Austria remembers the 70th anniversary of the "Anschluss"


Thousands of people gathered in Vienna's Heldenplatz on Wednesday night to mark the 70th anniversary of the Anschluss - the annexation of Austria into Hitler's Third Reich. It was called the "night of silence".

The jubilation 70 years earlier for Adolf Hitler was, on this night, replaced by quiet contemplation. 80 thousand candles burned - recalling the 80 thousand Austrians murdered by the Nazis. It was mostly a young crowd which gathered in small groups talking quietly and arranging their candles in patterns. Here a Star of David -there a peace symbol and several times - "never again" was spelt out. Vienna City's cultural councillor Andreas Mailath-Pokorny told the sombre gathering there should be no forgetting.

"We will forget neither the victims - nor the perpetrators".

The warmest round of applause was for former Social Democrat Chancellor Franz Vranitzky who's 1991 speech on Austrian co-responsibility in the crimes of the holocaust marked a paradigm shift in the debate about whether Austria was a victim of Nazi German or co-responsible. As the crowd gathered on Heldenplatz some of the crowd spoke to Insight Central Europe about their feelings.

"Like, Austria saw itself as being very passive in the Anschluss but the young generation more and more accepts or sees that Austria was quite active in this whole process" said a young woman.

"Austria was of course reponsible for what happened. If you ever look at the place, at the date, 70 years ago - how many people have been here and have been happy that the leader is here "to free them" said a young man.

"I think Austria was very much responsible. We should remember it and learn from that" said another.

Many of Vienna's youth had come to recall the fact that the Nazis banned all but their own youth groups. But here and there among the crowd were elderly, some with tears in their eyes. Some had witnessed the events of 70 years ago and some had lost loved ones to the murderous regime. After the speeches most of the crowd disperse but a small group maintained an all-night vigil.