Heldenplatz show shows Vienna’s role in Nazi terror against Jews


The open-air show “The Vienna Model of Radicalization. Austria and the Shoah” opened at Heldenplatz in Vienna on Friday.
© APA/HANS PUNZ

A show on Vienna’s Heldenplatz shows Vienna’s criminal pioneering role in anti-Semitism in the Nazi state and the deportation of Jews to extermination camps.

For decades, Austria liked the role of victim in relation to Nazi terror. The fact that Vienna, on the contrary, even played a criminal pioneering role with regard to anti-Semitism in the Nazi state and the deportations of Jews to the extermination sites is now made visible by the freely accessible outdoor exhibition “The Vienna Model of Radicalization. Austria and the Shoah”. You can see it from now on at the symbolic Heldenplatz.

Open-air show on Heldenplatz on the 80th anniversary of the deportations

The occasion for the eight-station open-air show is the 80th anniversary of the first nationwide deportation transports. On October 15, 1941, the first train carrying 1,000 Austrian Jews left Vienna’s Aspangbahnhof for the Litzmannstadt / Lodz ghetto. In the course of the following year, 39 more transports of tens of thousands of people followed to the concentration camps and murder sites of the regime – mainly to Theresienstadt.

Show makes Vienna’s role in Nazi politics clear

However, the open-air show makes it clear how early Austria played a central role in National Socialist politics. In 1938, for example, Adolf Eichmann set up the “Central Office for Jewish Emigration” in Vienna. It was the first authority of its kind in the Nazi state to systematically expel and rob the Jewish population. “Vienna was a career springboard for Eichmann,” said the historian Annemarie Uhl as one of the three curators at the exhibition presentation on Friday. According to the Viennese model, “central offices” are also being set up in Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam.

Transports of death: Vienna had an inglorious pioneering position

Vienna also played an inglorious pioneering role in the actual transport of deaths. In October 1940, the local Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach presented his plan to Hitler to make Vienna the first major city in the German Reich to be “free of Jews”. After isolated deportations in February and March 1941, the nationwide transports began in mid-October of the same year.

Exhibition project from the House of Austrian History

The exhibition project was realized by the House of History Austria (hdgö) in cooperation with the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Vienna and the Association for the Promotion of Cultural Studies Research. In a press conference on Friday, both hdgö director Monika Sommer and constitution minister Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP) emphasized Austria’s “special historical responsibility” with regard to commemorating the victims of the Nazi atrocities on the one hand and the fight against current forms of anti-Semitism on the other.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise again due to the corona pandemic

Edtstadler complained that the latter experienced a “boost” in the course of the corona pandemic. If the symbol of the Jewish star was worn by demonstrators against the Corona measures and the corona vaccine was compared with the Zyklon B poison gas used in Auschwitz, it would be up to each individual to “stand up against this cancerous tumor”.

Heldenplatz show with lots of photographs

The exhibition, enriched with many photographs of files, documents, victims and survivors, also tells of resistance and humanity – for example of the non-Jewish school doctor Josef Feldner, who hid the adolescent Hans Busztin for three years and thus saved the only one of his family from death . Such stories are important in order to encourage civil courage even today, emphasized Oskar Deutsch, President of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien. Across Europe, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has recently risen sharply: “It is high time to break this dangerous dynamic.”

Decent brokerage offers

Low-threshold education and communication offers such as this outdoor exhibition are an important contribution to this, emphasized hdgö director Monika Sommer. It is an important sign to be able to show the project on Heldenplatz as the central square of the republic. The place is symbolic insofar as Hitler gave his “follow-up speech” on March 15, 1938 in front of the cheering masses from the balcony of the Neue Hofburg.

In Austria it was not the best for admission of guilt

That the admission of guilt or even reparation after the end of the Nazi regime was not the best in this country, to say the least, will be recalled once more at the end of the show. Not only the hostility of the population and politicians towards displaced returnees, but also the negligent persecution of perpetrators and denazification as well as the delayed restitution of expropriated property, which still continues to this day in restitution proceedings in matters of looted art, are discussed.

Information about the exhibition

“The Viennese Model of Radicalization. Austria and the Shoah” at Heldenplatz in Vienna, freely accessible until December 10, guided tour by curators every Friday at 3:30 pm; https://www.hdgoe.at/

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