On Anniversary of Nazi Invasion, This is What Austrians Are Saying About Hitler

Members of the League of German Girls wave Nazi flags in support of the German annexation of Austria in Vienna, Austria, March 1938 (Photo courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Seventy-five years after the Nazi invasion and occupation of Austria, a newspaper in country has asked citizens about their opinion of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi annexation during World War II. Jewish leaders who have been raising the alarm about anti-Semitism in Austria say the results were not surprising.

Forty-two percent said life was not all bad under Hitler, while 61 percent said they would be interested in a strong-armed leader who did not have to deal with democratic challenges like political opponents and elections. The survey, published this weekend, is getting prominent play in the media in Israel, which is home to some 250,000 Holocaust survivors. That’s half the number of survivors who arrived in the country since Israel was founded in 1948.

Reuters reports:

Timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary next week of Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany, the Market Institut poll for newspaper Der Standard found 61 per cent of respondents, mostly the elderly, liked the idea of a strong man as leader.

Many Austrians wanted a union, or Anschluss , with Germany in 1938. A few Austrians put up resistance that grew over time.

In the latest poll, 53 per cent thought the Anschluss was voluntary and 46 per cent saw Austria as a victim. Forty-two per cent said “not everything was bad under Hitler” while 57 per cent saw no good aspects to the Hitler era.

Additionally, 54 percent said they believed neo-Nazi groups would succeed in Austrian elections this September if they were not banned there.

The poll also showed that most Austrians believe their country has dealt adequately with its Nazi history and that victims of the Holocaust have been fully compensated.

“If accurate, the results are extremely alarming, but not entirely surprising,” Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, told TheBlaze. “Austria is a country which has a long tradition of anti-Semitism and which produced some of the biggest Nazi war criminals.”

“In recent years, there are efforts to fight against anti-Semitism and more honestly face Austrians’ participation in Holocaust crimes, but there has not been a successful prosecution in Austria of a Nazi war criminal in more than 30 years,” Zuroff said.

The head of Vienna’s Jewish community said in January he’d seen a doubling of the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Austria in the last year.

Recent incidents include a rabbi’s report that he was verbally abused by neo-Nazi hooligans even as police stood nearby, while a far-right politician posted a cartoon viewed as anti-Semitic on his website.

Before the Nazis annexed Austria, its Jewish population numbered 195,000. According to figures cited by Reuters, two-thirds of them were exiled in the “Aryanization” program and besides 2,000 left behind, all the rest were killed in concentration camps.

The Anschluss anniversary will be marked Tuesday in Austria, the place where the Nazis tested their plan for the extermination of Europe’s Jews.

“Vienna was a very important place for the fate of all European Jews because the automated driving out of Jews was perfected here,” Joachim Riedl, the author of several books on Jewish history and Vienna, told Reuters.