The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in . The exhibition Into the Unknown ended on 15 May 2020.

House of Austrian History

The Myth of Austrian Victimhood

The course of Austria’s history is rather pathetic, if you come to think of it. The Habsburgs had been the supplier of Holy Roman Emperors since 1452, but in 1806 Franz II dissolved his empire in fear of Napoleon, and in 1938 the Austrians chose to give up their country in fear of Hitler, or to make the Reich great again — who knows. However, after Germany was liberated from itself in 1945, Austria regained its independence and Allied occupation ended in 1955, on condition that Austria stay neutral forever and at no time become part of Germany again, and pay heavy war reparations to the USSR: $6¼ million every three months for six years, and one million tons of oil annually for ten years.

House of Austrian History
The exhibition Into the Unknown at the House of Austrian History

After World War II the Austrians adopted the victim theory, which argued that their country, which had been a fascist dictatorship since 1933, was, in 1938, ‘the first victim of Nazism’. Although this was not untrue — the Anschluss was forced by the Nazis and the plebiscite to ratify the annexation was neither free nor secret — it didn’t reflect the truth either. It ignored the fact that the Austrians had welcomed Hitler with great enthusiasm and then were on the wrong side for seven years, and that as a people, they had been an accomplice to, if not a perpetrator of, the crimes of the Nazis. The myth of Austrian victimhood prevented them from introspection, and it took the Austrians until the 1980s to realize this, after they elected a president who trivialized his Nazi-era past.

After some twenty years of preparation, the House of Austrian History in Vienna, whose mission is the commemoration of the Holocaust and discussion of the Nazi regime, opened last year. Its inaugural exhibition, Into the Unknown, is dedicated to the history of Austria since 1918 — it focuses on the time of the First Republic and the Dollfuß-Schuschnigg & Nazi dictatorships, and touches on present-day topics that relate to the period 1933–45, such as what it means to be Austrian. In Germany, World War II at times seems omnipresent; in Austria, its total absence almost feels awkward. Targeted primarily at secondary school students but equally interesting to other visitors, this exhibition at the HdGÖ is an important step towards filling the void.

Reader comments


Germany was arguably the first victim of Nazism.


The online exhibition Europe of Dictatorships of the HdGÖ shows a typical Austrian perspective on the German occupation of Europe: on moving the slider from 1938 to 1939, Poland ceases to exist and becomes part of the German Reich, like Austria did a year before. Of course Poland was never part of the Reich — it was a territory occupied by the Nazis — but somehow the Austrians cannot see the fine distinction between Anschluss and occupation.


When, to avoid the queues at Café Sacher around the corner, I had Wiener melange & Sachertorte at Café Mozart earlier this year, the waiter remarked that our countries have in common that they both suffered from German occupation during World War II, but apparently he didn’t know that the German Reichskommissar for the occupied Netherlands was in fact an Austrian.


Het fascisme is in Oostenrijk volkomen salonfähig, zolang je maar geen concentratiekamp opent.


The new exhibition at the HdGÖ, New Ages — Austria since 1918, opened on 1 July 2020. It’s basically an update of its forerunner Into the Unknown, and new in name only.

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