VIENNA – Austria on Tuesday opened its first public memorial listing the names of all 64,440 Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The country where Adolf Hitler was born was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938 and Vienna was a crucible of Third Reich anti-Semitism. Yet Austria was slow to recognise its role, and for decades it called itself the first victim of Nazism.
“They were deported, starved in ghettos, shot dead in forests or brutally murdered in extermination camps,” conservative Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told the opening ceremony for the memorial – an ellipse of stone walls in a park opposite Austria’s central bank.
“With this wall of names we pull their names and their history out of oblivion. We give them back their identity, their individuality and with that part of their humanity. And they once again have a place in their homeland.”
The only other Holocaust memorial in Vienna naming the victims is in the city’s main synagogue.
The project was first backed in 2018 by a previous coalition government of Schallenberg’s conservatives and the far-right Freedom Party, which was founded in the 1950s and whose first leader had been an SS officer.
Although the Freedom Party (FPO) has long said it has abandoned its anti-Semitic past, it has been plagued by racism and anti-Semitism scandals.
The conservatives now govern with the left-wing Greens.
Another policy put forward under the conservative-FPO government, granting citizenship to the descendants of Austrian Holocaust victims, has been taken up by more than 6,000 people since it was introduced last year, Schallenberg said.
“Too many people stood on Heroes’ Square in March 1938 and celebrated,” Schallenberg said of the huge crowd that greeted Hitler in Vienna.
“Too many watched and took part as their fellow human beings were robbed, driven out and murdered. And we looked away for too long, until we became aware of our role as perpetrators.”