Considering the anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen concentration camp
Over the weekend, Austria celebrated the anniversary of its liberation from the Austrian regime and the closing of Mauthausen concentration camp on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Given my friendship with fellow Fulbright-Botstiber Scholar Casey Hayes, and his research on gay musicians in Nazi Vienna, I've done a lot of thinking this semester about the experience of Jews and minorities under the Nazi regime this semester. In recognition of these anniversaries, I took my family to the Jewish museums in Judenplatz this week.
Vienna, unfortunately, has a fairly long history of anti-semitism. The museums broke the history of Jews in Vienna into three distinct periods, each punctuated by exile or genocide. As an outsider, I'll admit that the hatred is hard to understand. As you go through the museums, the contributions of Jewish culture to Vienna are substantive, impressive and well-documented. And yet, they were very much used as a scapegoat throughout the history of the Vienna. It was written into the system of Vienna by Karl Luegar, a prominent former mayor of Vienna, who piloted the propaganda machine later used to great affect by fellow Austrian Adolf Hitler.
The stories were heart breaking. I was brought to tears by this piece recently published in the Guardian documenting the Viennese Jews who took out classified ads in the Guardian newspaper, begging British citizens to adopt their children. These ads were three lines but told complete stories:
Two very modest sisters, aged 14 and 17, Jews. Half-orphans, well-trained, pray to be accepted as foster children in a very good house. Manheim, 77 Donautstrasse, Vienna 2.
Among the places Jews fled included Shanghai--a connection I had previously been unaware of. Yet many who went there later found themselves oppressed by the Japanese regime. Based on my conversations with Casey, I've learned a bit about the history of Jewish migration. Jews, blacks, gays--many fled Berlin with Hitler's rise. It was scary to start again and the place that seemed the "safest" for those familiar with Berlin was Vienna; historically, the majority of the people who fled from Berlin to Vienna died. By contrast, it seemed so dangerous and foreign to flee to London, New York, Shang-hai. However, those who fled to those places were the most likely to survive.
It was a lot to process, but I'm glad I did and thankful for places like the Judenplatz Museum and Jewish Museum for helping me do so.