To the Editor:
As an ex-Austrian who has repeatedly visited his native country in the postwar period, I must testify, with a sorrowful heart, that Paul Lendvai’s research [“The New Austria and The Old Nazis,” September] is above criticism. Recalling my experiences in the 20’s and 30’s, I must concede that the minority which bravely opposed bigotry, Fascism, and Nazism waged a hopless battle against a mass—reaching from Viennese university professors down to near-illiterate Tyrolean peasants—that was pathologically reactionary. Even the Social Democrats, who drew their strength largely from the unionized workers of Vienna and the country’s Jewish intellectuals, made basic mistakes in their campaign for progress. They battled religion, instead of campaigning for religious freedom, and they (including their Jewish-born leaders) urged Jews to sever all their connections with Judaism, and, in particular, Zionism. It is unfortunately true that, to quote Lendvai, the Anschluss “met with popular approval.” I venture to say that the percentage of non-Nazis was much larger in the Germany of 1933 than it was in the Austria of 1938, and—on the strength of my own experiences and of what I gathered from fellow-inmates at Dachau and subsequently at a British internment camp—that, on the whole, the German civilian population was less prone to anti-Semitic violence than the Austrian.
Lendvai’s essay needs one correction, though. He does not stress sufficiently the opposition of the younger generation to all the evils of a parochial, chauvinistic, or neo-Fascist mentality. The young student mentioned at the start of the article is far from alone in his abhorrence of neo-Nazism and related trends. On a recent visit to Vienna, I saw a mass demonstration of students carrying placards with slogans denouncing anti-Semitism as well as restrictive measures on the part of the university authorities. I cannot recall having seen anything of this sort in my youth! While it is deplorable that the extreme right-wing student organization recently obtained nearly 30 per cent of the vote, to be fair, let us emphasize the fact that 70 per cent did not join the near-Nazi RFS. I would like to remind Mr. Lendvai that during the First Austrian Republic the vast majority of Austrian students belonged to reactionary and/or Nazi organizations. . . .
Undoubtedly, many Austrian judges have bad Nazi records, and should not have been permitted to continue in their judicial posts. At the same time, I do know enough young intellectuals—writers, artists, composers, actors, scientists, museum curators—to be able to state that most of the members of this group have liberal and progressive attitudes not unlike their counterparts in the U.S. Austria’s literary cabarets, . . . her little magazines, her bold poets and committed artists, her new filmmakers, her pro-Israel enthusiasts—almost convince me that the Austria of tomorrow is bound to be better than today’s, let alone yesterday’s.
New York City
Mr. Lendvai writes:
When comparing the present to the past, Mr. Werner may be justified in emphasizing the fact that 70 per cent of the Austrian students did not vote for RFS (the extreme right-wing student organization). But they now live in an independent and democratic Second Republic, so it can hardly be regarded as encouraging that one in three students voters, having been born and brought up after the Holocaust, opts for the carriers of pan-German and chauvinistic ideas. While the share of the extreme right-wing Freedom Party in the popular vote fell from 11.6 per cent in 1949 to 5.5 per cent in 1966, the RFS managed to increase its share from 12 per cent in 1951 to almost 30 per cent this year. Even allowing for the fact that many students do not go to the polls at all, this means that the number of students voting for the RFS has increased fourfold.
At the same time, it would be a dangerous oversimplification to equate a vote for the RFS with a militant anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism. In many cases, it is a form of protest against the establishment, influenced by an educational system which has often evaded the need to explain the “ticklish” periods of recent Austrian history to the young people.
Nevertheless, the original version of my article, written in February, did contain a more hopeful reference to the young generation which, unfortunately, together with additional documentary evidence, had to be cut by the Editor due to lack of space. I agree with Mr. Werner that the popular response to the Middle East conflict bodes well for the future of the Austrian democracy. The press and public opinion, including the young generation, was overwhelmingly and unexpectedly pro-Israel. It was public pressure which forced an initially reluctant Government to reject the Yugoslav draft resolution at the UN and to vote for the Latin American proposal, despite the temptation to remain a neutral fence-sitter.