Suspicion of Austria runs deep, and with good reason

The Nazi Kurt Waldheim

Officially, writes Dalrymple, Austria

was a victim of Nazi aggression; in reality, it was an enthusiastic participant in Nazi crimes. But whatever crimes Austrians as individuals committed during the war, they committed them as Germans, not as Austrians. They were responding only to force majeure; the Austrian state was not implicated.

Everyone thinks

that Kurt Waldheim, the former secretary-general of the UN, was elected president of the country not in spite of his Nazi past but because of it. The Austrians claim that they insisted on voting for him because they resented the hypocritical reaction of the outside world to his candidature. Surely, they said, powers with the combined intelligence resources of the USA, the USSR, the UK and France must have known of his Nazi past when they accepted him as secretary-general, so why should the Austrians themselves not accept him as president?

The historian David Irving

Once again, the Austrians

were able to conceive of themselves as the injured party in the whole business.

Even the Austrian prohibition of Holocaust denial, under which the British historian David Irving

was (in my view wrongfully) imprisoned until he recanted, or at least pretended to recant, is ambiguous.

On the one hand,

it is a recognition of the moral monstrosity of what the Nazis did, and of the Austrians’ special responsibility for it.

On the other,

it implies a deep mistrust of the Austrian people, who (it must have been feared by those who framed the law) might recant their anti-Nazism if they could.

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