OBSERVER, LONDON 03.30.00
Copyright 2000 Scripps Howard, Inc. Scripps Howard News Service
March 30, 2000, Thursday
No hiding from Nazi past for Austria
The ghost of Adolf Eichmann, architect of the systematic extermination of
Europe’s Jews, still haunts Austria four decades after he was executed
for his crimes.
At the end of February the Austrian-born Nazi war criminal’s diaries
were released for the first time by Israel and sent to London to help
in the defense of a libel suit brought by author David Irving against
American historian Deborah Lipstadt, who accused him of being a
As well as providing a chilling insight into one of the most
disturbing minds of the Third Reich, the 1,300 pages gave further
evidence of the role Austria played in the war.
Now thousands more crucial documents have emerged that detail
Eichmann’s years in Austria before the war and further dispel the
myth that Austria was a helpless victim of Nazi crimes. The documents
were discovered by chance a few weeks ago by Berlin historian Jorg
Rudolph, still packed in Stasi boxes in a branch office of the former
East German secret police. They became the property of the German
federal archives after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Der Spiegel magazine, which has had access to the files, believed to
number between 15,000-20,000, outlines the extent to which Austrians
plundered Jewish shops and extorted money and possessions from
Jewish homes days before they gave German troops a hysterical
welcome when they crossed the border in 1938.
Eichmann was recruited into the SS in 1932 at a beer hall rally in
Linz, his home town, and became the SS intelligence service’s
leading expert on Jewish issues. In 1938 Eichmann, then a
32-year-old pen-pusher, was charged with planning the deportation
of Jews from Vienna.
He became famed for developing the so-called “Vienna model,” which
became the blueprint for the later deportation of Jews from
Germany and Czechoslovakia. Eichmann was responsible for the
deportation to Auschwitz of more than 100,000 Jews from Western
and Central Europe.
It’s widely predicted that the files’ content will add new fuel
to the debate in Austria about compensating Holocaust victims.
Thrown into turmoil following the entry of Jorg Haider’s Freedom
party into government two months ago, Austria is desperately
trying to prove to the world that it’s coming to terms with its
Unlike Germany, Austria has paid relatively little compensation
to Nazi victims, but the new far-right conservative coalition
government has set up a commission to review restitution claims,
based on the German model. The files are expected to provide
details on the plight of Austria’s Jews and may help survivors
or their relatives seeking the return of stolen property.
“From the Austrian point of view there is an eerie irony to the
fact that Adolf Eichmann is rising from the ashes at this very
time,” states the editorial in the liberal Vienna newspaper Der Standard.
While it suited the Allies during World War II to declare Austria an
invaded country, collective amnesia since then has enabled Austrians
to paint themselves as victims of Nazi Germany rather than willing
players in the crimes of Hitler’s regime.
The release of the latest Eichmann files is expected to shatter that
illusion once and for all.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service. For more Observer news
go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/.)