BBC on the Holocaust/ page one

Edward Schulte was a German industrialist who, in 1942, repeatedly passed information to the Allies about Hitler’s plans for the Jews in Europe. This programme asks what the Allies’ motives were for appearing to do so little to help the victims of the Final Solution. It also finds out why, even in post-war Switzerland, Schulte was keen to keep his identity a secret. (Source BBC)


LAURENCE REES 17 February 2005

writer and producer of Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution, answered your questions following the programme After Auschwitz on BBC Four.

I have read many articles and books about Auschwitz and the Final Solution but still found the series enlightening. How easy was it to track down former guards still alive and to persuade them to give interviews?

Laurence Rees
I’m really glad to hear that you found the series enlightening and agree with you that a crucial element in each of the programmes was provided by the interviews with former members of the SS. They were tracked down really by use of basic journalistic techniques – for example, by checking surviving records of SS units, using contacts with various veterans’ organisations, even just searching for names in the German phone book. They were thus found by basic, patient journalism.
Contains links to his books. I’ll more of his materials.

Diary of Chief of Staff, General Halder on Operation Barbarossa, Third Reich attack on the East. “Meeting with the Fuhrer…[Hitler said] “This is a war of extermination. The struggle will be very different than the one in the West. In the East, toughness now means mildness in the future. The leaders must make sacrifices and overcome their scruples.””

1.57.18 (one hour 57 minutes) into the film, World War Two in Colour, shows the liberation of Dachau. The camp had been self-liberated by the 30,000 inmates they found alive , but tens of thousands died, some of typhus, but others from Nazi policy.
BBC two videos:
Fatal Attraction of Adolf Hitler
World War II in Color
Victory in Europe

at minute 4.44 , shows the first images of Dachau.
Austria and Nazism: Owning Up to the Past
By Dr Robert Knight
Last updated 2011-02-17

A new report on stolen property during the Nazi era says Austria’s record on restitution has been ‘half-hearted’. British historian Robert Knight served on the commission that produced the report, and here reflects on Austria’s difficult relationship with its recent past.
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The Historical Commission

In 1998 the Austrian Historikerkommission (Historical Commission) was set up to examine Austria’s role in the expropriation of Jewish assets during the period of Nazi rule in World War Two, and in returning those assets afterwards. On 24 February 2003 it presented its findings to the public. The Commission has spent nearly five million pounds, and employed over 150 researchers, in its mission to comb archives inside and outside the country, concerning events that happened over 50 years ago.

When the Wehrmacht marched into Austria in 1938 they fulfilled one of Hitler’s life-long ambitions …

The precise remit given by the government in 1998 was to investigate ‘the expropriation of property in the period of Nazi rule (1938-1945), restitution and compensation in the Second Austrian republic and attendant welfare issues’. This may seem narrow in its focus on property issues, but in fact it affected nearly all aspects of Nazi rule and Austrian society. Last but not least, it was also concerned with the image and legitimacy of post-war Austria itself, as a collective victim of a foreign (German-Nazi) occupation.

Austrians demonstrating their approval of the Anschluss by giving the Nazi salute at a rally in Vienna © When the Wehrmacht marched into Austria in 1938 (and Austrian Nazis took over the country ‘from below’) they fulfilled one of Hitler’s life-long ambitions, the ‘return’ of German-Austria to the Greater German Reich. The pictures of an ecstatic Führer announcing the event in Vienna, and the equally ecstatic crowds who were listening to him, went all round the world at the time. The contemporary impression that the vast majority of Austrians supported the Anschluss (the union of Austria and Germany in 1938) was reinforced by the overwhelming endorsement it got in the plebiscite held in April 1938.

How much support the Nazi regime actually enjoyed at the time, and over the following seven years, has been much debated by historians, politicians and journalists ever since. Some suggest that the newsreels were misleading – who, after all, had filmed the people who were silently weeping at home? – and also that the plebiscite result was distorted, due to the attendant propaganda, intimidation and manipulation.

What is not in dispute is the intensity of the anti-Semitic aggression that was soon unleashed on Austria’s Jews. The German writer Carl Zuckmayer famously described this as the opening of the ‘gates of the underworld’. Mobs roved the streets inflicting physical abuse and ritual humiliation (like forced washing of pavements) on anyone suspected of hostility to the new regime.

… they faced an escalation of oppression …

Austria’s Jews, numbering over 200,000 (perhaps as many as 214,000) were a particular object of this outburst. They ranged from those who were very wealthy and highly assimilated into Austrian society, to poor migrants from Eastern Europe. All of them were now actual or potential targets of aggression. Those who did not manage to navigate their way through the thicket of emigration regulations, as they tried to escape from the country, faced an escalation of oppression (especially after the November pogrom of 1938). When flight was no longer possible those remaining in Austria (an estimated 60,000) were deported to concentration camps and murdered. Only a handful survived underground.

As well as the Jews, nearly 10,000 Roma and Sinti (most of whom lived in the province of Burgenland, near the Hungarian border) were deported, and murdered by the Nazis; a range of other ethnic groups (among them Slovenes) and political opponents – from Catholics and conservatives to Communists – were also persecuted, albeit with less perfectionism.

Austria as victim?

In Moscow, in October 1943, the Allies decided that Austria should be reestablished as an independent state, once the war was won. At the same time they described Austria as the ‘first victim of Hitlerite aggression’. Many of Austria’s post-war leaders, after some initial hesitation, took this as a lifeline to help them in the foundation of a post-war project, in which Austria claimed it was not guilty for what had happened in the country during the Nazi years.

The investigation claimed that only a handful of traitors had collaborated with Nazi rule.

An investigation by the Austrian government in 1946 described Austrian suffering under German rule, and Austrian resistance to that rule. It also claimed that only a handful of traitors had collaborated with the Nazis. At the end it demanded ‘justice for Austria’, by which it meant the speedy end of the Four-Power occupation (in fact this occupation was to last until the State Treaty of 1955).

Using this logic, they suggested that justice – including compensation or reparation – for the victims of Nazi rule was a matter for Germany. The Austrian state could not be held liable. Under pressure from the west (the US in particular) post-war Austrian governments did, however, set up a legal administrative framework for returning some of the property taken from victims of Nazi rule in the course of their persecution.

Seven laws were passed, and the most important of them (the third) established restitution commissions for deciding on the return of expropriated property. Over 40,000 cases, many of which were extremely complex, came before these commissions. Many of them ended in out-of-court settlements, often involving the payment of an additional amount on top of the derisory amount paid after the Anschluss. Further measures followed the signature of the State Treaty, including the collection and realisation of assets for which no owner or heirs had been found.

The Waldheim controversy

Throughout this period the charge of ‘too little too late’ was occasionally levelled at Austria, but it made little impact. Austria was either too small – in international terms – to matter, or it was seen as an enclave of tranquillity and good order (and ‘permanent neutrality’ between east and west), which ought to be cultivated.

Waldheim had concealed or “forgotten” important details of his military service in World War Two.

Things began to change in the 1970s, but perhaps the most dramatic turning-point was at the time of the controversy over Kurt Waldheim, the former UN secretary general, who was an Austrian presidential candidate in 1986. Throughout his post-war career Waldheim had concealed or ‘forgotten’ important details of his military service in World War Two. As his past came to be known, through journalistic investigations and leaks, during his campaign, he spoke of having only ‘done his duty’ in the German Wehrmacht. It was hardly the comment of a victim of the Nazi regime, and caused a furore within Austria as well as outside it. Nevertheless Waldheim was elected president, and Austria’s international standing plummeted.

Domestic reaction to the affair consisted partly of a defiant, partly patriotic, assertion of Austria’s right to ignore outside opinion. Other elements almost (or actually) offered an apologia for the ‘good side’ of the Nazi regime; many of these people were found in the Freedom Party (FPO), along with its rising star Jörg Haider. But the Waldheim affair also prompted heart-searching and self-criticism, especially from the post-war generation. And there was by now a more self-confident Jewish community in Austria, whose members were not prepared to keep quiet, or be intimidated by actual or threatened anti-Semitism.


This complex of domestic and foreign factors seems to have persuaded the Austrian government (then a coalition of Social Democrat and People’s Party) to set up its Historikerkommission in November 1998. From the start there were criticisms that it was a delaying tactic, or state-sponsored whitewash, like the 1946 report referred to above had been.

On the other hand, unlike the latter, its independence was laid down in black and white. Its chairman, Clemens Jabloner, was President of Austria’s Verwaltungsgerichtshof (Administrative Court), and a leading legal and academic authority. And its other members (including the present writer) were not nominated by the government, but by outside bodies, in a transparent process.

An international outcry against the FPO followed …

As far as Austria’s Nazi legacy was concerned, the new government was more than anxious to show itself willing to confront it, and talks over the two main problems – compensation for forced labourers, and outstanding compensation issues for Jewish victims – proceeded at breakneck speed. It was agreed that redress for the loss of rental property (59,000 Vienna flats) should be paid out of the Austrian National Fund.

The commission’s findings run to 14,000 pages, including 53 individual reports and one volume of conclusions. This amount of research cannot be easily summarised. But broadly speaking it shows the involvement of Austrian individuals, groups and institutions in all facets of expropriation of assets from the Jewish community in the Nazi years; from daylight robbery to more subtle forms of expropriation in the name of economic rationality. It also shows how numerous individual Austrians and institutions – from Vienna’s Dorotheum auction house to the state (federal, regional and local) – gained as a result of these activities.

The commission described how a machinery was established in Austria in the first post war decade, to provide restitution to the economic victims of the Nazis. And how some survivors had had some success in getting it. For example the owners of businesses that had not been liquidated (these were in the minority, and were generally the larger firms) had quite a good chance. It also helped if the claim involved real estate. Most moveable property simply disappeared and – apart from identifiable works of art – will presumably never be found.

It was not until the 1980s that the state began to put its weight behind the interests of the victims of Nazi rule.

The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the writer. The publications of the Historikerkommission can be found on their website and are being published in book form by Oldenbourg Verlag (Munich).


Hitler’s Austria: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era by Evan Bukey (University of North Carolina Press, 2000)

Fallen Bastions by GER Gedye (Victor Gollancz, 1939)
source: archive, Holocaust
The edited parts can be read there.


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One Response to “BBC on the Holocaust/ page one”

  1. Commission Blog Says:

    Commissions Page…

    […] unt paid after the Anschluss. Further measures followed the signature of the Sta […]…

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