Austrian Political scientist Andreas Maislinger stressed the importance of remembering Austria’s role as a perpetrator in the Holocaust at an intimate discussion in the Adams Lower Common Room yesterday.
The Center for European Studies and Hillel jointly organized the event.
“A new genocide is possible everywhere,” Maislinger said. “I feel it is my obligation to remember that Austrians took an active part in the Holocaust. This has been forgotten and neglected for too long,” he said.
Maislinger first publicly voiced this sentiment in 1977 at age 23, when he proposed replacing his compulsory six-month service in the Austrian military with a year working in a Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In 1992, he realized this dream by founding the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service, recently renamed Austrian Service Abroad. The program has over 80 partners in 35 countries.
Maislinger is visiting the United States this week to accept the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Branko Lustig, the Academy Award winning producer of “Schindler’s List,” on Nov. 8.
Maislinger was asked to speak by Martin M. Wallner ’11, an Austrian student who participated in the program by working at the Center for Jewish Studies in Shanghai from 2006-2007.
At yesterday’s event, Maislinger explained how difficult it was to implement his program. He secured a meeting with Austria’s Federal President at the time, Rudolf Kirsch Schlaeger, to pitch his idea. While the meeting was not hostile, he said the answer was a resounding no.
Austria’s official policy was that it was the “first victim” of the Nazi invasion, and any acknowledgment of guilt was deemed unpatriotic, Maislinger said.
Despite this, Maislinger said he was never discouraged enough to abandon his concept.
“I wanted to say the truth,” he said. “If you realize something is wrong, I don’t think you should stand it.”
He said that the fall of Communism forced nations to re-evaluate their histories, and by 1992, the Ministry of the Interior was backing his long-ignored project.
Fourteen years later, Wallner became the first Austrian to complete his service in Shanghai, where there were over 20,000 Jewish refugees following World War II.
Making the choice to participate in a symbolic year of service is still slightly controversial, Wallner said.
“It’s still a struggle, because many people think ‘it’s not your fault, why are you fixing it?’” he said.