>Speaking About The Past

>Visited a Saturday morning flea market in the Altstadt last weekend, picked up some used books, including one out-of-print book titled “Man muß darüber reden” (“One Must Speak About It”), a collection of talks given by Nazi concentration camp survivors to classes of schoolchildren (high school age, one assumes, since the stories are pretty detailed) in the 1970s-80s. The book is really an interesting read, not only for the survivors’ stories, but for the questions asked by the pupils — sometimes naive, sometimes incredibly direct, and often questions that an adult would not be able to bring him- or herself to ask out loud.
For me, there was something new in the stories of how they came home after the war — and I find this is a big hole in my knowledge of the holocaust. How did people get home, did they have any help. how were they treated by their neighbors, was anything said about the past? And, the biggest question for me, why did they return to their homes, and not emigrate to other coutries, like many others? Some of the speakers in the book were Jewish, some had been Communists or otherwise politically active somehow against the Nazis, some were simply unlucky. They all, each and every one, spoke of how it was luck that enabled them to survive — luck and solidarity among the inmates, although solidarity alone didn’t help millions of others.
According to some accompanying words from a government minister at the back of the book, these talks are now a regular part of the school experience in Austria. I don’t know if that’s still true, given that the ages of survivors must be fairly advanced now. I need to ask some of my home-grown friends about it.
One often hears that Austrians have not come to terms with its Nazi past, and that may be true but it’s not for lack of effort by liberal-thinking people. There have been steps, small steps, all along the way. They are not always easy to see, especially by us Ausländer who see the xenophobic side of society often enough. But it’s most definitely part of The Discussion, and that offers hope.

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