Confronting a conveniently redesigned past
by Esther Finder Special to WJW Local Jews, including members of Holocaust survivor families, had the opportunity to meet recently with representatives of the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service to talk about the continuing legacy of the Holocaust in the country of Adolf Hitler’s birth. Andreas Maislinger, who founded and chairs AHMS, had a difficult assignment. He wanted to explain how the Austrians have continually been able to engage in selective amnesia about their role in the Holocaust. Dr. Maislinger explained to the audience that during the war, the Allies proclaimed Austrians the first victims of Hitler’s Germany, but did not absolve them from any complicity in the genocide. Austrians, who were very involved and eagerly participated in Nazi Germany, proudly said that they were German. Only the few active resistance fighters identified themselves as Austrians. Needless to say, his presentation was met with criticism from the audience, but we had jumped the gun and not allowed Dr. Maislinger to make his point. He, too, felt that Austria has an obligation to face its role in the Shoah and to take responsibility for its actions. As a man of conscience, he personally took it upon himself to change the Austrian status quo. Perhaps his place of birth had something to do with it? Andreas Maislinger was born in a small village between Salzburg and Braunau am Inn. Salzburg is famous for Mozart; Braunau am Inn is the city where Hitler was born. Mozart represents the best of Austria and Hitler the worst. What can one man of conscience do to have an impact? Plenty. As a student of political science he traveled, including to Israel, and came to realize that Austria had the responsibility to face its history and not rewrite or sugarcoat it. He heard about the German organization that provided alternative military service for conscientious objectors and contacted it. Although it would not satisfy his own military requirement, in 1980 he started to work at the Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau through an alternative service group, German Action Reconciliation. It was during this service that the idea of the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service was born. Today the AHMS has representatives in countries around the world. Dedicated to honoring the legacy of the Shoah and promoting tolerance and understanding, this program is making a difference in the lives of all the people who are connected with it. Hopefully this program will expand. Dr. Maislinger has another idea he is trying to develop. Hitler’s birthplace is still standing and the property is about to become vacant. What could be done with this building, now being used as a facility for disabled persons — people Hitler would have murdered in his effort to create his uebermensch (super man) race? There are certainly two schools of thought: Raze it to the ground and erase it from the face of the earth, or use it for something that stands in opposition to everything Hitler did. Dr. Maislinger wants to turn it into a House of Responsibility, including a museum honoring the American liberators who brought an end to Hitler’s reign in Austria. The American liberation has long gone unacknowledged in Austria. This ideal has special appeal to me because I had the honor of conducting the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation’s interview with the Jewish refugee-turned-spy who helped secure the peaceful surrender of Innsbruck to the Americans. Fred Mayer will always be a personal hero to me. As a spy who gave the Allies crucial information, Fred had been credited with shortening the war by six months. Had the war gone on much longer, I certainly would not be here. When the Russians liberated my mother, she and the other women in her transport were so starved they were trying to eat grass. As an American and a daughter of two survivors, I think a tribute to American liberators has great potential. Such a museum would provide teaching opportunities and help ensure that history is accurately preserved. It might be a singularly appropriate use for such an infamous site. Hitler would have hated it. Esther Toporek Finder is president of The Generation After, Washington, D.C., and a member of the Coordinating Council of Generations of the Shoah International.
- Date 14. June 2016
- Tags Pressearchiv 2009