Salzburg, Vienna, Austria (Weltexpress). Salzburg, this beautiful city in the heart of Austria, a tourist magnet, in which Mozart is kitchified in all imaginable variations and at the same time honoured with top-class concerts and opera performances, the annual stage of the nation’s cultural highlight, the Salzburg Festival, to which the wealthy visitors in heavy limousines, dressed in luxury dirndls and designer lederhosen, make a pilgrimage, pay considerable admission fees to prove themselves as a culturally-minded pilgrim to the Mecca of Austrian high culture. But, as is so often the case in Austria, there is another, dark side – an angry tongue, it must have been the satirist Karl Kraus, once said about Salzburg that there are more anti-Semites than residents there.
Austria’s most important festival – founded by two Jews
That was, of course, a gross exaggeration, but it had (and probably still has) a real core. Actually – although the Jewish community only counted 300 souls in the interwar period and Jewish people from Salzburg fought for the emperor and fatherland at the risk of their lives – shortly after the collapse of the monarchy in 1918, the “Salzburg Volksbote” ranted: “Christian people: Recognize the danger! Chase away the Jews and their accomplices! ”That was not an isolated voice, but evidently the trend. That two of the three founders of the prestigious Salzburg Festival had Jewish origins more than 90 years ago – Max Reinhardt and Hugo von Hofmansthal – is probably unknown to most Salzburgers (and Austrians), despite the recent exhibition on this subject at the Jewish Museum Vienna. In 1963, with an absurd reference to the “high costs”, the Salzburgers refused to transfer Max Reinhardt’s urn to Salzburg and bury it there, as he would have liked. Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s castle in Zell am See, which belonged to his widow, was “aryanized”, ie stolen and never returned.
In any case – Salzburg has some catching up to do in terms of anti-Semitism, and this process is far from over. One should think so. But the signals are not very encouraging – on the contrary: unlike in Vienna, where, at the consistent insistence of the strong Greens in the federal capital, the names of streets and squares reminiscent of Nazis have been consistently exchanged for harmless designations, Salzburg will be for a long time not so far. For obvious reasons: The Mayor of Salzburg, Harald Preuner, belongs to the ruling right-wing people’s party (ÖVP) peering at the votes that it had taken from the extreme right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) after the “Ibiza scandal” – and which to lose again to the FPÖ poses a constant threat to the ÖVP.
“Dictatorship of the cult of concern”
In Salzburg there is a “Josef-Thorak-Straße” – and not only this one, which is reminiscent of Hitler’s favourite sculptor. In the unsuccessful debates about how the city of Salzburg should deal with street names that even decades after the end of the war reminded of former SA and SS members, a turning point has now been reached (albeit unpleasant): a narrow political majority opposed such renaming as they have long since happened in Vienna. Only in four cases should the street signs still in effect contain the least explanations about the life and political involvement of the respective person with the Nazi regime – even though 13 ex-Nazis had a serious relationship with the Nazi regime. This result was the result of a final report by a historians’ advisory board, which comprised no less than 1,100 pages. It had meticulously worked up the backgrounds of 66 correspondingly contaminated street names. In those 13 cases there was a “need for discussion and action” was the finding. However, there was no serious discussion of the subject of National Socialism. Mayor Preuner made it clear from the start that he did not want to rename any streets. Instead, he hired a historian named Kriechbaumer (who was not a member of that commission) to deal with the matter.
He expressed himself in a tortuous way: later-born historians would enter difficult and dangerous terrain, since they acted as scientists and judges at the same time. The historian appointed by the mayor did not have the effrontery to speak of a “dictatorship of the concernment cult” – and thus summarized the decades-long refusal of the Austrians to deal with their (clearly disproportionate) participation in Nazi crimes – mass murder and mass theft – in a catchy formula. Preuner said that he did not believe in “removing names from history”. Although an opposite decision had already been taken – namely to rename street names with far less burdened Nazis. And pointedly, this decision was made with the consent of Mayor Preuner. The latter says rather brashly: “I don’t care about the decision from back then.” An attitude of the mayor that stands in sharp contrast to the image of the noble cultural city of Salzburg that has been cultivated for decades. The former chairman of the tiny Jewish community in Salzburg, Marko Feingold, who survived several concentration camps as a tireless admonisher and prominent contemporary witness, recently passed away at an old age. One can imagine what he would have said about the statements and omissions of the mayor of his city.