This is the story of two boys born in Austria under Hitler's rule. Each of the boys spent most of the war in Carinthia, the mountainous province that was a bastion of Austrian Nazism and even today remains a center of neo-Fascism. At very different ages, each dramatically glimpsed the truth of his parents' wartime role. Peter Michael Lingens's earliest memory is of sitting in a car when he was three and admiring the men with shiny guns at the door of his family's fine home. He'd soon learn that the Gestapo had arrested his parents for hiding Jews. They sent his father to the front and threw his mother in Auschwitz. Gerhard Oberschlick was forty-four before he discovered his more prosaic truth. It was then that he ran across a smudged wartime photo of the family. His father, sporting a Hitler-style mustache, flashed a swastika on his left lapel. His mother wore a peasant blouse that, one could see if one looked closely, was clasped by a swastika. The Oberschlicks were members of the Nazi Party.
These two boys who spent the war in Carinthia were inspired in the same direction by their parents' contrasting choices. Each became a journalist who confronted Austrians with unpopular points of historical memory. Lingens faced off against Bruno Kreisky, the self-denying Jew who rose to become the “Sun King of Vienna.” Oberschlick took on Jorg Haider, modern Austria's slick and tenacious champion of the right. Each journalist was pilloried by the Austrian establishment, only to be vindicated by Europe. Together, they helped to establish the principle of press freedom in European law.
There are elements of Austria's past that are not very nice to remember. Although Jews flourished in post-Enlightenment Vienna, the city elected