Today, unbeknownst to us until yesterday, is a very special day in Austria. March 12 marks the 70th anniversary of Austria’s anschluss.
The anschluss is the day when Austria was unified with Germany under the Nazi regime. Even though much of Austria was in support of this, it has now become a very important holiday for the Holocaust – or as many of the Jewish people we have met prefer, the Shoah.
A special memorial was held tonight in the Heroes Park near the Austrian National Library. The memorial honored the 80,000 Austrian Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The victims were represented by 80,000 candles spread throughout the lawn of the park. The site was incredible, and many people moved their candles into various formations – some were shaped into important dates, text spelling “Never Again” (Nie Wieder) in German, fleur de lis, Stars of David, etc. Much of the speeches were in German, but an orchestra played intermittently, and all in all, it was a beautiful sight.
Prior to the anschluss memorial, we had a relatively quiet day in Vienna in preparation for our visit to the concentration camps tomorrow. We visited in synagogue in the city – one of the few that wasn’t destroyed during the Kristallnacht. The synagogue is hidden in an inconspicuous building in Vienna’s Jewish Quarter.
Unfortunately, it has fallen victim to terrorist attacks. Therefore security was very tight. It was like entering a federal building, not a place of religious worship. The thought of having to remove my coat and bag and walk through a metal detector to enter such a sacred place was disarming and saddening. Are we not considerate enough of each other at this point to at least respect the religion that one chooses to worship?
Our guide was a young university student, and we were joined on our tour by a German couple, an Austrian man, as well as Jewish man from somewhere in Europe – I can’t remember which country he was from.
Anyway, we had a question-and answer-session come up, and the camp Mauthausen was brought up in conversation. The two men begin to cry. I have never felt so much pain as I did when I watched two grown, elderly men tear up about something that occurred nearly 70 years ago, but was obviously still a very fresh, very raw wound.
Once again on this trip, I am amazed at how prevalent the effects of the Holocaust still are within these countries and continuously shocked about the anti-Semitism that supposedly remains here in Austria. My eyes are opened more and more every day that I am here.
I feel that tomorrow will be a difficult day for everyone, as we will be traveling to Mauthausen and two of its sub-camps, Grusen and Ebensee. The death toll for Mauthausen is estimated at approximately 300,000.