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German History

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This essay explores the politics of memory in post-1945 Austrian political culture, focusing on the shift between the fiftieth anniversary of the Anschluss and the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Postwar Austrian society experienced a particular tension associated with the Nazi past, manifested in communicative and cultural forms of memory. On the one hand, the support of many for the Third Reich—expressed through active or passive complicity—threatened to link Austria with the perpetrator status reserved for German society. On the other, the Allies’ Moscow Declaration (1943) created a myth of victimization by Germany that allowed Austrians to avoid confronting difficult questions concerning the Nazi era. Consequently, discussion of Austrian involvement in National Socialism became a taboo subject during the initial decades of the Second Republic. The 2005 commemoration is notable insofar as it marked a significant break with this taboo. New forms of cultural memory expressed in 2005 are examined here as the culmination of two things: first, criticism from the centre and left of the Austrian political spectrum that began during the Waldheim Affair of the mid- 1980s and the 1988 commemoration; second, efforts by successive Social Democratic chancellors and certain federal party leaders, beginning in the early 1990s, to break the pervasive silence that made Vergangenheitsbewältigung difficult, and to challenge the Austrian right wing’s glorification of elements of the Nazi past. This process included the novel step of acknowledging the Nazi skeletons in the Social Democratic Party’s own cupboard.


Published as “Commemoration versus Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Contextualizing Austria’s Gedenkjahr 2005.” German History 26 (2008) No. 1: 47-71.