photo : Steven Depolo
In Commonwealth countries 11th November is Armistice Day, when the lives lost in World War Ι are commemorated. And on Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday in November), those who lost their lives in both WWΙ, WWΙΙ and numerous other conflicts around the world, are remembered. At this time, Austria also remembers one if its darkest days.
Poland and its ex-patriot people
In 1938, when the Nazi party of Germany was building momentum in its anti-semitic movement against Jewish citizens in its own lands and annexed Austria, Poland turned on its ex-patriot people. The Polish Authorities denationalised any Polish person living abroad, regardless of their faith. They were not allowed to return to their homelands.
In the wake of their failures of WWΙ and subsequent economic difficulties, the Nazi party sought to place blame for its country’s difficulties on the Jewish people living amongst the German and Austrian citizens. Many were Polish ex-patriots. Germany sought to exile them from their adopted homes. The Polish Authorities wouldn’t receive them back.
Against this backdrop of increasing antagonism towards Jewish people, one of Austria’s darkest days developed.
On the night of 9th to 10th November, a Nazi-led pogrom – violent mob attack against the Jewish people – broke out. The authorities stood by and watched. Synagogues, businesses and homes of Jewish communities were summarily smashed in premeditated acts of violence. The streets were glittering with broken glass. That was Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass.
More than 91 Jewish people were killed on Kristallnacht. The following day, the Times Newspaper (UK) reported:
No foreign propogandist bent on blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tales of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday
Kristallnacht was the single most reported event of WWΙΙ. No-one was to know the extent of the horrors that would eventually follow.
The Viennese Pogrom
The most atrocious of the Austrian pogroms occurred in Vienna. 95 synagogues in the city and hundreds of its citizens, were scourged. Neighbour turned on neighbor. Some watched on in wonder. Some watched on in fear.
This was the prelude to what would become one of the most horrendous aspects of the Holocaust- The Nazi plan for the ‘Final Solution’.
In 1942 the plan was implemented. There was systematic annihilation of 6 million European Jews. I million children. 2 million women. 3 million men. All killed for the pride of an imperial power.
Lest We Forget
On 26th October 1955, Austria signed the Declaration of Neutrality. It will never again be forced to be party to another Kristallnacht within its borders or beyond.
As we remember the lost lives in war, Austria can’t help but also remember those lives that were taken – not given – for imperial pride. The dark days of war blighted this beautiful country in the years that followed. Never again will Austrian people let their ‘Gemütlichkeit’ be ground into the dirt by the will of others.
‘Lest we forget‘ – the refrain from Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 ‘Recessional’ poem – is one phrase we all must know and bear in our hearts. War is not only about lives given in defence of principles. It’s also about lives taken as one of the perils of pride.