>Innsbruck is Tirol’s capital, and the Landhaus is the seat of the state government. It has a beautiful 18th century facade but the back of it was rebuilt in 1938-40 in what we’ve all come to think of as Ugly Socialist Style. On the rear side of the building over the entrance (not shown) one finds three stone squares; the one on the left is a stone cut of the Tirolean coat-of-arms, on the right that of Vorarlberg (which had been merged with Tirol into one Gau at the time.) The square in the middle is empty, and I was told by a local historian that that is where the swastika was.
On the south side is the Landhausplatz, and looming in the middle of it is a rather imposing and Socialist-looking monument in the form of a gate. Actually, this monument was built just after the war by the French, as a memorial to her fallen soldiers. Eventually it acquired the words “Pro Libertate Austriae Mortuis”, which made it to honor all war dead. This photo shows the back of the memorial aligned with the Landhaus.
A few dozen meters from the French monument stands a much smaller memorial for the victims of Kristallnacht, November 9 1938. This was the result of a project initiated by the state government in 1997 and awarded to the winner of a local student design competition, the costs taken care of by the state. (The right-leaning Kronenzeitung came out with a complaint, predictably prefacing it’s gripes about money and questions about ulterior motives with “Nothing against memorials, but —.”) The memorial features a menorah design, and a separate sign nearby with the details of the pogrom in Innsbruck.
At the front of the Landhaus, just to the left of the main entrance on Maria-Theresien-Strasse, one finds a bronze plaque which reads thus:
“After seven years of subjugation, the Austrian flag was raised again before this building. In early May, 1945, men from Austria’s Resistance Movement fought for Tirol’s freedom. At this place, Professor Franz Mair fell in battle.“
Franz Mair was a popular high school teacher who led a secret resistance group among the brave and like-minded, including many of his students. When the war was all but over and the Americans had not yet reached the city, there were skirmishes between the still-loyal Wehrmacht and the resistance fighters, who took over the Landhaus in May. This was the first World War II plaque that I came across in Innsbruck, and I learned later that there’s an interesting story attached to it.
This plaque is actually the third incarnation to grace this wall. The first, erected in 1946, was just like it except that it began with the words “Nach sieben Jahre Unterdrückung“, “After seven years of oppression.” In 1955 it was taken down and a new, barely decipherable plaque was put up in its place, which read “In this place, Professor Franz Mair fell in the fight for Tirol’s freedom.” The reason given was that German tourists, taking their vacations in the merry Alps, had complained, although there was also plenty of speculation at the time that more than a few of the local ex-Nazis wanted it changed too.
There were protests, specifically from Catholic groups, and a new “old” version of the plaque then went up, true to the original in all but one word — in place of Unterdrückung, or oppression, this one used the more vague, less aggressive Unfreiheit. There’s not even a decent way to translate this word in the way that it’s meant — “nonfreedom.”
The choice of wording goes a long way to explain the internal conflict Austria had, and is still having, in finding its place during those frightful years. Victim, perpetrator, willing accomplice, resistance fighter, bearer of guilt, denier. All of the above. Unfreiheit.
For now, this is the last installment in my Anschluss history blogging. Thanks for reading it.
Heidemarie Uhl, “Das Gefallenengedenken als Antithese zum Geschichtsbild der Opferthese: von Opfermythos zur Mitverantwortungsthese,” in “Erinnerung-Absenz”, XING Magazine, available in PDF online (in German.)