Austria's president says Nazi past can't be forgotten

Tue Mar 12, 2013 12:25pm EDT
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By Georgina Prodhan

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria cannot draw a line under its Nazi past despite the desire of many Austrians to so do, its president said on the 75th anniversary of the country's annexation by Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler and his troops marched unopposed on March 12, 1938 into an Austria weakened by political and economic turmoil and were cheered by hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom took part enthusiastically in the Holocaust that followed.

"The wish was to leave this disaster behind and tackle the country's future on a fresh basis. The deep wounds of the past were supposed to heal. I can understand that," Heinz Fischer said in a speech in Vienna's Hofburg palace on Tuesday.

"But only wounds that are cleaned can heal without risk of infection. And the cleaning of this wound was a long time coming," he said, calling the day of the annexation, or "Anschluss", a "day of catastrophe".

Austria officially maintained that it was Hitler's first victim for decades until Chancellor Franz Vranitzky acknowledged in a 1991 speech in parliament that Austrian citizens shared responsibility for the pain the Nazis brought on others.

Addressing the question whether it was time to draw a line under the events of 1938-1945, Fischer said: "Individual people cannot draw a line under crimes of that dimension, nor can governments or parliaments decree that such a line be drawn."

He said the crimes of Hitler's Third Reich could not have taken place without the help of the "countless perpetrators, accomplices, informants and Aryanisers" who worked as cogs in the Nazi machine.

SOME RESISTANCE   Continued...

Austrian President Heinz Fischer delivers his speech during a commemoration ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of Austria's "Anschluss" (annexation) by Nazi Germany, in Vienna March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger