Academic journal article German Quarterly

Austria's Topography of Memory: Heldenplatz, Albertinaplatz, Judenplatz, and Beyond

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Austria's Topography of Memory: Heldenplatz, Albertinaplatz, Judenplatz, and Beyond

Article excerpt

Why so much resistance against remembering?

-Luce Irigaray1

Aber die Erinnerung täuscht immer Die Erinnerung ist immer ein total falsches Bild.

-Thomas Bernhard, Heldenplatz

In "Jedem sein Mahnmal" (1999), Henryk Broder writes that the decision to build Peter Eisenman's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin had very little to do with remembering the Jewish victims of National Socialism. Instead, he views the whole project as "'perfekte Synthese,' wenn auch aus deutschem Sünden- und jüdischem Opferstolz" (168). In an Austrian context, however, Opferstolz has been primarily linked not with Jewish victims of the Holocaust but rather with the country's postwar self-understanding as the Nazis' first target-a sentiment formalized by the Moscow Declaration of 1943, in which "the Allies had deemed Austria the 'first victim' of Hitler's aggression in a strategic move intended to stimulate Austrian resistance against the Third Reich" (Bunzl 8). This attitude of national collective victimhood inevitably discounts the victims of February 1934, opposing the authoritarian Dollfuß regime; military and civilian casualties of World War II; and victims of Nazi terror. In his insightful essay "NS-Trauma, 'Opfer'-Metaphorik und 'Lebenslüge': Österreich, die Zweite Republik," the Austrian historian Gerhard Botz examines the widely applied rhetoric of Opferstolz. He estimates NSDAP membership in the then "Ostmark" at 688,000 (10 percent of the Austrian population, or roughly a third of the adult men) (200) and explains how Austria's role as aggressor and its fascination with National Socialism were repressed in the late 1950s and 1960s, which inadvertently allowed the victim thesis to thrive and at the same time enabled Austrians to talk about their Nazi past (213). While Austria's self-perception as victim is accepted fact, its role as culprit set new challenges for Vergangenheitsbewältigung, particularly in the wake of the 1986 campaign and election of President Kurt Waldheim and the increasing prominence of the far-right Freedom Party politician Jörg Haider. Investigations into Waldheim's assignments during World War II led to an intense confrontation with the country's Nazi history that drew unprecedented public and international attention.

The following comparative study is largely inspired by the groundbreaking work of Holocaust memorial expert James E. Young, and by his essay "Austria's Ambivalent Memory" (1993), offering an astute analysis of three radically different sites: the concentration camp, now museum Mauthausen; Alfred Hrdlicka's Viennese Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus; and Hans Haacke's provocative temporary installation Und ihr habt doch gesiegt for the exhibit "Bezugspunkte 38/88" in Graz during the annual festival Styrian Autumn. Driven by Young's observation about the discrepancy between Germany's "painfully self-conscious memorial culture" and Austria's lack thereof ("Austria" 91), this article maps the complexity of Vienna's memorial and memory culture as it unfolded during and even more aggressively after the Gedenkjahr 1988, Austria's official year of remembrance of the 1938 Anschluß when Austria became part of Nazi Germany-a historic moment epitomized by a cheering crowd of an estimated 100,000 people listening to Hitler's speech at the Vienna Heldenplatz. This article looks at and beyond Thomas Bernhard's staging of his play Heldenplatz (1988) at the Burgtheater which is situated close to the Heldenplatz, Alfred Hrdlicka's (1928-) sculptural ensemble Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus (1988) at the Albertinaplatz, and Rachel Whiteread's(1963-) Mahnmal für die 65 000 ermordeten Juden Österreichs (2000) at the Judenplatz. In Austria's collective memory, the events at the Heldenplatz marked the beginning of Nazi rule, whereas the history of the Albertinaplatz as an unmarked mass grave of persecuted Jews in the 1400s and of civilian casualties after an Allied air raid in 1945 only gained prominence in national consciousness through Hrdlicka's monument. …

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