chapter  5
24 Pages

“Calculated Ambivalence” and Holocaust Denial in Austria


At the “zero hour” of 1945, as they emerged from the ruins of World War II, the ruling élites of what would become Austria’s Second Republic were preoccupied with how to cope with the frequently contradictory demands they faced. This included Allied forces that demanded a comprehensive denazifi cation process, a war-weary population that had survived the bombings, displaced persons and survivors of camps returning to their homes and expecting compensation, former Nazis expecting integration, and former Wehrmacht soldiers who also expected to have their sacrifi ces recognised. Continuities with National Socialism or Austrian fascism (between 1934 and 1938) were (offi cially) renounced, and the “new” Austrian government announced the rebirth of an Austrian Republic that was morally unburdened by past events or experiences (see Reisigl 2007; Wodak & De Cillia 2007). The fi rst part of the so-called Moscow Declaration of 1943, in which the Allied forces had declared Austria to have been the “fi rst victim of Nazi aggression,” supported this hegemonic narrative (Rathkolb 2009). This definition remained essentially unchallenged until the election of Kurt Waldheim, a former SA offi cer, to the Austrian presidency in 1986 (see Wodak et al. 1990; Mitten 1992). The second part of the Moscow Declarationnamely that Austrians were also responsible for Nazi war crimes-was usually swept under the carpet. 1

Within this climate, the persecution and extermination of Jews that had occurred during the Third Reich were not so much denied as concealed. A number of studies attribute this lack of public debate and refl ection to cynicism and/or to the remains of antisemitic hostility among political élites (Knight 1988; Rathkolb 1988; Stern 1991). Moreover, the deafening silence that surrounded discussions of the “Jewish question” must be seen within the aforementioned context of Austrian identity (re-)formation and the development of a new collective or public memory shaped by the Allied occupation, a reservoir of antisemitic prejudices from the First Austrian Republic and a commitment to becoming a Western democracy (Wodak et al. 2009; Wodak 2011a).