The Austrian Encounter[1]


Samson Munn

Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Summer 2001


I am interested in dialogue per se and in the power of dialogue to do good. I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist. Although I am a physician, my specialty (radiology) is about as professionally far from dialogue as one can possibly be in medicine. I have had no advanced training in dialogue, in psychology, in group dynamics, nor in therapy.[2] However, I have had extensive experience in a particular kind or application of post-genocide dialogue, one example of which I will describe here.

Before considering The Austrian Encounter in detail, it is important to know that there exist a number of innovative dialogues in relation to the Holocaust. The variations are perhaps theoretically limitless; indeed, a variety already exist. They may be of therapeutic intent or explicitly not, be large or small, be mediated through talk or other modalities (e. g., music, imagery, drama, etc.), be local or international, aim for reconciliation or forgiveness or disavow them both, emphasize Christian–Jewish relations or disregard religion in their dynamic, be intensive and profound or not so deep but differently important, be of several weeks duration or only of several hours, be composed simply of Jews and/or of Germans or explicitly of descendants of the victims and of the victimizers of the Holocaust, comprise just students or not, or meet recurrently, sporadically, or just once. The people who take part are not randomly included and their meetings are not simply academic experiments (if they have any academic connection at all). Rather than being affected, sanguine or histrionic, they are genuine, personal and interpersonal explorations, mediated in one modality or another. Interestingly, these post-Holocaust dialogue groups have recently begun to network with each other.[3]

Only some examples of fine such work are: the US and German university student groups[4] of Björn Krondorfer and Christian Staffa; several, local, evening, once monthly Jewish-German Dialogue groups in Boston; the large, international meetings and seminars created jointly by Katherine Klinger (in London) and Christian Staffa (in Berlin); an international group formed on its own composed of approximately 300 members, called "One by One"; and, a variety of interesting and worthy groups in Holland (such as one related to sons and daughters born of Dutch mothers and Nazi fathers, by rape).

Amidst this diversity is The Austrian Encounter, a small, international group of thoughtful, motivated people who are personally related to the Austrian portion of the Holocaust through their parents' and grandparents' victimization, perpetration, or related involvements. The Austrian Encounter has so far met in Vienna four times (1995, 1997, 1998, 1999) and once in Boston (2000) for intensive dialogues of several days each. The next meeting will have been in Vienna in 2001.

The background of The Austrian Encounter begins with another group. In June 1992, a genuine encounter group first met in Germany composed of sons and daughters of German Nazis (mostly of high rank or responsibility)[5] meeting with daughters and sons of Holocaust survivors. Included were the daughter of an SS general responsible for the killing of approximately 750,000 people (who was hanged after post-war trial in Russia) and the son of perhaps the second most powerful and culpable Nazi in the entire Reich (who fled to South America, thus escaping trial).[6] That encounter group was created and facilitated by Dan Bar-On, Ph. D., Professor of Behavioural Sciences[7] at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. I am a participant in that group, which subsequently named itself To Reflect and Trust, or TRT. My parents are both Jewish concentration camp survivors (from Germany and Poland).

TRT was not constructed intentionally or primarily to be therapeutic, but rather to be more simply a true encounter. The experience was felt by all to be worthwhile and/or beneficial in a variety of ways (even if not therapeutic per se), and so we decided to continue to meet. TRT's dialogues are intensive and each then lasted approximately four days. The group has met a total of eight times in three countries over the past eight years. TRT has been the subject of a B.B.C. documentary film,[8] three of us the subjects of another B.B.C. film[9] and two of us of a recent German documentary.[10] In addition, TRT has received much positive press (and none negative) in "Le Monde",[11] in "Süddeutsche Zeitung",[12] and elsewhere. It has begun to serve as a model for constructive dialogue in an area of strife or genocide,[13] with the long-held intention being to address current problems as well as past enmities and prejudices, and hopefully to prevent future acts of hatred or perhaps genocide.[14]

In the midst of the second TRT meeting, April 1993 in Israel, I noted to myself and to the others that my contributions did not feel[15] to me to be sufficient ethical compensation for the powerfully positive feeling of being so privileged to be amidst them in that special experience. It had occurred to me that it would be of merit to create other similar encounters between children of survivors and of perpetrators generally (e. g., in South Africa regarding apartheid), and I had already said so at public presentations given by TRT. From some subconscious place the idea of moving toward the creation of another group percolated upward into consciousness, simultaneously connecting with long-standing knowledge about Austria's involvement with the Holocaust.

Austria was annexed by Germany, as opposed to other countries that were invaded, conquered and occupied, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Austrians were generally pleased or even gleeful to be annexed by the Reich.[16] Further, Austrians were subsequently stunningly successful in rising quickly and effectively within the Reich to important positions in infamous settings of war crimes and crimes against humanity,[17] perhaps related to even more pervasive anti-Semitism in Austria than in Germany.[18] Finally, since the war, Austria and Austrians have been particularly effective in denying their Nazi pasts, domestically and internationally – in convincing themselves and the rest of the world of their innocence, even their victimization! So, the concept of a similar encounter group in Austria, a country laden with profound culpability and with great denial, seemed to me to be particularly appropriate and especially poignant.

I began work on what would later become The Austrian Encounter in Boston in the days after having returned from the April 1993 meeting of TRT. The creation process began by thinking of the group's structure. My goal was to include thoughtful, intellectually honest, motivated participants who are able to listen as well as to speak. I planned to include daughters and sons of Austrian Nazis and of Austrian victims – men and women approximately equally. Finally, I hoped that there would be two facilitators, one male and one female, and one affiliated with each "side" somehow. It was important to me that the facilitator(s) facilitate but not lead, enhance the flow of discourse when necessary but not control it, and know enough not to presume that psycho-pathology inherently exists in the participants. It did not become clear for some time (perhaps a year and a half) that circumstances would lead me to facilitate alone.

I expected it to be far more difficult to contact children of Austrian Nazis than children of Austrian Jewish, Roma, or Sinti victims. In the end, however, the reverse was true. While it was understandably difficult to find appropriate participants who were the children of Austrian Nazis, it proved even more difficult to contact Israeli and Austrian children of Austrian refugees or especially survivors, whether Jewish, Roma, or Sinti.[19]

How does one go about finding interested, appropriate children of Austrian Nazis? Too bad one cannot simply turn to the "post-Nazi" section of the "yellow pages"! I placed an ad in each of the three largest Austrian newspapers' major weekly edition. That ad, in English, asked directly for responses from honestly introspective children of Austrian Nazis, who wished to take part in an open and non judgmental encounter with children of Austrian survivors. In the end, the ads led to two participants and to several other contacts. Another successful connection was made for me directly to a child of an Austrian Nazi from a German member of TRT, for which I am very grateful. That was the only contact made easily in the two-year process of finding and screening participants.

Also, I wrote about two dozen initial letters to therapists who had attended a recent European conference on psychological trauma from the Holocaust. Dr. Bar-On and others gave a few names to me, and he and still others also tried to find Israelis who might take part. All of those avenues led to more and more people, mostly unproductively. Sufficient success was ultimately achieved through hundreds of letters, scores of faxes, dozens of phone calls, several internet bulletin board listings and even an interview on Vienna's "Blue Danube Radio"![20]

All the participants were screened by me, sometimes for several hours. Three visits to Vienna were required in the year before the encounter in order to organize the participants, to prepare for the group and conscientiously to try to meet with each participant. All agreed easily upon simple, historical truths: that the Holocaust had indeed occurred, that it was perpetrated primarily by German and Austrian Nazis (but also by their collaborators in many countries), that the victims were primarily Jews (but also Gypsies[21] and others), that millions of Jews and others were killed and many more hurt in a variety of heinous ways, and that the Holocaust was ethically and socially, wholly indefensible.

Among the participants at the initial encounter, there were no children of concentration camp survivors, no Roma or Sinti, no Israelis and no contemporaneously Austrian Jews. Despite repeated efforts to derive such participants, through a great variety of avenues, over more than two years, none attended. (Those were acknowledged shortcomings of the first Austrian encounter.)

The initial Jewish members of this group were children of Austrians who had escaped the remainder of the Holocaust there by being forced to flee and by fleeing successfully. Unfortunately, the organized, Viennese Jewish community was not at all helpful in any aspect of The Austrian Encounter.

Three Roma and one Sinto did agree to participate in the first encounter in two pairs at different times, but in the end withdrew, at least two in fear of bombing by neo-Nazis, etc. Although we went so far as to keep the location of our meeting secret from even the participants until one hour prior to the meeting, that measure was certainly no guarantee of security. Their fear was understandable since, in February 1995, four Roma were killed in a single bombing outside Vienna.[22] (Between that bombing and our encounter, there were several other racist attacks in Austria, two of which were against Roma.)

The Austrian Encounter first met July 1-4, 1995. There were ten participants, two translators and myself. The participants were five women and five men, six children of Austrian Nazis and four of Austrian victims. The overall age range of the participants was 31-61; the average age (46) was similar on both "sides" but the age range was a bit wider on the "side" of children of perpetrators; I was 43. The offspring of perpetrators were five male and one female (one from Germany, three from Vienna and two from elsewhere in Austria); their fathers were mostly of moderate rank or responsibility. The descendants of victims were all female (one from Canada, two from the US, and one from England, but having lived in Austria for 14 years at that point). In addition, there was one couple in the group, composed of one member from each "side".[23]

We sat in a circle. At our center was only a low table upon which was placed a small tape recorder and a tiny microphone. The participants were a 36 year old pediatrician and psychiatrist still in training, the son of an illegal Nazi party member; a 59 year old highly ranked judge, the son of a prominent Austrian Nazi journalist and propagandist; a 39 year old English teacher, the daughter of Viennese Jewish refugees; a 31 year old who finished schooling ("Magister"[24] in psychology) in the days prior to the encounter, the daughter of an SS man; a 50 year old dealer of antique books, the son of an SS man; a 47 year old social worker, the daughter of Jews who fled Vienna in December 1938; a 46 year old psychologist, the son of a German army officer and Nazi party member; a 61 year old pensioner and former travel agent, whose father was first a manager in a Reich airplane manufacturing plant in Austria and later became chief of the Reich's film repository and production center for all of Austria; a 45 year old American adoption educator, the daughter of a Jewish woman who fled Austria in September 1938; and, a 52 year old writer, the daughter of Viennese Jews who fled in September 1938 and February 1939.

The first day initially dealt painstakingly for hours with logistical details. Introductions could not begin until after we had decided many recording issues, because I had given my commitment to do so to one very thoughtful participant who had well-reasoned reservations about privacy. That led to discussion about the translators.

The group genuinely decided (and still decides) its issues itself; I scrupulously avoided biasing the outcomes of group decision-making. In the end, the entire encounter was sound-recorded and both translators were retained. Introductions occurred later in the first day and were mostly completed that day. They were generally factual, logical, and reasonably calm, but personally historical. There was some time even the first day to move beyond introductions in our discussion. Still, the first day remained generally very collected. However, the last comment of the first day was emotional and angry, from a daughter of an Austrian victim, and had to do with her level of trust within the group. She asked pointedly whether we each trusted our parents to have had our best interests at heart when they made decisions that might directly or indirectly have had an influence upon us.

The next morning, the children of victims all answered "yes." Most of the children of perpetrators replied "no." It was an important transition. The participants were beginning to trust each other a bit and perhaps to like each other, too. That day was definitely less factual and collected; it was more loose, and began to become more, and more frequently, emotional. There were also amazing questions and comments from several participants; for instance, the son of a Nazi lamented with regret, desperation, anger, pain and great power in his voice: "I never had the strength to say to my father at the dinner table: 'Were you a murderer, Daddy?'!!"

The third day was almost entirely emotional! It lasted until 10:30 at night, with no dinner break. It was highly personal and utterly amazing! Discussion and emotions became very revealing. For instance, one person who was repeatedly sexually molested by a Nazi father, and who had vowed not to share that with this group, decided to break that promise and to do so.[25] That participant could not manage to do so with words but still wished to communicate it! So, not making clear what was about to happen, the person instead mostly silently enacted on the floor a typical scene of such sexual molestation. All the rest of us remained completely silent, in awe. I had suspected that some such expression was coming for two days, but no one else had even known of that participant's past and thus could not possibly then have known what was happening! I watched as, several minutes later, one person's face revealed dawning realization of the substance of this communication and then a few minutes later another's face did the same. Thus, a wave of acknowledgement flowed around and through us.

Deeply moved, we all lowered ourselves to the floor rather than remain above (the father's position). For three days afterward, that participant's central concepts of and reactions to this meeting, the members and the revelations that arose were changed markedly positively. That participant felt and became energized and happier, and remains (years later) glad to have broken through the barrier and to have shared with us.

We did minimally approach the relationship between abuse and that participant's deceased father's Nazi past, etc., but there remained much more for the group to discuss about abuse generally and about sexual matters in particular. Despite the gravity and emotionality of the described re-enactment, there were other deep and very moving moments that day, too.

The final day included some more emotional perspectives, but began to turn toward our closing, toward organization of a future meeting and toward other logistical matters. We planned to meet again, perhaps in a year, probably again in Vienna. We chose one person in each continent to act as liaison. We decided to add more participants. I reminded the others that when and where we meet again, whether we need translator(s) or facilitator(s), whom they should be, etc., were all their decisions.

Many themes were addressed during those four days, in varying emotional and intellectual depths. All were raised by the participants themselves. Some were perceived bilaterally symmetrically: a contemporaneous cognizance of marginalization during childhood, the importance of ethics in our lives and work, a lack of independence from the Holocaust in adult life, and altered trust in personal and professional relationships.

However, importantly and interestingly, many threads ran through both subgroups but differently so. Examples included hurt or damaged roots in some sons and daughters of Austrian Nazis versus absent roots in some of both "sides," warmth versus coldness in our childhood families, generalized fear or anxiety (to some extent) throughout life for some children of victims versus childhood terror from the father in the families of Austrian Nazis, and the relationships between shame and secrets for children of Nazis versus between protection and secrets for the children of victims.

Two themes that seemed to relate to the children of victims alone were that despite feeling "as though they live on a packed suitcase", they nonetheless are very active and visible in community activities (fighting racism, etc.); and, that they generally empathize with other victims, including the sons and daughters of Nazis in their roles as victims of their own fathers!

It was stunning and wonderful for these people to have approached so many important issues, so earnestly, in such short time. Certainly, they are bright, incisive, motivated, imaginative people. Over the next 2–3 days there were a few social gatherings of various combinations of us, and two carefully conducted newspaper interviews.[26] All of that went well. Warmth had grown from trust, which developed similarly in this encounter to TRT's first encounter.

Despite the definite overall success, there were weak aspects. Four days was too short. We took as long as half a day or more simply to address logistics because we had not yet developed some trust between us; on the other hand, working through those matters in a careful, detailed and respectful manner created the foundation for such trust. Also, there was insufficient time to delve deeply into many of the issues and questions broached. On the other hand, these busy, accomplished people would likely not have been enthusiastic to attend a longer meeting given the exigencies of daily life.

However, if these people had known each other a bit more beforehand (as had been the case for the children of perpetrators and for some of the children of victims in TRT), they might have been able to consider themes more deeply in less time, because they would already have become comfortable with and trusting of each other. In that way, the first meeting served as a foundation for the subsequent ones. We had come to trust that each other was for the most part conscientious, respectable, knowledgeable and concerned.

Fortunately, no one had an untoward psychological reaction to the encounter, during it or afterward. Indeed most participants described it as psychologically very positive and eye-opening, and found it worthy or beneficial in other ways, too.

During the period after the first encounter, those living in Austria met several evenings socially, usually at a pub or restaurant. In those meetings, they discussed some of the subjects raised during the encounter, related and expanded themes, and the upcoming encounter. They decided that they would prefer the next meeting to be after a hiatus of two years (not one), that the two translators should be invited back as participants (but not as translators), that I should be invited back as a participant (but not as facilitator), and that there should be no facilitator (despite several offers and varied options).

Most of those participants living in North America also met several times during the interval, mostly socially. We generally acceded to the wishes and decisions of the Austrian participants as they evolved, although sometimes with hesitation, with disagreement, or with pessimism.

Between the first and second encounters, one of the participants published a collection of interviews[27] she conducted with Austrian-Jewish refugee couples who had settled in Los Angeles, one of whom was her parents. The second Vienna meeting was preceded the night before by an author's book-reading held at "Urania", a large and very well-known center for adult education and film in Vienna. Poignantly, Urania had long been a cultural center and had been frequented by the author's father during his childhood and was remembered fondly by him.

The second meeting took place June 13–15, 1997. In all, there were twelve participants. Eight of the twelve were women and four men. Of each gender, half were new. Neither of the translators could attend.

I attended, but began the meeting by voicing neutrally an acknowledgment of my clear transition thereafter to participant. However, by mid-morning, it was obvious that I was still being expected to make logistical decisions and to provide facilitative commentary. By mid-day, it was realistically determined by explicit consensus that I was indeed still facilitator (in addition to participant) and that that was what the group wanted.

As before, we sat in a circle, spontaneously and randomly. We met the first day in a private room at a well-known, old Viennese coffee shop. The other two days we met at the "Literaturhaus".[28] As at the first encounter, we recorded the proceedings on audio tape.

The six participants who had also attended the first encounter were the pediatrician/psychiatrist; the highly ranked judge; the 33 year old who had received her "Magister"; the social worker; the writer; and, myself, then 45 years old.

The six new participants were a 28 year old Austrian student, Jewish, whose Polish Jewish father survived Mauthausen[29] and subsequently married an Austrian Christian (who converted to Judaism); a 26 year old Austrian historian and student, whose maternal grandparents lived very near Mauthausen, whose grandfather had been in the Wehrmacht, and whose great uncle had been a "fanatic" Nazi in the SS in Poland; a 52 year old American college art history professor, whose parents escaped Austria to Shanghai in '38, who was born in Shanghai but who lived in Vienna ages 2–6 (after the war), all four of whose grandparents were killed by the Reich; a 41 year old Austrian designer and creator of interactive exhibits, whose father had been a member of the Nazi party and an industrial opportunist; a 50 year old Israeli musician of world-class stature (whose Israeli parents were not Holocaust survivors), then living in Austria for approximately seven years, who previously had lived in Germany for twenty-seven years, who married a German, non-Jewish woman, and is raising their daughter atheistically in Vienna; and, an Austrian woman in her thirties with a strong family history of culpable Nazism and anti-Semitism.[30]

The meeting was conducted two-thirds (or more) in German. In the awful heat of our first day, we met from 9 AM until 10 PM (with breaks). The day was filled primarily with long and very personal introductions. A seed of trust was palpably present, presumably because half the participants had already known each other. A bit more fully developed trust was already present upon arrival the second day, based simply on the revelations of the first day and their percolation through our souls and dreams. That increase in trust accelerated during the early-mid portion of the second day, and remained sustained.

It was during the second and third days that we more freely, deeply and variably discussed topics of interest to us. Some themes addressed were "belonging" socially vs. belongings (issues of loss, worth, property ownership, etc.), the ethics of making use of social "connections" during the Holocaust and now, anger, what real friendship is and entails (e. g. "Does a good friend reveal to a Jewish friend anti-Semitic remarks that a mutual acquaintance has made?"), the narrow-mindedness and intolerance of the organized Viennese Jewish community then toward non-orthodox or even non-observant Jews, that secular Jews seem to represent a perceived "threat" to the "security" of the official (and ostensibly observant) Jewish community in Vienna, where "home" really is and where one can feel "at home", fear of neo-Nazis for participation in The Austrian Encounter or for other endeavors, fears more generally, and individuation from our parents (i.e., finding a truly independent path in life).

Beginning during the second day, the group also considered the next (third) Austrian Encounter. It was decided that it could be in Vienna or in the US (leaning slightly toward Vienna again), that the peak number that we would allow ourselves to reach was fourteen (so as not materially to change the dynamic), that if we were to add new participants they should come preferentially from among those in the first encounter who hadn't attended the second, that we should definitely meet the next time for five days, that the next meeting should be after no more than one year, that we should continue to meet without a formal translator and that I should remain facilitator. Those two days' discussions did not run so late into the evenings, although afterward many remained together socially.

During our two hours or so of closure, all twelve of us acknowledged that the experience had been wonderful and remarkable. Additional descriptors that came up often were "fabulous", "compelling", "once-in-a-lifetime" and "energizing." It was poignantly pointed out by several that non-Jewish Austrians and Jews could be at the same Viennese coffee shops, even at the same table, for thirty years without experiencing the dialogue they had all come to know in just these three days!

One participant wrote afterward, "My last night (four days after the group ended), nine of the twelve went out to dinner together." She continued, Bernd[31] "commented that night that we were all one big happy family. We enjoyed really sharing our struggles, but also enjoyed laughing and joking together, and like each other as individuals."

Based upon growing trust and the reciprocal sharing of personal histories, participants felt "energized" to talk more, to socialize very actively and to begin a variety of projects individually and in smaller groups, etc. Examples included the creation of a formal site for the collection of formerly Jewish property in the hands of non-Jewish Austrian families, the donation of one participant's collection of his father's propagandistic publications and other writings to the Austrian Resistance Archives[32] in Vienna, and the performance of a public concert (by a trio composed of the professional musician and Jewish participant; an amateur musician and non-Jewish member; and, the victim-father of a third participant).

In considering The Austrian Encounter, parallels to the first meeting of TRT come to mind. It was not until the second Austrian encounter that half the participants had already come to know each other – the others were still new to each other. That mix had already occurred at the first meeting of TRT. Trust grew in a parallel fashion and finally the creation of apparent energy.

On the other hand, that most of the dialogue of the second meeting was in German likely made an important difference in experience from TRT and from our first encounter. I suspect that it lowered the stress level of some of the native Austrians; it may be that these participants operate daily, especially in regard to their feelings and opinions regarding the Holocaust, at a prominent stress level in ambient Austrian society. I also suspect that it elevated the stress of some who came from America; among the Jews, simply having been in Austria may have raised stress levels a bit, and having struggled to understand and to be understood in German was likewise stressful. Finally and importantly, there are underlying widely historical, personal family historical, and contemporary psychological connections to the facts that the Holocaust was effected primarily in spoken and in written German, primarily by Germans and Austrians, etc. For all these reasons, I suspect that meeting in Austria and primarily in German served very poignantly to highlight awareness and to stimulate psyches for us all, and perhaps a bit to balance Holocaust-related inner stresses between our two "sides."

The day after the meeting ended, interviews were conducted and recorded on audio tape with two of the participants who volunteered, one from each "side" (both female), and with me. The interviews were done by a German journalist, Silvia Pfeifer, for an English radio program on "Deutsche Welle", broadcast only a few days later. Also, another radio interview was given by two of the participants, that time for an Austrian program in German.

A day or two later, I met for 2-3 hours over coffee one night with two Viennese therapists (one Jewish and one not), at their request. Interestingly, they had optimistically decided approximately six weeks earlier to create a therapy group in early July comprising sons and daughters of both "sides" of the Austrian component of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed when they succeeded in enlisting only one possible participant in response to the newspaper announcement that they had placed. The evening's discussion supported all our perceptions that creating such a group is especially difficult in Austria.

The Austrian Encounter reconvened in Vienna, June 18-22, 1998, for our third meeting. All twelve previously committed did indeed take part, plus one child of a Nazi who had attended the first but missed the second encounter. However, soon after starting, two women dropped out over an issue of trust within the group: one woman (a daughter of a victim) accused a son of a Nazi of having made a sexually abusive phone call to her a couple of weeks earlier. After brief discussion in the group setting, she dropped out (by her own choice and contrary to the overall sentiment of the group) and a daughter of a Nazi also did so in support of her. (Another participant, also a daughter of a Nazi, dropped out for a time, but returned thereafter.) Thus, most of the meeting was attended by eleven participants, six women (half from each "side") and five men (three the sons of victims).

This intra-group trauma immediately raised two other issues of trust between a pair of male participants (one from each "side") and those matters were successfully worked through in the group. All of these challenges led to discussions about issues of trust within the group (between people in general, between people and the courts, etc.), of silence (perceived and real) and of communication, of continued dialogue when it is especially difficult, and of a perceived improvement in consciousness in Austria regarding its awful involvements in the Holocaust.[33] On the other hand, the group had so far continued to avoid discussion of the importance and variety of sexual abuse under the Reich.

The Austrian Encounter was thus profoundly existentially challenged. Although the issue of the phone call itself remains unresolved, the group survived its first truly major trauma and learned from the experience. In the end, even though personal trust between the involved three women and the man sadly remained gone, group trust was generally improved by having worked through the shock and by having moved forward thereafter. All eleven (plus one woman at the original meeting who did not attend subsequently) committed to attend the fourth encounter, scheduled for the summer of 1999, again in Vienna.

There certainly had been and continued to be sterling success in The Austrian Encounter; amazingly, a group composed mostly of sons and daughters of Austrian Nazis and of daughters and sons of Austrian Holocaust victims had begun to meet in an ongoing way, and in Austria! For these people simply to have met, to have been honest and earnest with each other, and to have done so several times intensively, were unique and remain remarkable in Austria!

Although Austria harbored terrible enmity of Jews, retained a history and a legacy of heinous responsibility during the Reich, and mastered denial of that culpability after the war, we continued to see deep openness lead to warmth, trust and the beginnings of much more by wonderful, varied, motivated people, despite personal differences and despite their origins from opposite sides of a major world trauma (and the greatest trauma in Jewish and in European histories).

Robert S. Wistrich, the Neuberger Professor of Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University (Jerusalem) wrote in a contemporary report, "There is now, for the first time in post-war Austria, a serious commitment to fighting racism and anti-Semitism" and "[...] there is even the beginning of a movement to discuss the Holocaust critically and openly [...] and to seek to learn its lessons."[34] How intensive post-trauma dialogue might be of potential benefit after other holocausts, both contemporaneously and in the prevention of future or repeated genocidal acts, is a matter that is barely beginning to be explored[35] and one which I hoped would (and still hope will) be examined in greater depth and in more varied settings soon.

The fourth meeting of The Austrian Encounter took place August 28–31, 1999, in Vienna. Repeat attendees were: a 50 year old social worker, the daughter of Jews who fled Vienna in December 1938; a 39 year old pediatrician and psychiatrist still in training, the son of an illegal Nazi party member; a 55 year old writer, the daughter of Viennese Jews who fled in September 1938 and February 1939; a 54 year old American college art history professor, whose parents escaped Austria to Shanghai in '38; a 43 year old Austrian designer and creator of interactive exhibits, whose father was a member of the Nazi party and who was an industrial opportunist (responsible indirectly for the deaths of at least two slave laborers); the 52 year old Israeli musician and, myself, then 47 years old.[36]

New participants were: a 48 year old Viennese Jewish psychotherapist living in Vienna married to a non-Jewish man, the daughter of Austrian Jewish refugees who returned to Vienna after the war; a 49 year old Viennese woman who identifies herself as Sinti, the daughter of a Waffen-SS Panzer officer father (whom she had met only twice) and a Sinti concentration camp survivor mother; and, a 48 year old Austrian non-Jewish woman living in New York, a former journalist in Italy and elsewhere, whose family background was varied and included monarchist nobility in some (including one sent to Dachau for that, who died there) and anti-Semitic sentiment and Nazi perpetration in others.[37]

Thus, there were seven repeat and three new participants, and seven women and three men. There were seven (five female and two male) participants with a clearly more "victim-descended or -associated" identity (including the Sinti woman with an SS father), two (one male and one female) with more of a "perpetrator-associated or -descended" identity, and one Austrian gentile women with a complicated, mixed background. It should clearly be understood that that classification, although helpful perhaps in some ways, is by virtue of brevity incomplete in regard to a richly variegated history and thus inherently inadequate.

Once again, we spoke a bit more than half in German. Themes raised included parallels and differences in the Gypsy and Jewish Holocaust experiences and fates; prejudicial words and phrases; societal problem-solving by "selecting" someone or a sub-group to be removed from the main group; gender-based dominance and hierarchy, within our group (which was explicitly addressed) and in the Reich; for some, difficulty joining or being in groups (of any kind); to be truly ourselves; violence; anger; trust; courage; and, survival.

Some remarkable quotations were:

"When Gatschi[38] recognize Gypsies as humans, a step is made toward reconciliation. [...] Racists have a massive problem, not me. Based on society's opinion, I am not human."
"I feel in groups as if I'm dying or dead."
"All of us have been victims of a world catastrophe, and any of us can be a perpetrator, depending on curbing and understanding impulses."
"For me, it is not about reconciliation, but rather getting to know each other."
"We laughed and cried so much. I cried 'outward' my sadness."
"What one doesn't work on – through – one transfers to one's children."
"As the son or daughter of a perpetrator, how can one feel the right to be happy?"
"To this day, I feel the mission/assignment to do as my father would, and to do the opposite – hardest is to be myself."
"Perhaps the victim role will continue to exist and to be transmitted to subsequent generations so long as the role is simply accepted, accepted simply, so that it is not examined properly."
"The answers are not so important – it's posing the questions that matters."
"I don't want simply to leave it all behind – to walk away. That would be too easy."

Before closing, The Austrian Encounter decided it would like the fifth meeting to be in summer 2000 in the Boston area. This was to be the first meeting outside Vienna.[39] Also, the Austrian and US contact individuals and roles were reevaluated and reestablished.

In the next several days, the first few days of September 1999, there took place in Vienna what I believed then and believe even more now was an important, public conference of three days' duration.[40] The German version of the title of the conference translates as "The Liveliness of History: International Conference for Survivors and Descendants of Victims and of Perpetrators of National Socialism", while the actual English version was "The Presence of the Absence: International Holocaust Conference for Eyewitnesses and Descendants of 'Both Sides'." Over 400 people attended and a handful were from The Austrian Encounter.

In a final-day, plenary session, Dirk Kuhl (the son of the Gestapo chief of Braunschweig, Germany) and I discussed and showed a documentary film[41] about our friendship (begun in TRT). Several conference organizers described the film session as the best received and most moving presentation of the conference, noting that at least half the audience was in tears. Despite the fine academicians presenting excellently at other sessions, the audience was deeply taken with the film and gripped by the visual demonstration of the positive results of a successful process of reaching respect and friendship between individuals with direly opposite family backgrounds. Very many expressed appreciation and gratefulness for the presence of "the emotional" at such a conference.

Workshops and other smaller sessions were also related to encounter–dialogue between descendants of various "sides" of the Holocaust in general, and in relation to Austria in particular. This included a workshop about personal dialogue in relation to Austria – a mini-encounter just a few hours after the film – facilitated by me. The session was oversubscribed and the room was packed. There were many immediate, very enthusiastic responses and later ones, too, from earnest Austrians.

In my view, the organizers of the September Vienna conference played a pivotal role by creating a highly visible setting at an important moment in history. Although The Austrian Encounter had been making an important contribution over the preceding four years by virtue of its mere existence in Austria, by meeting seriously and by speaking and writing publicly about it, the "Die Lebendigkeit der Geschichte / The Presence of the Absence" conference was the first time that such a large and public yet still personally felt meeting had taken place in Austria related to the Holocaust.[42] Also, it was held mostly in German (with English translation), with a diligent effort made to evaluate honestly and deeply the public and private relationships of Austria and of Austrians to the Holocaust. Varied presentations and discussion and ample press coverage did much to heighten awareness amongst Austrians regarding the value of considering openly and genuinely their pasts, privately vs. sometimes publicly, and alone vs. sometimes with colleagues and/or counterparts.

A few weeks later (3 October 1999), Haider's[43] party (the right-wing Freiheitliche Partei, or FPÖ) commanded 27 % of the vote in a national election in which they attained 52 seats (of a total of 183 in the Nationalrat, the Austrian parliament). Since no party won an absolute majority, a coalition had to be formed in order to govern. The only coalition that could actually be formed turned out to be between the two parties that had effectively tied for second and third places in the election, Haider's extreme-right FPÖ and the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP).

Over the next several months there were large public and effective demonstrations against Haider in Austria (and internationally), especially in Vienna. At least one such demonstration has been reported to have been the largest public gathering in Vienna since Hitler was joyously received in 1938. European Union sanctions against Austria were imposed and remained in place for many months. Ultimately, Haider was forced to step down from his national party post 27 February 2000.[44]

Initiatives like the conference of September 1999 likely contributed to public reaction against Haider; in retrospect, the event may have been pivotal. In that respect, I credit the organizers and am grateful to them for the opportunity they gave The Austrian Encounter to share itself with a wide Austrian public. On the other hand, Austrian soil is still richly fertile for dialogue, for introspection, for heightening of awareness and for constructive engagement, given Austria's family-nurtured, vibrant and persistent anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism and xenophobia.

[1] See also

[2] My curriculum vitae is available at

[3] Three such networking meetings have taken place, to my knowledge. The first was conceived by Dan Bar-On and was organized and chaired by me. It took place in Boston in July, 1996; it was of two days duration and there were representatives present from twelve dialogues or dialogue types, functioning in eight countries (Germany, Israel, Austria, the US, England, France, Russia, and Canada). The second and third networking meetings were conceived, organized and chaired jointly by Katherine Klinger (The Second Generation Trust, London) and Christian Staffa (Institut für vergleichende Geschichtswissenschaften, Berlin). Both were held in Berlin. The second was of a few hours duration annexed to the end of an international meeting that they had created, and took place in January 1997. The third was of several days length, held in May 1998. In both cases, thirty-five or forty dialogue-related organizations were represented, from a great variety of countries. For further information about this work of theirs, see: Staffa, Christian and Klinger, Katherine: Die Gegenwart der Geschichte des Holocaust. Berlin, Institut für vergleichende Geschichtswissenschaften, 1998

[4] Krondorfer, Björn: Remembrance and Reconciliation: Encounters Between Young Jews and Germans. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995

[5] For further information about Bar-On's work with sons and daughters of Nazis, see: Bar-On, Dan: Legacy of Silence : Encounters With Children of the Third Reich. Boston, Harvard University Press, 1991; and, Bar-On, Dan: Encounters between descendants of Nazi perpetrators and descendants of Holocaust survivors. In: Psychiatry, 58/1995, pp. 225-245

[6] Bormann, Martin: Leben gegen Schatten. Paderborn, Bonifatius, 1997, pp. 210-225

[7] For further information about Bar-On's work in dialogue after trauma, see: Bar-On, Dan: The Indescribable and the Undiscussable: Reconstructing Human Discourse After Trauma. Budapest, Central European University Press, 1998

[8] Children of the Third Reich. Produced by Catrine Clay, Timewatch, B.B.C., 1993

[9] Out of the Ashes. Produced by Catrine Clay, Timewatch, B.B.C., 1995

[10] Eine unmögliche Freundschaft. Produced by Michael Richter, Provobis, 1998

[11] Cojean, Annick: Les mémoires de la Shoah – IV: L'impensable dialogue. In: Le Monde, 28 April 1995, p. 16

[12] Weidinger, Birgit: Anreden gegen die Schweigespirale: Wie Kinder von hohen Nazis und Nachkommen der Holocaust-Opfer in London versuchten, einander zu begegnen. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 4 June 1996, p. 3

[13] TRT received a special grant from Körber Stiftung (Hamburg, Germany) to hold its seventh meeting in Hamburg during the summer of 1998; the grant required us to include people from other areas of world conflict, which was unusual for us but much to our liking. Thus, we richly benefited from the presence of a total of approximately eighteen guest participants from Northern Ireland, from South Africa and from Palestine/Israel.

[14] At the 2000 Goldner Symposium, I coined the term "agenocide" to describe the major goal of a number of efforts which are best coordinated, including (among others): surveillance for and early detection of genocide; heightened societal awareness and concern; education; scientific research; demonstration of the practical, overall, world-wide net disadvantages of genocide (including strategic, economic and health); political pressure of a variety of types; and, conciliatory or societal bridging (if not reconciliatory) efforts, such as intensive, personal and internationally based dialogue. "Agenocide" is thus a new noun which may be defined as the absence of genocide, preferably and primarily world-wide, and preferably and primarily permanently. The third biennial Pastora Goldner Holocaust Symposium was held at Wroxton College (a campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey, USA), in Wroxton, England, 9-13 June 2000.

[15] See: Baum, Rachel: Ethics in the Face of Auschwitz: The Emotional and Pedagogical Responsibility of Holocaust Remembrance. Ann Arbor, University of Wisconsin, 1997 (Ph. D. dissertation)

[16] Rosenkranz, Herbert: Austria. In: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. New York, Simon and Schuster MacMillan, 1995

[17] For instance, Austrian Nazis included Brigadeführer [brigadier general] Odilo Globocnik (originally a construction contractor, he became entrusted with implementing Aktion Reinhard, the plan of destruction of all Jews in the interior of occupied Poland, which succeeded in killing two million Jews), Obersturmführer [first lieutenant] Franz Stangl (originally a weaver, he became police superintendent at the Euthanasia Institute at Hartheim Castle near Linz, and then commandant first at Sobibór and later at Treblinka killing centers), Obersturmführer Irmfried Eberl (a physician who had been in charge of euthanasia stations at Brandenburg and Bernburg, later became the first commandant at Treblinka), Obersturmführer Franz Reichleitner (who replaced Stangl as commandant at Sobibór), Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart (a lawyer who, upon becoming chancellor of Austria, invited the German military to enter Austria, later became the commissioner of the Netherlands and was committed to implementing the Final Solution there), Hans Fischböck (Seyss-Inquart's director of finance and economic affairs for the Netherlands), and Brigadeführer and later Obergruppenführer [lieutenant general] Hans Albin Rauter (Seyss-Inquart's Higher SS and Police Leader in the Netherlands). See: Rückerl, Adalbert: NS-Vernichtungslager. Munich 1977, pp. 179, 295; Hilberg, Raul: The Destruction of the European Jews. New York, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1985, p. 570, 897; as well as Kochan, Lionel: Globocnik, Odilo; Sereny, Gitta: Stangl, Franz; Michman, Jozeph: Seyss-Inquart, Arthur; Michman, Jozeph: Netherlands, The; Arad, Yitzhak: Treblinka; Arad, Yitzhak: Sobibór; Arad, Yitzhak: Aktion Reinhard; all in: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. New York, Simon and Schuster MacMillan, 1995

[18] Joseph Goebbels, the Reich's Minister of Propaganda, wrote admiringly of the Austrians in his diaries that their Habsburg training engendered within them special ability in regard to their treatment of subject peoples. See: Lochner, Louis P. (Ed.): The Goebbels Diaries 1942-1943. Garden City (NY) 1948, p. 426; or the entry for 8 September 1943 in any version of Goebbels diaries, such as Diaries of Joseph Goebbels.

[19] To be clear, "Austrian" as it was used in the phrase "Austrian victim" was used to refer to those already living in Austria when their victimization began (even if their victimization continued elsewhere) or to those who where victimized (at any point in time) in Austria regardless from where they had come. A parallel definition applied to the perpetrator.

[20] "Children of the War." At: Today at One, Blue Danube Radio, Österreichischer Rundfunk, Vienna, 13 March 1995, interviewed by Hal Rock, produced by Jane Duke.

[21] "Gypsy" is a "term used to denote ethnic groups formed by the dispersal of commercial, nomadic and other groups from within India from the tenth century onwards, and [by] their mixing with European and other groups throughout their diasporic [sic] history. The term is not intrinsically derogatory and is now used widely by Romany leaders and writers." See: Liégeois, Jean-Pierre and Nicolae Gheorghe: Roma/Gypsies: A European Minority. London, Minority Rights Group, 1995, p. 6; and: Brearley, Margaret: The Roma/Gypsies of Europe: a persecuted people. London, Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 1996, p. 4

[22] Brearley, Margaret: see footnote 21, p. 15: "[...] On 3-4 [sic] February 1995 a mock gravestone urging Gypsies to return to India was placed at the entrance to an underpass leading to a Roma encampment at Oberwart, Burgenland. (Oberwart, home to Austrian Roma who survived the Nazi period, is near Lackenbach, the former concentration camp for Roma en route to Auschwitz.) When four Roma attempted to remove it, a huge explosion occurred; all were killed. (Police were later criticized for initially claiming that the men had blown themselves up or killed one another in a blood feud.) The so-called Bavarian Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the murders. Later vigils at the site of the deaths and elsewhere were disrupted by skinhead violence; again police were criticised for having failed to protect the vigils." [The explosion was actually in the night from February 4-5, 1995, and the bomb had been constructed and mounted near a Roma-settlement - not an "encampment" - at theoutskirts of Oberwart by Franz Fuchs, who was put on trial in March 1999 and condemned to life imprisonment; Fuchs committed suicide on February 26, 2000; see also in this volume: Baranyai, Susanne: Verein Roma Oberwart. pp. 444-446; Eds.] See also: European Race Audit Bulletin, London, Institute of Race Relations, 4/1995

[23] Incidentally, the same was true at the early meetings of TRT.

[24] An Austrian Magister is equivalent to a US master's degree.

[25] That person has given full permission for the story to appear as written.

[26] One led to Pfeifer, Silvia: Kinder des Holocaust: Reden gegen das Tabu. In: Passauer Neue Presse, 21 August 1995, p. 3; the other yielded Halbmayr, Brigitte: Belastete Begegnung: "Es liegt nicht an uns, unsere Eltern zu versöhnen". In: Illustrierte Neue Welt, 8-9/1995, p. 17

[27] Wolman, Ruth: Crossing Over: An Oral History of Refugees from Hitler's Reich. New York, Twayne Publishers (Simon & Schuster MacMillan), 1996

[28] Thanks to its director, Heinz Lunzer, Literaturhaus, Seidengasse 13, A - 1070 Wien, Austria.

[29] Mauthausen was the most infamous complex (including Gusen, Ebensee and others) of concentration and killing camps in Austria. One set of estimates are that 199,404 people passed through Mauthausen (including the Hartheim killing center), and 119,000 died or were killed, of whom 38,120 were Jewish; see: Eckstein, Benyamin: Mauthausen. In: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. New York, Simon & Schuster MacMillan, 1996; another set of estimates are that 335,000 people passed through the Mauthausen complex, of whom 122,767 died or were killed: see: Reshef, Yehuda: Mauthausen. In: Encyclopædia Judaica. Corrected edition, Jerusalem, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd., 1972

[30] At her request, she is deliberately otherwise not described.

[31] "Bernd" is a pseudonym.

[32] Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Altes Rathaus, Stiege 3, Wipplingerstraße 8, A - 1010 Wien, Austria.

[33] Under intense international pressure levied over several years, former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim finally capitulated and publicly revealed his own wartime role as a member of an SA unit; after that, he was nonetheless elected Federal President of Austria in 1986. As regrettable as that may or may not have been (which was publicly, very much discussed), it set the stage for change. In 1991, Chancellor Franz Vranitzky publicly acknowledged Austria's partial responsibility for the crimes of the Reich. In 1993, in Israel, he publicly acknowledged Austria's complicity in the Holocaust. Also in 1993, planning for The Austrian Encounter began and (independently) a Jewish museum opened in Vienna. In summer 1995, The Austrian Encounter first met in Vienna, independently, ARCHE (Plattform für Interkulturelle Projekte – Verein zur Gestaltung und Durchführung interkultureller Projekte) was also founded in 1995. Later in 1995, Austria announced a fund for payments to Holocaust survivors (although they have been harshly criticized for making the amounts far too small): the Nationalfonds der Republik Österreich für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus. Since 1995, Austria has become very active in the process of restitution for looted art and in 1998 created a commission to investigate the matter of Jewish property confiscated in Austria under the Reich: the Historikerkommission der Republik Österreich. Finally, The Austrian Encounter continues to meet in Austria.

[34] Wistrich, Robert S.: Austria and the Legacy of the Holocaust. In: AJCommittee News [press release], 12 February 1999

[35] See footnotes 13, 14

[36] Incidentally, after the fourth meeting, I discovered that my uncle (my father's elder brother, Jacob Macznik, a young but already renowned painter in Paris) was killed at Mauthausen within very few days of the liberation of the camp.

[37] A complicated family background in regard to the Holocaust is not unusual for Austrians. For instance, this participant had:

a) a father who (as a Catholic monarchist) became the head of a resistance group that included Jewish and gentile members and that operated until the end of 1939, when he was tried and convicted of treason and sentenced to death (which was commuted to life imprisonment); he was liberated from prison April in 1945;

b) a paternal great uncle who was an illegal Nazi party member in Austria in the early 1930s, later became an SS officer, and committed suicide at the end of the war;

c) a mother descended of Bohemian aristocracy on both sides;

d) a maternal grandfather who (as a Catholic monarchist and leftist social reformer) was killed in Dachau, but who was himself nonetheless an anti-Semite; and,

e) a maternal uncle who was coerced to join the Wehrmacht and was killed at Stalingrad.

[38] Gadschi or Gatschi is a Romani word parallel to the Yiddish word goyim and the wider meaning of the English word gentile, essentially meaning "the others" (in the Romani case, meaning non-Gypsies).

[39] Indeed, the fifth meeting was in the States in 2000, and the sixth will have taken place in Vienna in July 2001.

[40] The conference was conceived and initiated by Katherine Klinger (of Second Generation Trust), who also raised the initial funding.  Ultimately, the conference was created jointly by ARCHE (Vienna), Second Generation Trust (London) and [my translations]: Institute for Comparative Historiography (Berlin), Society for the Exploration of National Socialist Violent Crimes and their Redress (Vienna), Art and (Point). Society for the Promotion of Cultural Communication (Vienna), and Common Ground (Vienna).

[41] See footnote 10

[42] This is not meant to diminish in the slightest the very important (sometimes crucial), years-long, pioneering and related but qualitatively different efforts in Austria of Albert Lichtblau at the Institut für Geschichte, Universität Salzburg ["Institute for History, Salzburg University"]; of Martha Keil and Eleonore Lappin of the Institut für die Geschichte der Juden in Österreich ["Institute for the History of the Jews in Austria"]; of Brigitte Bailer-Galanda and Wolfgang Neugebauer of the Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes ["Austrian Resistance Archives"]; of Renate Erich of Romano Centro; of Alexander Friedmann, of Marianne Ringler, of Felix de Mendelssohn and of Karl Fallend (and others) in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy in Vienna; and, of too many others to enumerate here. Indeed, the efforts and products these and other people and institutions have made over decades (often in the face of considerable hardship and adversity) have for the most part set the stage upon which the activities of ARCHE, The Austrian Encounter and others have played pivotal roles.

[43] For background regarding Haider, see: Joerg Haider: The Rise of an Austrian Extreme Rightist, a February 2000 publication of the Anti-Defamation League at

[44] In 1986, Haider became the leader of his party. In 1989, he also became Landeshauptmann [governor] of Carinthia. He was forced to resign as governor in 1991 after saying Adolf Hitler had "sound employment policies", but became "deputy governor" and remained the head of the party. He was re-elected to the Nationalrat in 1992 and to the governorship in Carinthia in early 1999 (by gaining 42 % of the vote). Haider did not hold a national, governmental post but rather was national head of his political party (the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, or FPÖ) and it is that post which he has recently resigned. (Of note, around the same time, Haider became the defendant in a lawsuit brought in Austria by an Israeli who claimed right to the vast land holdings that Haider inherited.) He retains his post as governor of Carinthia. Some view his having stepped down from the national party post not so much as forced but rather as crafty and even Machiavellian of him, since although he ostensibly gave the post up he is nonetheless believed to have lost little or no national party power, control, or respect.