Days before 13th March 1938 – the official date of the Anschluss of Austria into the German Reich – Jews and dissidents had already begun to be driven out of their professional environments, and generally also out of their private spheres, academics being among the first victims. Thus, the pharmacologist Otto Loewi, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine for 1936, was arrested in Graz as early as 11th March. The Anschluss and the associated expulsion of university lecturers from the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna also brought the Second Viennese Medical School, founded by Carl von Rokitansky and alma mater of four Nobel laureates, to an abrupt end. Of all the university institutions, it was the worst affected department. It lost 52 per cent of its teaching staff, commemorated both 60 and 70 years later (the faculty being a separate university by then) in the form of publications, events and two memorials. One of them is in a prominent position in the university arcades, the other in the courtyard outside the current rector’s office:
March 13th 1998 March 13th 2008
My speech given in an overflowing lecture hall 1 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary memorial event can be found here.
The Austria reborn in 1945 made little effort to recall this displaced intelligence; similarly, the country’s academic institutions – the universities, then still under federal authority, and the long-established Austrian Academy of Science (ÖAW), which swore "unswerving loyalty and unconditional obedience" to the Führer just a week after the Anschluss (they recently presented the results of a research project on "The ÖAW 1938 to 1945") – did not remember them even on the 50th anniversary of the Anschluss. The official Austrian memorial ceremonies of March 1988 continued to conventionalise the role of this country as Hitler’s first victim and assiduously omitted to mention the fact that it was also a perpetrator. It was not until 1991 that the then Chancellor Franz Vranitzky broke this intolerable spell in a speech to parliament and later to the University of Jerusalem.
We know from other bizarre and brutal dictatorships of recent history (the GDR, Cambodia), that shame and unease in speaking about them persists until a generation later. The Nazi dictatorship was, however, so unimaginably brutal (all the more so because it gripped a highly civilised country) that it obviously required two generations and more until the first people dared to speak the truth openly. Because it also seemed hard for the children of those rooted in the Nazi dictatorship to admit that their parents had glorified a false ideal.
And we are by no means out of the woods yet. There continue to be those who cannot be taught and who are now particularly hard to grasp because they are skilled in putting out their concealed – and increasingly frequently unconcealed – messages: when concealed, critics who interpret them correctly can be accused of reading into them something that was never said; when unconcealed, critics can be accused of having entirely misunderstood. Life is also made easier for these diehards by the fact that knowledge of the darkest years of our history ("Night over Austria", as the current, highly recommended exhibition in the National Library entitles them) seems to fade from generation to generation. But it will only be if we succeed in holding this knowledge in our heads and those of our descendents that we will get out of the woods. We can never say "enough is enough".