Individual Responsibility

70 Years

Since I did not get around to writing a post that lives up to the anniversary I will substitute Wren’s because I don’t think I could have written it any better.

It is very easy to demonise Germans for the Shoah and comfort ourselves with the idea that “it” can never happen again; it is a lot harder to start thinking about the idea that the Shoah did not exactly happen in a vacuum.
As a nice lady in Yad vaShem once told me: This is not about finding more people to blame, after 70 years we should really be moving past blame. It is about understanding why it happened so it will not happen again.

The Druid Bird

‘It seems all the stories we heard about the concentration camps in Germany were almost all true. But the only people in these camps were Jews and political prisoners. We both agreed that the Jews should be exterminated and the political prisoners were just fools.’

Garfield, 2004: 509, Our Hidden Lives, Random House, London.

Yesterday marked 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, to mark the occasion this week’s Wednesday post is going to be an insight into post-war Britain… and it’s probably not what you’re expecting.

I read a book recently about writing historical fiction, the book emphasised the importance of giving your characters era appropriate attitudes. When you’re writing characters that lived many years ago you have to understand and accept that they’re not going to have 21st century attitudes towards equality and discrimination. They’re probably going to be sexist, racist and xenophobic.

After the First World War…

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Of a Death in Vienna

This morning, as I was sifting through my pile of unread books trying to decide on which one to go for next I found one abandoned right next to John le Carré’s A Perfect Spy. It was the copy of Daniel Silva’s A Death in Vienna my Isareli friend had sent me years ago attaching a note of how it reminded her of “all the talks we had on [her] roof terrace” and how it summed it all up neatly to her. I felt guilty because even though I had promised I never got around to reading it in those rather chaotic years since.

silva - death in vienna

Maybe I should have stuck with the le Carré.

In the six years (is it really that long already?) I have had this blog I have avoided writing about the Shoah and the way it is dealt with from the Austrian perspective. In part because for a long time I would not have found the words to do so and, for a bigger part, because I did not want this to be a blog that contributed to reducing thousands of years of Jewish – or Austrian, for that – cultural history to a hand full of decades.

The conversation I had, back in Tel Aviv, with a bunch of business partners probably sums it all up neatly. It is a stereotype, I know, but one that does not lack of truth:

“They say Austrians are the best diplomats in the world. Because you made the whole world think Hitler was German and Beethoven was Austrian.” he said, challenging me with a smirk of Israeli bluntness.

I smiled back, took the challenge: “But why? It is true after all, isn’t it?” Now I have his attention.
“Wasn’t Hitler a German when he died? And wasn’t Beethoven buried at Vienna’s Central Cemetery?”
I fixed his gaze with a light, almost childish smile as I added: “If you determined nationality by their place of birth – how many Isareli heroes would you have left?”

He could not help but conclude that the rumour about Austrians, after all, seemed to be quite correct.

It is true that we Austrians were slack in prosecuting our war criminals, I will not argue against it nor will I defend it. We were no angels, we had our monsters too. And it is true that, just like the rest of Europe, we have the far right creeping into our parliament again and again. Since the recent Gaza war I have even seen an upwards trend in anti-Jewish resentment and the same old stereotypes against “wealthy world-Jewry”. Frankly, for maybe the first time I have started to grasp why some of my Jewish friends have never quite felt safe in Austria. But reading Silva’s views today that, apparently, made him a #1 bestseller made my blood boil with his blatant, uncritical use of stereotype.

In a nutshell after introducing Vienna as a place where “men still wear feathered Tyrolean caps [and] women still found it fashionable to wear a Dirndl” (I had to double-check here to confirm the book was actually published in 2003) Silva goes on to describe the Austrian secret service as run by a ultra-right wing maniac not only acting far outside the law but also quite capable of torture and murder in order to cover up for his Nazi friends. And all of that in light of human-rights activist groups that knew about it but nobody would quite listen to them. I had the feeling, sometimes, that he saw Austria as almost of the brink to a second Holocaust at the drop of a pen although that notion might have been exaggerated by my own hurt pride into my homeland.


Anti-Waldheim Protests in Vienna, 1986 (C) Demokratiezentrum Wien

I was in Israel when former Austrian president and UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim died and I remember the uproar vividly. And when I read up on the subject what I found were pages and pages of 1980s Austrian newspaper reports condemning him; I found photographs of a wooden horse being dragged through the streets of Vienna with a plaque around its neck that said “I remember” in reference to Waldheim’s own claim not to remember a thing. And all of that even though even a Nazi-hunter as fierce as Simon Wiesenthal could never find any grounds to prosecute Waldheim for war crimes.

“Ich war nicht bereit, Kurt Waldheim als Nazi oder Kriegsverbrecher zu attackieren, weil er nach Einsichtnahme in alle mir zur Verfügung stehenden Unterlagen weder das eine noch das andere war.”

I was not ready to attack Kurt Waldheim as a Nazi or war criminal because after looking through all files available to me [I found] he was neither the one nor the other.

(Simon Wiesenthal, Das Amt und die Pflicht, in: Die Presse, Sonderausgabe “2000”, December 1999, S. 57f)

That is Austria too. The silent majority actually, I will argue.

Yes, there are still the elderly that will tell you casually over a cup of tea how “everything was better under Hitler”, our dirty laundry that will not come clean. And yes, there are also the young that once again will tell you the same old story of how “the Rothschilds” apparently somehow control the world. But that is not all Austria is just like during the occupation (I know I will be crucified if not blood-eagled for using the word) the frantic helpers of National-Socialist Germany were not all Austria was.

I grew up with stories – little stories, told casually, not as great deeds – of local farmers hiding Jews, of people leaving food out or giving clothes.  It was only during my time in Israel that I stumbled upon some of the bigger stories too. The most documented maybe is that of hostess Liesl Geisler-Scharetter feeding thousands of Jewish DPs on their way to Italy and Israel. Her story, though, is but one of many that were never told outside the family; it is far from unusual for my simple, hospitable people. If you can do those little things, then you do. It is the Austrian nature that we do not care about making a big fuss about those things because to us they are self-explanatory. We do them because they are right, not because of what others will say about us.

Liesl Geisler-Scharfetter doing the dishes for DPs fleeing to Israel (C) Alpine Peace Crossing

Liesl Geisler-Scharfetter doing the dishes for DPs fleeing to Israel (C) Alpine Peace Crossing

But then, yes, we also do not care about being heroes either. It is the Austrian nature to hide in the pubs and the homes during hard times and wait until the storm blows over. And if we have to do the occasional Sieg Heil and raise a couple of flags in order to be left alone then, yes, we will do that too. And in our complacency we looked on as Millions were killed, retreating into the comfortable bubbles around us with our fingers in our ears so we could lock out the torment going on around us.

Silva, and I realise many alongside him, see a systemic issue where there is none. Are there right-winged nutcases sprinkled all over Austrian society? Certainly. But I cannot for the love of me imagine we have a Manfred Kruz that can get away with killing and torturing in the name of keeping it all under wraps. If there was I am convinced he would find an end not unlike that of the rogue Zalachenko club in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest; brought to justice by our very own constitutional protection units working within the law and following due process of a modern and just legal system.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of Austria being portrayed as a backwater still stuck in 1940s thinking every time attacking Germany becomes unfashionable for one reason or the other. I am sick and tired of the one-dimensional view most of the world seems to have and I know we Austrians make it easy because it is in our nature not to care too much about what others think. Most of us will not raise an eyebrow on reading Silva’s accounts because we do not think it is worth the effort of trying to change how some Americans that have probably never left their own continent see us. My own mum, if she would read this would probably tell me I was wasting my energy – and I guess she is right about it too.


The others

I stole a face off A Soldier’s Mother for you. It’s none of the faces of Israeli soldiers killed that have been published by the Jerusalem Post. This one is, as far as I know as I write this, very much alive.

Col. Rasan Alian

Col. Rasan Alian

The reason why I brought his image here is because it reminds me of something I want to tell you about Israel. Something most people don’t know.

There are not only Jews in Israel. And there aren’t only Jews, Christians and Arabs either. A hand full of minority groups have been living in these lands for the-gods-know-how-long. Rasan Alian, for instance, is a member of the Druze community. Other groups are, for instance the Baha’i and Negev Bedouins. And really, all of them seem to be reasonably happy living in the modern state of Israel. Probably the Apartheid regime isn’t that bad after all …

Especially the Druze have quite a reputation in Israel. They are said to be the most loyal and fierce of all fighters and they are also very politically active. Col. Alian’s story as told by Paula Stern is but the latest example.
I have been told on many occasions that this is because Israel is the one place in the Middle East where the Druze can live their faith and culture freely and without fear of prosecution. And they are quite willing to risk their life fighting for the survival of the one nation that guarantees their freedom and safety. In all other lands where Druze are living, I was told, they have been subjected to one attempted genocide after the other.

The Druze are the major non-Jewish residents of the Golan heights. The original residents, one could argue. I wonder whether, in a truly democratic society that believes in the individual’s right to decide about their own fate, we should just let them decide what country they want to belong to. Wouldn’t that be an easy and democratic solution to the whole issue? But of course what may be just and truly democratic will never be attempted nor accepted in Israel’s disputed territory. The Gods forbid there may be an end to the conflict. Where else would all the warmongers and corrupt politicians turn to mask their own dirty laundry?

– Migdalit

“… we lose the best and hail the rest …”

This song is one of a CD I used to listen to on my way to work when I lived in Israel. I really like the whole album and a lot of the songs remember me of Israel and somehow blend into my experience, but this one is special.

The weather is dark and rainy
And I have lost my path.
There is no light, no hope, no time
In that cruelness of the dark.
Oh God why I can’t find you?
Why can’t you here my words?
Can you see me fighting in this fields,
for causes I don’t know?

Oh my gallant love where have you gone?
I miss your gentle touch.
Our children grow fine and strong
They’re missing you so much
If the harvest rain falls on our home ,
the days grow fairly long.
But the horizon stays without you
from dusk until dawn

Oh dear, last night I lost a friend
He went into the fire
perhaps he’ll reaches a better place,
Perhaps we’ll meet again.
I wonder how the children are
I miss their softly smiles.
Sometimes I dream of the harvest rain
But the battle still goes on.

Yesterday I saw a picture
of the minister of war
in his lily white shirt and tie he asked
for more young blood by law.
And they got our oldest son
and he went your way
and the minister in the news did say
for freedom there’s a price to pay


And the autumn has come
and the wind is waving the corn
as she got a machine letter
“For our freedom they did fall”
And she asks herself “What freedom takes a mother’s son?’
So we lose the best and hail the rest and the harvest rain does fall

I’ll probably just leave it to the music and the lyrics to explain why …

What’s curious about it is that Dies Natalis, the band, is a German Neofolk band that, like probably every Neofolk band, is considered on the far right side of the political scale. At least that’s what people in Germany say. As a matter of fact it hasn’t happened only once that Dies Natalis were made to cancel concerts because of fear of their “Nazi” audience.

I wonder why neither German authorities nor those certain parts of their audience ever take the time to really listen to the lyrics …



What if …

He guys,

At some point, while people kept telling me the ever-same stories of how the Global Economic Crisis had screwed up their careers and lifes in 2009 I had a dream. A dream of what if …

It is true: We, as the Middle European Society, have reached a point, on which I suppose none with brains in his head, can seriously object that screwed the future of our children. Sometimes it hunts me in my sleep: How could it have come that far? Where was the point at which people stopped giving a crap about their children’s future? Don’t those stupid, white-haired men get it, that someone elses nameless successor that inherits a mess instead of a company is their own child?

This is, however, an important, perhaps even unique point about what is going on at the moment: The Global Economic Crisis, alongside with the “Generation Internship” employment policy, that has been around for some years now, strikes the whole Millennial Generation – or at least the part of it that went to college – no matter what their social descend and who their parents are. Even the most influential people in my hometown, who up to some years ago snipped their fingers to get somebody into a good career, can’t fix as much as a simple job for their children anymore. Sure, networking helps, as has it done before, but comparing the “before” of a given group to the current situation every group belonging to the late Generation X / Millennial had to suffer during the last years. There is a reason why, for years now, surveys have shown that young people don’t believe they’ll be able to reach their parent’s standard of life, whilst for the Babyboomers it had been a given that they’d trump their parents.

But what if …

What if, even though the white-haired men with the EQ of a slice of toast might never come back to their senses in their lifetime, in the end the last year, the Global Economic Crisis, turns out to be the turning point of the whole story. What if the sensation of rejection, the sensation of having done everything right and still getting nothing in return has deeply shaped the next generation to lead our planet’s societies. Deeply enough for us to realize that it can’t go on like that if they want to make a better life for our children. And isn’t that, in the end, what all young parents want? Keeping their offspring from having to go through the same then they did. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the Babyboomer generation acted the way they did: They have never had to experience a situation where they felt left alone, rejected, desperate. They can’t comprehend, from the emotional point of view, what suffering they caused in millions of young people, for everything they have known in their life was growth.

What if the shock we had to go through during that last year – and probably for another one – in the end turns out to be the cleaning fire that made (social) improvement possible again. We were confronted with the mistakes of our parents and their outcome so we will know where not to go once we are in charge. I feel deep sorrow and grief for those I know have been severely hurt by what they had to endure, many might never recover. Sometimes I feel full of hatred, too, wanting to storm out there and do terrible things to those white-haired men with zero EQ. It’s not what I learned about not doing harm that stops me. It’s the deep urge to take part in the change to happen during the years to come. I think “May you live in interesting times” after all is a blessing, not a curse.

In perhaps ten years time the white-haired men will retire one after another and from what I have seen lately the least of the multinational companies have taken proper care educating their next generation of leaders in time. Whilst waves of retirement already start there is nobody to fill the gaps that arise; Another outcome of the mismanagement that has happened since the late 1990ies. However this means in less than ten years, only five probably, every one of our generation, that has his sane mind left will be in high demand. We will be, finally, needed. And if you are needed you get to have power.

So what if we use that power. What if we don’t repeat the mistakes of our parents, but instead start building a livable work environment again where companies take care of their workforce just as the workforce takes care of its company. It has worked before, after all.

sending her late wishes for the New Year of 2010



… and give me the Strenght to Face what I cannot Change …

Merry Meet everybody,

why, I wonder, do people react so differently to being in a desperate situation? Why do some give up themselves and hide where no light can ever possibly reach them, thus preventing any change from happening? And why do others summon that incredible strength and keep on fighting when they would have every moral right to just give up and fall apart?

And why do some find so much strength and reason when helping others that are sharing their fate of being in the midst of all problems, whilst others grow embittered and declare that as long as they can’t care for themselves they don’t give a shit about “some others”? Would it possibly help if they could just be brought to give helping a chance of helping them changing their gray days and giving them back self-esteem and reason?

Many Pagans believe that in fact even those things, that seem to be bad luck have been ultimately triggered by the “victim”- involuntarily of course.  Somehow, when I see people reacting that different I feel I see the very proof right in front of my eyes. The proof because there are so many people out there desperately avoiding any help. People that have become so used to unhappiness, that they have woven it into their very personality and that, as soon as there is  a serious chance of improvement, find a way to duck out of it or destroy it – without as much as being aware of it. People that constantly turn down those that want to help. They just can’t see anymore that, even for what destroyed their life to begin with, was not their fault, they still have to welcome amelioration or it will never happen. Perhaps they thing that because they were failed in the beginning a debt had to be repaid by the universe before they opened up to it. Of course the universe isn’t apologizing that openly. It does through tiny hints of faith easily to be missed.

The Pagan philosophy – or at least my personal set of it – tells me to let them go. To accept their choice of not accepting the possibility of betterment and patiently wait for the time when they will seriously be ready for change. It’s a little bit like with dealing with addicts, where first of all clients have to accept they do have a problem or they can’t be helped. But how do you not help when the person affected is a friend of yours? How do you accept the fact that they might never reach the point to accept their problem?

So called magic supplies you with quite a bunch of tools but at the same point teaches you that their use, that power doesn’t always help. That sometimes all you can do is that small hint, that push in the right direction, and hope that it will be enough



On the Run

A late shabbat shalom to all of you,

Twenty years after the fall of what used to be called the „iron curtain“, and the division of Europe it caused, the topic seems to be back in the media in Germany. Only now, it sometimes seems to me, it’s not the Eastern “dictatorships” that are the source of propaganda, but the Western “democracies”, namely: Germany. The new, united Germany, featuring still so many difficulties between “East” and “West”.

Right now, while writing these lines, I’m watching yet another documentary – German private TV channel “VOX” featuring “Süddeutsche Zeitung TV” this time – about life in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). I’ve seen quite a lot of them recently – and I’ve talked to people both in Eastern and Western Germany – and somehow they seem to be all pretty similar. Perhaps not in what they are reporting on and in what people they are talking with, but still in the outcome; the message.

Let’s take today’s example: In the spotlight: three women that used to belong to the “NVA”, the DDR’s army. All three of them volunteered, all three of them liked their work and life in the DDR. After its end only one of them could move with her career, as a security officer for the Federal Republic of Germany. The other two of them went unemployed and still struggle to find a place within the “new” united Germany. However all the three of them agree on one thing: It might not all have been perfect but still, life was better “back then” and they had been left alone, if not straight betrayed by “Western” Germany that – until today – all too often makes “Eastern” Germans feel as second class citizens. The documentary is pretty interesting that way; those women and their families are left quite a lot of space to tell their stories from their own point of view. Great journalistic craftsmanship so to say. But then, there is that narrator again, like the little voice in the background of one’s consciousness: “People tend to glorify history”, he declares. Again and again.

I haven’t seen a single documentary so far, where that narrator’s voice was missing. Not a single documentary, where I really felt like people where encouraged to make up their own mind. And sometimes, when I hear that narrator’s voice again, another voice raises in the background of my consciousness: “History is written by the winners”, that particular one says.

No doubt: The death strip, the withdrawal of so many basic, even human rights of DDR citizens were wrong in uncountable ways. In the end perhaps wrong for the further existence of that nation itself, most of all. Why couldn’t a state founded on the principle of the power of the people, be brought to trust her own citizens? I wonder had they had the freedom to come and go as they please, how many DDR “refugees” would have returned to their land of origin after some months at capitalist “utopia”? Some 15% of the population have made the run for the west during the time of forced separation, I learned tonight. No wonder no state can go on like that

… but will the “united” Germany be able to? For some ten years talented, ambitious people have left exactly that Germany. And just like the DDR “back then” nobody in the “new” Germany gives a shit. German television is running documentaries and whole series on emigrants – everybody knows. And still nobody gives a shit. And whilst nobody cares those, who still have dreams, the achievers and achievers of tomorrow, the people that build up societies, companies, whole countries, are on the run from this particular one. Again. The only thing history teaches men is that history teaches men nothing – Mahatma Ghandi.

Sometimes there’s just no more to add to a wise man’s words

yours thoughtfully