Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 20:10 GMT
Gross symbolises Austria's past
Heinrich Gross' trial has been suspended
By Central Europe analyst Jan Repa

Heinrich Gross was a veteran Nazi, who had already enrolled in the Hitler Youth organisation in 1932, a year before the Nazis came to power in Germany - and six years before Adolf Hitler's annexation of Austria.

He is accused of complicity in the deaths of several hundred handicapped children in a Vienna clinic during World War Two as part of a Nazi programme of "purifying the Aryan race".

His immediate superior at the clinic was executed after the war.

But Heinrich Gross escaped punishment on a legal technicality.

He went on to become one of Austria's most respected, and highly-decorated neuro-psychologists and forensic experts.

He continued to experiment on the brains of the murdered children, which were carefully preserved at the clinic.

He became a trusted member of the Social Democrat party, which, together with the centre-right People's Party, dominated post-war Austrian politics.


He was still working two years ago.

On Tuesday, the judge suspended the trial, after claims that 84-year-old Heinrich Gross was afflicted with senility and Parkinson's disease.

The case illustrates many of Austria's problems with the Nazi era.

The doctor is believed to be suffering from senility and Parkinson's disease
More than 800,000 Austrians joined the Nazi Party - out of a total population at the time of around seven million.

Many Austrians welcomed the German take-over, as a union of closely related German-speaking peoples.

Austrian companies are even now facing compensation claims from around 250,000 surviving forced labourers from various countries of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Victim or accomplice?

Already during World War Two, however, the Allied powers declared Austria to be a victim - rather than accomplice - of Nazi aggression.

It was a convenient piece of wartime propaganda - but one that allowed the Austrians subsequently to consign the Nazi era to a kind of oblivion.

Under the stifling, consensus-based post-war system, based on a Social Democrat-People's Party duopoly, mentioning the issue smacked of bad manners.

Of course, the Nazi past did not go away.

Many ex-Nazis found a home in the far-right Freedom Party.

Joerg Haider, until last month its controversial leader, began his career by appealing to the need of many older Austrians - including veterans of the notorious Nazi elite SS regiments - to be recognised as "decent fellows".

Mr Haider himself was born after the war.

But his parents had been enthusiastic and early members of the Nazi party.

He now says that Hitler was a terrible criminal.

But the Freedom Party's recent entry into government, which Mr Haider presents as a healthy break with the post-war duopoly, has led to Austria's boycott by its fellow EU governments.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Europe Contents

Country profiles
See also:

20 Mar 00 | Europe
Nazi euthanasia trial halted
20 Oct 99 | Europe
Papon found guilty
13 Oct 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Trial and retribution
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories