold, one Silver, and two Bronze medals. One of Gold medals went to a fine pastries chef, Stefan Lubinger, so you may think that Austria simply used its natural advantages to good effect. 😉 In fact, what probably helped this small country (only 8 million inhabitants) to do so well is the ongoing belief and investment in vocational education (I’m consciously not using the word “training” because it is, in fact, an education).

The apprenticeship system–where students spend a certain part of every school week in the classroom learning the theoretical part of their trade and what they need to one day run their own small business and the rest of the time practicing in a work environment under masters–is alive and still relatively well in Austria and serves a real purpose. It makes sure that pupils who do not want to go on with academic subjects have a viable alternative in the educational system and also that the population has a pool of extremely well-qualified stone masons, plumbers, electricians, waiters, chimney sweeps, office admin staff, pastry chefs, and so on.  Truly seems like a win-win situation to me!