1945 - Forgetting or Reconciliation? - History of the Jews in Vienna

Schoa monument by Rachel Whiteread at Judenplatz

The memorial on Judenplatz for the Austrian Jews killed in the Shoah was unveiled on October 25, 2000.

After the war, official Austria preferred to style itself the "first victim of National Socialism" and thus to ignore its complicity in National Socialist crimes. History lessons in school often went no further than the First World War, and many official publications compressed their overview of the events between 1938 and 1945 into just a few general phrases.

Both the federal government and the municipal administration of Vienna were not interested in facilitating the return of expelled Jews. The reasons: the university chairs and other positions formerly taken by Jews had been assumed by others; the flats of the escapees were inhabited by new tenants; shops and enterprises, too, had changed owners. There may well be furniture, pictures and other objects formerly the property of Jewish families that can still be found in many a Viennese flat.

The restitution issue was put off; injured parties were made to wait without end or worn down by protracted court proceedings. Many politicians openly advocated this approach. Genuine signs of change only came in 1965: a Professor at the then Vienna College of World Trade - Taras Borodajkewycz, a favourite of right-wing students - had for years been openly expressing anti-Semitic opinions. When the scandal broke, it caused a great stir and triggered numerous demonstrations in favour of or against Borodajkewycz. On 31 March 1965, Ernst Kirchweger, a Communist and concentration camp survivor, was attacked during such a demonstration by a Neo-Nazi wielding a steel rod and died on 2 April from the grave injuries sustained, making him the first political victim of the Second Republic. 25,000 persons including the entire federal government participated in the memorial ceremony for Kirchweger in Vienna's Heldenplatz. It seems that people had finally begun to think.

The following years saw a re-evaluation process that was in no small part due to the Student movement of 1968/69. A new generation with a different approach and different ideas began to take its place in public life. Investigating and coming to terms with recent Austrian history was no longer considered a taboo.

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