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.
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.hdgoe.at