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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 May, 2005, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
'We should talk more about our past'

By Bethany Bell
BBC correspondent in Vienna

Austria is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its State Treaty, which marked the end of 10 years of allied occupation after World War II.

Crowd marks 60th anniversary of Mauthausen concentration camp liberation
Mauthausen: Austria's Nazi past is still a thorny issue
Despite having been annexed to Hitler's Third Reich, Austria did not share the fate of post-war Germany.

In 1955 it was granted full independence and escaped the yoke of Communism.

The anniversary has re-awakened the emotional debate as to whether Austria has done enough to confront its Nazi past.

On 15 May 1955, the Austrian Foreign Minister, Leopold Figl, a concentration camp survivor, stepped out on the balcony of the Belvedere Palace in Vienna brandishing the newly-signed State Treaty.

All the uncomfortable questions are left out
Brigitte Bailer
"Österreich ist Frei" - he declared - Austria is free. It was the end of 10 years of occupation by Britain, the United States, France and the Soviet Union.

Fifty years on, the event is being marked by a huge party at the Belvedere - thrown by the Austrian government.

Victims or perpetrators?

But some Austrians are concerned that the festivities gloss over Austria's dark Nazi past. Brigitte Bailer from the Archive for the Austrian Resistance says she sometimes gets angry at the tone of the official ceremonies.

"They leave out what role the Austrians had in the National Socialist regime. Nobody asks why these occupation forces stayed in Austria.

"I think that's the worst way to present history to take some dates out of context. That way people are made to believe again that we are just victims, that history was unjust to the poor Austrians and all the uncomfortable questions are left out."

It was the Allies who described Austria as Hitler's "first victim". But they also added that the country bore responsibility for its part in the war.

For many years, official Austria clung to the victim description.

It can't only be the question of condemning some people who took part in the Nazi tyranny and who persecuted Jews and minorities
Werner Fasselabend
Things began to change in the 1990s when Chancellor Franz Vranitzky acknowledged responsibility for Austrian involvement in Nazi crimes.

In 1995, a fund to compensate Nazi victims was set up, and several other restitution packages have since been agreed.

The Austrian President Heinz Fischer told the BBC that coming to terms with a brutal past was always painful, but that Austria's role as perpetrator was now established beyond doubt.

But shadows of the past remain.

Painful memories

Jörg Haider's far-right party has been part of the coalition government since 2000.

And the argument over victim and perpetrator is still very much alive.

"It can't only be the question of condemning some people who took part in the Nazi tyranny and who persecuted Jews and minorities," said Werner Fasselabend from the ruling conservative party.

"On the other hand you also have the situation that after the war, there wasn't really freedom for Austria and the Russians came and raped the women."

It was only two years ago that [my father] told his grandchildren that [...] he had passed the Mauthausen concentration camp. He had never, ever talked about it before
Veronika Mandorfer
Some Austrians feel there is too much emphasis on this period. But many others disagree. Recently there was widespread outcry after a far-right politician questioned the existence of the gas chambers.

Veronika Mandorfer, a Vienna school teacher, said talking about the past is essential.

"There are still too many things that have been covered up," she said.

"My father never told me, but it was only two years ago that he told his grandchildren that when he was drafted into the army, he passed the Mauthausen concentration camp. He had never, ever talked about it before."

However things are moving on.

Students in Mrs Mandorfer's class have been talking to their grandparents about the period as part of a school project.

"Many people died," said 13-year-old Gabi. "They didn't have a chance to live. It wasn't fair. I think 1945 is better because it was the end of the war."

See Austrians celebrate 50 years of independence

Austria remembers independence
15 May 05 |  Europe


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