Austria: We took too long to admit our role in Holocaust

Chancellor of Austria says his country waited too long to 'be honest' about its involvement 'as a perpetrator' in the Holocaust.

David Rosenberg ,

Sebastian Kurz
Sebastian Kurz

Austria ignored its role in the Holocaust for decades, shying away from its role as a “perpetrator” in the genocide, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in an address during his visit to Jerusalem this week.

Kurz, who at the age of 31 became Austria’s youngest chancellor ever last December, kicked off his trip to Israel on Sunday with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, as well as a visit to the Western Wall in the Old City.

On Monday, Kurz addressed a gathering of the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem, and discussed his country’s involvement in the Holocaust and subsequent refusal by leaders for years to confront Austria’s role in the genocide.

"To remember means also to admit the truth. At that time, many Austrians supported the system which killed over six million Jews from all over Europe and beyond. Among them, 60,000 fellow Austrian Jewish citizens in Austria alone," said Kurz.

Austria, acknowledged Kurz, was not simply the victim of German expansionism, but was itself also a perpetrator.

"It took Austria a long time to be honest about its past. We've realized that Austria was not only a victim, but also a perpetrator.”

“Austria used to see itself as the first victim of the Nazis," continued Kurz. "That is true for all of those who fought in the resistance, whom we cannot thank enough. But the ones who gathered in large numbers in Vienna in March 1933 were not victims… the ones who watched and participated, when their neighbors were robbed, thrown out, and murdered—were no victims. And the ones who committed the terrible mass murder of Jews were not victims at all."

In March 1938, German forces invaded Austria, part of what became known as the Anschluss, or the unification of the two countries.

Supported by the Nazi Party in Austria and a significant portion of the Austrian population, German troops met with no resistance, after the Austrian government ordered its army not to confront the Wehrmacht.

After the invasion, Germany oversaw a referendum in Austria on the question of unification. The resulting 99.8% vote in favor ratified Germany’s invasion into law after the fact.

While many Austrians had supported Anschluss, the slogan “Austria, the Nazis’ First Victim” later gained popularity, becoming a powerful narrative in post-war Austria.