Vergangenheitsbewältigung – Have you Forgotten?

1945 announced the end of the Holocaust, a tragic time in history that has actually been made illegal to deny the occurrence of in Germany[5]. Andreas Maislinger has played a major role in today’s events to commemorate and maintain awareness of the travesties of the holocaust by having founded the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service and Braunau Contemporary History Days. Andreas Maislinger travels the world sharing his knowledge of the horrors that would occur during those days, and has written a book called The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity. A major question that has come up throughout history has been, “Why are Jewish people returning and still moving to Germany, after such a horrible event in history?” One would be under the impression that this statement would ring true throughout all history, “The determination of the Jewish people never again to settle on the bloodstained soil of Germany….” and yet Germany is now the only country outside of Israel, with a rapidly growing Jewish population. Within the last fifteen years its Jewish community has quadrupled from 30,000 affiliated Jews to approximately 120,000, with at least another 50,000 unaffiliated Jews.” [1] The question that hopes to be solved is “Why?” How has Germany succeeded in accomplishing forgiveness that Austria was unable to?

It is vital to be aware that despite the extremely quick negative reactions onto any Jews who returned to Germany after the Holocaust from the WJC (World Jewish Congress), many Jews still returned to Germany (specifically East Germany) because that is the location of where their homes were, pre 1933. Germany through history after the Holocaust, had a exponentially increasing amount of Jews returning to the country, that was factorable to several events. The end of the Cold War (1990) attributed to a great influx in Jewish population in Germany. As it can be seen from the graph below, from the end of the Cold War. In 1990 Helmut Kohl met with Heinz Galinsky to allow the Jewish population from Russia to emigrate to Germany. This acceptance in part attributed to the great influx of Jews.[6]


This graph was created from the table spreadsheet comparing time with Jewish Population in Germany

In The Shadow of the Holocaust, written by Michael Brenner, the “official” story of attitudes towards Jews who decided to stay or go back to Germany after 1945 was met a surprisingly negative attitude. With Jewish agency’s in Israel, declaring that no more assistance would be offered to those who decided to remain in Germany. [1] Yet Germany has done its best to make amends for the atrocities that have happened, with making denial of the murder of millions of Jews illegal, to public statements in response to strong neo-nazi behaviors such as, “We will not tolerate any form of extremism, xenophobia or anti-Semitism.”[5]

Yet Germany has not stopped with simply stating that they do not tolerate such beliefs, they have also acted upon their words. On November 9, 2006, the Ohel Jakob synagogue was dedicated in Munich Germany. This is important to note as it is the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The reason why the synagogue is a very important icon, is that Berlin Germany at the time was the heart of Nazi Germany, and with this synagogue being in Munich Germany, it allows an icon for the Jewish community. As quoted by Rabbi Yitzhak Ehrenberg of the orthodox Jewish community in Berlin: “Orthodox Jewish life is alive in Berlin again. […] Germany is the only European country with a growing Jewish community.”[7]

Austrian behaviors towards the Jewish population have not changed so drastically. In 1938, Hitler declared Anschluss with Austria, combining Germany with Austria into a larger Germany. It was not until the end of the Holocaust in 1945 that a new republic (the Second Republic of Austria) was created. Even longer of a time difference, it was not until 1988 (also called Gedenkjahr, or thinking year), that it was marked the beginning of how history is being seen in the early 21’st century Austria. 1988 commemoration, foundational to conceptions of Austrainness since 1945 had then been revisited in 2005, an astonishing gap of seventeen years. Beliefs that the main reason for Jews who were fleeing the Soviet Union, felt safer going to Germany, than to Austria may be due to the Opfermythos.

“The ‘ Opfermythos ’ — rooted in the Moscow Declaration of 1943, in which the Allies referred to Austria as the first victim of National Socialist aggression — allowed that the ‘preconditions, substance, and consequences of National Socialism could be externalized; they had only secondary relevance for Austria, they belonged to Germany’s history, not to that of Austria, ’ Lepsius noted. [4] Although individual Austrians could be recognized as perpetrators (usually as Nazis, rather than as Austrian Nazis), the discourse of Austria – as victims of National Socialism remained the de facto official Geschichtsbild of the Second Republic well into the 1980s.”[3]

This declaration in history solidified the belief of Austrians that they had no true strong relation to the Holocaust, that they were coerced to participate by Hitler, and were thus victims of the savagery of slaughter. More current events have shown that the negativity towards the jewish population, specifically the graves, has not changed. On June 29, 2012, 43 Jewish graves have been desecrated by vandals, toppled, but not defaced with graffiti, according to the news site.


Through Vergangenheitsbewältigung, Germany has made leaps and bounds to rectifying the history that has plagued their country’s name. Austria on the other hand has not been so faithful to follow the lead of Germany, with toppled grave stones, ignored and forgotten graves in the zentralfriedhof in Vienna Germany, where thousands of Jewish graves are left to sink and rot away.


Sources Cited:

[1] Brenner, Michael. In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Changing Image of German Jewry after 1945. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, 2010. Print. (2005)

[2] Wikipedia contributors. “Andreas Maislinger.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.

[3] Berg, Matthew P. “Commemoration Versus Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Contextualizing Austria’s Gedenkjahr 2005.” German History 26.1 (2008): 47-71. Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

[4] “No Room for Holocaust Denial in Germany”. Deutsche Welle. December 23, 2005.

[5] “Germans warned of neo-Nazi surge”. BBC News. May 22, 2006. Retrieved June 2007.

[6] Einwanderer So leise wie möglich Spiegel 27.05.1996

[7] Schoelkopf, Katrin (November 18, 2004). “Rabbiner Ehrenberg: Orthodoxes jüdisches Leben ist wieder lebendig in Berlin” [Rabbi Ehrenberg: Orthodox Jewish life is alive again in Berlin]. Die Welt(in German).

[8] “Hitler Announces an Anschluss with Austria.”, A&E Television Networks, 2009,

[9] “Germany”. Retrieved 2016-01-11.

“Jewish Population of Europe in 1945”. Retrieved 2016-10-22.

DESMOND BUTLERPublished: November 15, 2002 (2002-11-15). “Germany Plans to Raise Status of Nation’s Jews – New York Times”. Retrieved 2016-11-16.

Statistical Abstract of Israel 2012 – No. 63 Subject 2 – Table No. 27″. Retrieved 2016-11-17.

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