Article Library / 2016

2016 Annual Assessment

The 1980s were also a turning point in the Austrian political and social attitudes toward the Jewish community. After World War II, Austria defined itself as the “first victim” of Nazi Germany. For the Austrian government and the population, this self-definition served to clear them of any guilt or responsibility. The politicians and the population did not deal with Austria’s role in the Shoah. Thus, prejudice, the previous pattern of anti-Semitism, and contempt for Jews in the public and political spheres continued to prevail. Austria did not actively support the re-establishment of Jewish life in the country, and Austrian Jews who had fled the Nazi onslaught were explicitly discouraged from returning because the Austrian politicians wanted to protect those who had appropriated Jewish property.

Only in the mid-1980s, did the Austrian population begin to face up to its past. The Waldheim affair (1986) triggered a new public discourse on the role of Austrians in the Shoah, and in 1991 Franz Vranitzky was the first Chancellor to openly challenge the “first victim” myth, admitting publicly that many Austrians had been part of the Nazi murder machinery. Consequently, Austria’s policies became characterized by a willingness to deal with its responsibility in the Shoah and by substantial financial support for communal projects to enhance Jewish life and infrastructure. The federal government and municipal authorities sought to improve relations with Austrian Jews, world Jewry, and Israel.

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