Austria marks Anschluß anniversary  

Austria marks Anschluß anniversary   

Austria commemorated the 80th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany at the Viennese square where the Austrian Adolf Hitler was greeted by thousands of supporters in 1938.

Centrist President Alexander Van der Bellen said Austrians “were not only victims, but also perpetrators, often in leading positions”, warning that democracies were vulnerable to populist movements. “There is no excuse for self-inflicted ignorance,” he warned.

“The German Wehrmacht came overnight. But the contempt for human rights and democracy did not come overnight,” he said, adding that anti-Semitism existed before 1938.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said a memorial would be built commemorating more than 65,000 Austrian Jews murdered during the Holocaust. “We must never forget this dark chapter of our history,” said the chancellor who has shared power with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) since December.

The 1938  “Anschluß” united German-speaking peoples and Hitler addressed supporters in Vienna’s Heldenplatz Square three days after the tanks rolled in.

A ban on “dogs and Jews” was imposed overnight in the grounds of Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace and the persecution of Jews began hours after the German occupation.

The FPÖ campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform and it includes some former Nazis among its founding members.

It denies links to Nazis and has sought to distance itself from extremism, racism and anti-Semitism.

Fraternities

Austria’s universities have raised concerns that some board members appointed by the new coalition are under-qualified or members of shadowy student fraternities.

Academics fear the appointees at the universities of Vienna and Graz and other institutions could block the re-election of rectors and stifle academic enquiry.

Nine appointees have been identified as members of nationalistic fraternities by the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance, which monitors extremism.

The influence of these fraternities, which have life members, has been debated since a sizeable minority of FPÖ MPs are reported to be active members, including leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

In February, Austria’s former chancellor, Christian Kern, said the secretive fraternities were “infiltrating” the state, including universities.

Oliver Vitouch, vice-president of Universities Austria, said the new board members were “the weakest and most provincial ones we’ve ever had”.

“Being a general practitioner, or a village pharmacist, alone” does not qualify a board member to control a university’s strategy, the professor said. “It’s just the wrong signal: a signal of provincialism and political connections.”

 

The Anschluß in 1938. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

 

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