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In light of reports like here and here, one might start to think that Europe is going under any day. Reading beyond the headlines, one learns
[t]he trend in Europe does not signal the return of fascist demons from the 1930s, except in Greece, where the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has promoted openly racist beliefs, and perhaps in Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party backs a brand of ethnic nationalism suffused with anti-Semitism.
But the soaring fortunes of groups like the Danish People’s Party, which some popularity polls now rank ahead of the Social Democrats, point to a fundamental political shift toward nativist forces fed by a curious mix of right-wing identity politics and left-wing anxieties about the future of the welfare state.
Yes, the far-right groups are worrisome. No, we are not being taken over or sliding back into the 1930s.
That said, it is still supremely important to remember what happened, and today marks the 75th anniversary of the November pogroms in Germany, known as Kristallnacht. Efforts have been made in the last decades to stop using this latter name and call it what it was, a pogrom, and most formal reference to it uses Novemberpogrome. The old name is still around, though.
Innsbruck has a group of citizens dedicated to keeping the memory of the horrors in the Anschluss years from fading into obscurity. They have toiled for years publishing about many aspects of those years — the schools, the psychiatric system, the ethnic cleansing, the local resistance, and a lot more I can’t even think of right now — if you are looking for literature, this author has been especially prolific (I have read some of his books, and am impressed enough to recommend anything written by him.)
The commemorations this year include a concert featuring the work Concerto funebre by the late Innsbruck composer Bert Breit, dedicated to the Innsbruck victims of Kristallnacht; walking tours of the Altstadt with emphasis on its former Jewish residents; research projects for high school students at the City Archives; commemorative speeches at the entrance to the Jewish cemetery, followed by a silent march to the Pogromnacht memorial menorah near the State Govermnent Building (Landhaus), where a Kaddish will be recited.
I assume that other cities across Austria and Germany will be having similar events tonight.
Yesterday evening I attended a small reading and slide-show presentation of letters to one Erna Krieser, a young woman who left Innsbruck in the late 1930s to take a job with a rich family in Tuscany, from her immediate family. Her mother and twin sister write in ever increasing urgency about their situation — being forced to sell the family business, being told they must leave Innsbruck, eventually settling in the Jewish ghetto in Vienna, all the while hoping to find a way out and being too afraid to make any rash decisions — a reunion in South Tyrol becomes out of the question as the family learns they would not be able to return home. This is difficult for many younger listeners to understand, but without proper travel and residency papers, virtually nothing was possible, especially for a middle-aged couple and their daughter. On the other hand, if they had known what was in store for them (the parents perished in Auschwitz, Erna’s sister Käthe in the Lodz ghetto), would they have risked it? (A good novel on the kafkaesque labyrinth of bureaucracy one faced is “Transit”, by Anna Seghers). Their last letters, right up to the outbreak of the war, and the closing of all the borders, were filled with hoping against hope that someone would come through for them, and with enormous gratitude that their daughter Erna had got out (she was able to emigrate to Palestine.)
The readings were interspersed with selections from an old photo album, many “last photos” of Jewish Innsbruck families in their homes, on holiday, on the way out of Europe. The evening was titled Abschiedsbilder, farewell pictures, and presented by local author and filmmaker Niko Hofinger.