Saturday, April 26, 2014

Die Opfernation

10:52 PM Posted by Patrick No comments


         I realize that research is never as interesting to everyone else as it is to the author, but for any who might be interested, this is the presentation I gave today. It represents an ultra truncated version of my original paper, but a fair portion of the most important elements are intact.
I'll post my thoughts on everything else tomorrow.

  In the wake of World War II, each of the Allied Powers envisioned an Austria shaped and governed by their designs and contributing to their interests. If independence were to return to Austria, it would be on a timetable and in a form approved by the Great Powers. For the Americans, the British, and the Soviets, the plan had been to occupy Austria, eliminate all traces of Nazi ideology, and then decide what “to get out of or make out of Austria.” But Austrian politicians and Diplomats were not content to be reduced to a puppet state, and swiftly consolidated behind a plan new to create an independent Austria.
            The cornerstone upon which a new Austria was to be erected was the Opferdoktrin; a stone under which Austrians intended to bury their guilt. The Austrians had been on the losing side of the war, and now, in order to obtain more favourable treatment, it was their task to convince the world that they had never sided with the Germans at all. The victim doctrine held that “the Anschluss was forced. It was Austrians who took part on the German side, but not Austria.” While individuals might be guilty, the collective was pure. The Germans had forced themselves on the Austrians and as one Austrian diplomat argued “one cannot well make the Austrian people responsible for being dragged into war by Adolph Hitler.”
            To make their case the Austrian provisional government published the Rot-Weiss-Rot Buch as the official version of the Austrian role in World War II, and the official case supporting the Opferdoktrin. The tragedy of the Anschluss and Austrian experience of the War, according to Rot-Weiss-Rot, goes back to the Treaty of Versailles, from which point it takes on all the force of fate.  The dismantling of the lands of the Monarchy had destroyed the dynamics of an intricate imperial economy, and no previously Habsburg state had suffered the consequences more than Austria. Austria had been poor and preoccupied with producing the day to day necessities of life, and so had been helpless against an industrialized Germany. Nazi Germany was the clear evil doer, but there was still blame to be apportioned. That blame would be placed on the Allies, for sitting back and watching as Germany armed, for remaining on the sidelines as German designs on Austria became clear, and for refusing to intervene when the Germans occupied Austria. Given the shared blame of the Allies in Austria’s travails, the thought of Austria being judged by them for any actions during the War was portrayed as unreasonable. Austrian participation in World War II was a result of the Anschluss, which the Allies had borne a legal and moral obligation to stop, only failing to do so through cowardice. In addition, while the Allies showed cowardice in failing to confront Germany, Austria claimed that it was the first free state—and during five years the only state which offered practical resistance to Hitler’s policy of aggression.”  Therefore, the Allies blame of Austria for post-Anschluss sins was the height of hypocrisy. Liberation was no longer being conceptualized as a salvific favor bestowed by the Allies upon Austria, but as a right which Austrians had been unjustly deprived.
                        Austria’s victimhood as laid out in Rot-Weiss-Rot was complete. Abandoned by the rest of the world, they had suffered German invasion and the destruction of their republic. They had struggled against Nazi oppression unaided for years, and at the end of their long suffering, the same nations who had abandoned them to the Germans now made them the villains. The effect of Austria’s documented history of victimhood was the externalization of blame. Austrian participation in the war was rejected as categorically impossible. Certainly, it might be allowed that there had been a small Nazi cache which facilitated the Hitlerite invasion of Austria, but it was an overwhelming minority, and typified by men like Seyss-Inquart, who had already left Austria for Holland—men who abandoned their Austrian heritage to serve the Nazis. But the people of Austria, as a collective and whole, had suffered the ill consequences of pre-war allied policy, the loss of sovereignty, and a long occupation. But not only had they born the occupation, they had also fought like heroes; a swift return to liberty would be the only just outcome.
            The externalization of all blame for Nazi actions complicated the already sticky task of denazification. Prior to the occupation, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union had planned upon embarking on a rigorous campaign to root out Nazism. Under the first Denazification Law passed by the allies, it was illegal for those with previous ties to the Nazi party to vote, hold a public position, teach, or own weapons. Those caught actively participating in National socialist activities would be “subjected to the same force” which they had brought against those who supported anti-Nazi political parties during the War. The first year of the unified Allied program passed without complication. But 1947 saw a split.
            The American Foreign Minister advocated allowing Austria to deal with the Nazis as they saw fit. In laying out his strategy for Austria, he wrote that “the reintegration into the body politic of former nominal [Nazi] party members was an essential condition for the restoration of normalcy in Austria,” and further that “having been wronged, the less implicated Nazis are now entitled to leniency.” All high ranking Nazis having long since been removed from power, these statements signified the end of American pursuit of Austrian denazification.
            And those 487,000 less implicated Nazis were not going to find themselves actively pursued by the government under new Austrian president Karl Renner, or at least not as foes. The number of disenfranchised ex Nazis represented around 12.5% of the eligible Austrian electorate, and it was not lost on the Renner government, that previous members of the NSP would be more likely to side with Renner’s more conservative ÖVP. “The Austrian government wasted no time and issued a general amnesty, “and with that general amnesty “began the unsavory process of competing for Nazi Votes.” In pandering to Nazi votes, candidates of all parties would include the “little Nazis” in the Austrian tale of collective suffering.
            Until the amnesty, the SPÖ had formed a left coalition with the KPÖ, and both parties had generally supported a more rigorous denazification, but with the prospect of ex-Nazis reentering the electorate in large numbers, the SPÖ elected to throw their communist compatriots overboard.  In their 1947 platform, they claimed that “the Socialist Party is a true Austrian National party. The Communist Party is an agent group of the USSR.” The Communist Party is for a bloody way, we for a peaceful one.” The re-inclusion of Nazis into the electorate and the abdication of the Socialists from the leftist coalition also caused a new split in the communist position on the treatment of Nazis. Unable to ignore the large new pool of voters, a segment of the KPÖ tried to reconcile the party to at least a portion of Nazi voters, allowing that they might have been duped into Nazism. This position allowed for a reunification between Austrian communists and their Nazi neighbors.
With the increasing assumption of the Nazis into the victim myth, the victim collective was complete, and no segment of Austrian society remained outside its protection. For one million surviving veterans of the Wehrmacht and their families, for half a million little Nazis, belonging to the Austrian nation now came with immeasurable benefits. To identify oneself as an Austrian, rather than an Austro-German, was to identify oneself as a victim, rather than an aggressor, and as a victim, to receive the full protection which came with that designation. Such a myth, however, came with the disadvantage of subordinating real individual tragedies to what was, in essence, a pragmatic lie. The suffering of Communist resistors, the isolation of principled exiles, and the martyrdom of Austrian Jewry were being assimilated into the same collective victimization with the supposed misery of ex-Nazi party members and SS commandoes.
            The story went largely without internal challenge, because Austrians found themselves closing ranks against the very real danger posed by the Soviet Union. As Austrians were busy chasing Nazi Votes, the Soviet Union was busy classifying the majority of the Austrian population as reactionary anti-Marxists. To Soviet officials, the 1,2 million who had served in the Wehrmacht were a Nazi cadre, the elected government—majority ÖVP—was fascist, and the Amnesty only proved the lingering strength of Austrian Nazism. Soviet officials watched the gross injustice of Nazis allowed to carry on as if nothing had happened. Moreover, in the 1949 yearly report from the Propaganda Department of the Soviet Component of the Allied Commission for Austria, it was repoted that “the Austrian Government not only ignores its duty to the Denazification of the land, but creates conditions favorable to the resurgence of Nazism in Austria.” And Soviet officials still remembered that “no other land occupied by Hitler had been so fast to take up Nazi ideologies,” and they estimated, conservatively, that as many as 600,000 Austrians remained “true believers” in the National Socialist ideal. The Soviets would employ every measure to hinder the emergence of a fascistically inclined Austria.
            And so Austria saw one of the first great battles of the Cold War: a battle without guns, but not without weapons. The battle was fought in the hearts and minds of the Austrian people, and it was fought in print, in radio waves, and in film. Thirty percent of all personnel committed by the Soviet Union to Austria during the ten year occupation were assigned for propaganda and political propagation duties. Despite their enormous commitment of resources, however, communist propaganda failed to make any real impact on the Austrian people. This was often attributed to the large portion of Austrian citizens who might face consequences with the installation of a Soviet backed regime. When Soviets examined their losing position in the propaganda war, they found that “Enemy propaganda was spread daily in approximately 200 newspapers and magazines with circulation greater than two million copies,” as well as the three largest Austrian radio stations, and Western films being shown 10:1 in proportion to soviet films.
            The failure of Soviet propaganda left the Soviets and their KPÖ allies shut out of the political future of Austria. Consequently, they would also be shut out from any decisions regarding how Austrians would remember their past.  Those left in power had opposed stringent denazification. When textbooks were written to teach young Austrians, the version given of the Austrian role in WWII was well sanitized, making no mention of any wrong doing or war crimes perpetrated by Austrians, but propounding a version of history very similar to the one found in Rot-Weiss-Rot. The war memorials built by Austrians to venerate soldiers who fell while fighting in the Wehrmacht would speak of the Helden der Heimat (Heroes of the Fatherland) and of Pflicht, the devotion to duty they had shown. The uncritical portrayal of Austrian soldiers in WWII, and their total divorce from a greater Hitlerite campaign, served to reinforce the myth of a collective Austrian Victimhood.
            The Soviet Union did, however, have a final role to play in the formation of the Austrian Nation. After the rearmament of the West German military in 1953, a new danger loomed in the mind of Soviet politicians. With the large number of ex-Nazis in Austria, the Soviet Union worried about the possibilities of a second German unification. In addition, three fourths of the country was firmly ensconced in the political camp of the Western Allies. Understanding that a political victory was impossible, the Soviets developed a strategy to ensure that Austria would not reunite with Germany, nor end as another Satellite of Western interests. After long negotiations, The Moscow Memorandum of April 15th 1955, laid out the terms for a full Soviet withdrawal and assent to a unfettered Austrian sovereignty. No mention was made of Nazis, the rights of the Austrian communists, or reparations. The only stipulation made by the Soviet delegation, was that Austria must maintain total and permanent neutrality.
            The Austrian Constitution was enacted on May 1st, 1955, and the Parliament passed a constitutional amendment requiring permanent neutrality on the 26th of October—the day the last occupying soldier left Austria. In permanent neutrality, the Austrian people secured to themselves and their posterity something which they had sought since the fall of the Habsburg Empire—it provided them stability.  Newfound independence and security, coupled with autonomy from the spheres of Western or Soviet influence, became a point of pride with Austrians, who exalted in being a small country which could stand on its own authority. But arriving at that point had not been without cost.  The story of Austrian neutrality was “the tale not only of how a tiny country was able to defend its interests successfully on the bargaining table of international politics, but also of the high price it paid for that success: a loss of intellectual consistency and moral rectitude.” With the capstone of Neutrality in place, Austrians felt neither the need, nor the desire to turn once again to the dangerous topic of the Austrian role in WWII. The topic was settled and in the past.

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