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Austria haunted by link to Nazis

Annexation in '38 somberly recalled

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By William J. Kole
Associated Press / March 13, 2008

VIENNA - On the same square where thousands gave Adolf Hitler an adoring welcome in 1938, Austrians marked the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's annexation yesterday by lighting 80,000 candles: one for every person who perished under the regime.

The somber "Night of Silence" remembrance, in stark contrast to the jubilation that greeted Hitler, lighted up Vienna's Heldenplatz, or Heroes' Square.

"So many bad things happened. We must never forget," said Marcus Mor, a 28-year-old computer science student. "We have to live with this and do something to make sure history never repeats itself."

Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and President Heinz Fischer presided over a special joint session of parliament, where they and other leaders delivered soul-searching speeches about the alpine country's darkest chapter.

Austria's "Anschluss," or "link-up" as part of a Greater Germany, happened early on March 12, 1938. German Wehrmacht troops crossed into the country to ensure a smooth takeover.

It happened a few hours after Austria's chancellor, Kurt Schuschnigg, was pressured to give up his efforts to maintain the country's independence.

Three days later, Hitler basked in the adoration of hundreds of thousands of revelers who packed the downtown Vienna square.

Grainy black-and-white photographs of the scenes of jubilation that played out on that fateful day have haunted the nation ever since.

Jerome Segal, a French scholar whose Austrian-born grandfather was forced to flee Vienna's once-vibrant Jewish community, light candles along with his wife and three young sons.

"I wonder how he experienced this day exactly seven decades ago, being a Jew but not religious," said Segal, standing among a sea of candles on the wind-whipped plaza. "I have basically no problem living here. . . . But on some occasions, like today, I feel there's something still not completely cleared in Austrian history."

In recent years, the Austrian government has spent millions of dollars returning to rightful owners the real estate, artworks, and other property the Nazis seized.

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