Holocaust Education: 38 Memory Sites
Click to download individual lessons. © Kate Melchior 2014
LESSON 3 and 4
THE VIENNA PROJECT TEACHING UNIT: TEACHER’S GUIDE
- To increase their awareness of memorials and remembrance practices
- -improve consciousness of monuments and memorials
- -the ability to consider remembrance practices critically
- To learn about the various victim groups targeted by National Socialism in Austria
- To gain a deeper understanding in how thorough a system can be in oppressing its citizens
- To have a taste or flavor of the experience of oppression
- To deepen their understanding of the city of Vienna and its history
- To reinforce historical learning by tying it to place and physical experience
- To introduce students to the aftermath of WWII (post-war experiences, restitution and memory); to improve their awareness of how these events shape the world they live in today
- To practice skills of research and presentation
- To allow students to practice performing research and presenting in English (when applicable)
Lesson 1: HISTORY AND MEMORY
Students will discuss the ideas of history and memory and how they relate to each other. They will then relate these ideas to their own exposure to the history and memory of WWII and the Holocaust. Finally, they will consider the importance of historical “remembrance” and how it relates to historical “knowledge.” This lesson will prepare students for discussions on memorials and historical memory after their participation in the Vienna Project tours.
Suggested Grade Level: ages 14-18
Lesson 2: AUSTRIAN VICTIMS OF NATIONAL SOCIALISM
Students will review their knowledge of WWII and Austria’s role in the history of National Socialism. They will then learn about the different targeted victim groups in Austria. Lastly, students will discuss their familiarity and knowledge of these different groups, and consider whether any of these groups face persecution in the present day.
Suggested Grade Level: ages 14-18
Lesson 3 & 4: THE VIENNA PROJECT HISTORICAL TOURS
Over the course of these two lessons, students will develop their own class tour of The Vienna Project, based on The Vienna Project’s original programming. The Vienna Project created three tour frameworks that tie a range of sites together in a thematic journey that can be made on foot or with public transport.
Suggested Grade Level: ages 14-18
Lesson 5: REFLECTION
Students will reflect on the TVP units they have taken part in, and debrief about the information they have learned, and discuss their reactions to the memorial project itself. Students will then develop proposals for their own suggested memorial project for Vienna or for their own home city.
Suggested Grade Level: Ages 14-18
VICTIM GROUPS Works cited
By the early 1900s, Vienna had the third largest Jewish population in Europe. Almost all of Austria’s 200,000 Jewish citizens lived in Vienna, making up almost 10% of the city’s population. Many Jewish families were very active in the city’s economic, political, and artistic scene—in 1934, 85% of the lawyers, 75% of the bankers and 52% of the physicians in Vienna were Jewish.
After Austria’s annexation into Nazi Germany in 1938, the authorities immediately began to introduce the anti-Jewish laws into Austria, renamed the “Ostmark”. For example, Jewish people with public careers lost their jobs, Jewish children had to go to separate “Jew” schools, and Jewish people were banned from public venues such as movie theaters and opera halls. The Nazis also arrested many people and sent them to work camps, and they closed or took over hundreds of Jewish businesses. There was a huge surge in random against Jewish people, and not only from Nazi soldiers—many Austrian citizens attacked their Jewish neighbors and stole their homes and property. Many Jews tried to leave the country, but it was a difficult and expensive process.
The November 1938 attack on Jewish citizens (called “Kristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass) by the Nazis) was especially severe in Austria. 42 Jewish temples and synagogues were burned (almost all in the city), Jewish homes and businesses were looted and destroyed, and over 6,500 Jews were arrested—over half of them were sent to concentration camps. Jews began to emigrate even faster. Between 1938 and 1940, 117,000 Jews left Austria. For those who were left in the city, many were expelled from their homes and forced to live in overcrowded assembly flats with hundreds of others and little heat or food.
After war broke out, it became very difficult for Jews to leave Austria, and the Nazis began organizing mass deportations of Austrian Jews to ghettos in Eastern Europe or to concentration camps. Conditions were terrible for those living in the ghettos, and many died from starvation and disease. Many Austrian Jews never made it to the ghettos—thousands were shot by Einsatzgruppen (travelling killing units) shortly after arriving. By 1942 only about 7,000 Jews were left in Austria, and most of those who remained were either married to non-Jews or in hiding.
In 1942, the National Socialists officially began the “Final Solution,” their plan to kill all of the Jews, Roma, and Sinti in the Third Reich. Instead of sending Jews and other “undesirables” to ghettos outside of the country, they began to send them extermination and concentration camps to murder them.
At the end of the war, out of a population of almost 200,000 Jews in Austria, only about 5,500 remained. Over 65,000 Austrian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. After the war ended, it was very difficult for Jews to get reparations from the Austrian government at first, as Austria considered itself to be a victim of Hitler and not responsible for paying for other victims. Limited reparation funds were set up in 1956 and 1961. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a number of other programs were set up to pay for stolen property and businesses, health care for survivors, reparations, and more.
The Roma and Sinti have lived in Europe for over 800 years, and are today the largest minority group in Europe (with about 10 to 15 million people). This minority is made up of cultural groups called “tribes” or “nations.” The groups were historically grouped together under the title “gypsies,” but many find this title impolite because it is incorrect and the name often carries many negative stereotypes attached to it.
In the early 1900’s, various Roma and Sinti tribes lived and worked in diverse fields—as farmers, artisans and craftworkers, musicians, business people, merchants, and many other careers. In the early 1930’s, between 11,000 and 12,000 Roma and Sinti lived in Austria, and the majority had settled in Burgenland—more than 8,000 Roma and Sinti lived in 130 villages and settlements throughout the region.
Roma and Sinti have long faced discrimination in Europe, and during the economic stresses of the interwar period this persecution increased. As the economy became worse, people began moving back from the city to their smaller hometowns to take the jobs that Roma had been performing, and they resented the competition for work. Roma and Sinti were forced to have a special permit to work and to have special registration papers in European countries, and scientists promoted racist theories that Roma and Sinti were lesser humans and “genetically criminal”.
When the Nazis came into power, the same racist restrictions that they made against Jews were also made against Roma and Sinti, even if their case was more complex since Nazis believed they had “Aryan” origins. Furthermore, the National Socialists believed that Roma and Sinti were biologically “born criminals” and passed laws regarding “crime prevention”: the laws stated that since Roma, Sinti, and other “asocial” people were genetically predisposed to be criminals, they could be arrested even if they had not committed a crime. They also forcibly sterilized thousands of Roma and Sinti to prevent them from having children.
Immediately after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, they began arresting thousands of Roma and Sinti and deporting them to concentration camps. In 1939, they imprisoned all remaining free Roma and Sinti in labor camps and ghettos in Austria. In 1942, the National Socialists officially began the “Final Solution,” their plan to kill all of the Jews, Roma, and Sinti in the Third Reich. They sent all of the Roma and Sinti in Austria and other Nazi ghettos to extermination and concentration camps.
Out of the approximately 11,000 Roma and Sinti living in Austria before 1938, around 1,500 survived Nazi persecution, by far the victim group suffering the highest percentage of loss of life. . After the war, it was nearly impossible for surviving Roma and Sinti to get restitution from the Austrian government—since their property had not been necessarily listed in official paperwork, they were unable to prove that their homes and belongings had been stolen by the Nazis. Roma and Sinti survivors did not receive any individual aid from the Austrian State until 1961.
The Romani have their own name for the Roma Genocide-—the Porojamos (the Devouring) or Samudaripen (“Mass Killing”). It is also often referred to as “The Forgotten Genocide”– it took decades for Roma and Sinti across Europe to gain restitution and recognition. In fact, the Austrian concentration camp of Lackenbach where Roma were imprisoned during the war was not even listed as an official concentration camp until 1988. Even today there is much less research and fewer memorials to the murdered Roma and Sinti than there are for other victim groups.
Before Hitler’s rise to power, homosexual acts were illegal in both Germany and Austria (as well as in the USA, the United Kingdom, Hungary, and many other countries, both before and after the war). Germany and many of these countries had laws against sexual acts between two men, and Austria laws banned same-sex relationships between both men and women illegal.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, the laws against homosexuality became even stronger. First Hitler began by banning all homosexual groups and imprisoned many men. The Gestapo began collecting “pink lists” of suspected homosexual men from lists that the police had made. In 1935 the section of the German Criminal Code known as “Paragraph 175” which banned homosexual acts was made stronger, and the punishments much worse. When Austria was annexed into the German Reich in 1938, their laws against gay men and women were also strengthened.
Nazis saw homosexuality as a disease and believed that true German men should be having traditional relationships, having children, and adding more people to the “Aryan” nation. Unlike those who were persecuted for racial reasons (such as Jewish, Roma and Sinti peoples), the goal of Nazi punishment was to “cure” gay men through punishment and hard labor. Female homosexuality was considered dangerous to Nazi ideas and women were targeted less by police, but they still suffered a great deal under these strict laws. For example, women who were accused of being gay might be sent to prison or camps under the category “asocial” instead of “homosexual”. In Austria women could also be prosecuted and sent to jail for being suspected lesbians.
Punishments for homosexuality were severe. Depending on the mood of the judge, it was possible to be punished with a number of years in prison, and in later years even sentenced to death. After being released from prison, or even if found not guilty, men often were taken into “protective custody” in a concentration camp. In the camps, victims were forced to wear a pink triangle and were often treated particularly harshly by the guards and subjected to medical experiments by doctors. Often, the only way to escape imprisonment was to submit to castration. It is estimated that between 10 and 15,000 men were sent to concentration camps under the category of the pink triangle. In addition, many others were sent to prison and either died or were executed there.
After the war, it was very difficult for homosexual men and women to get restitution or to be recognized as victims of the Nazis. It was still illegal to be homosexual after the war in both Germany and Austria, and in some cases the men were kept in prison after 1945, even after having been in a concentration camp. Due to homophobic laws and social views, it took a very long time before countries started to pay reparations to homosexual victims or to build memorials that recognized them. Vienna recently made plans to build such a memorial, but the project ran into technical difficulties and was abandoned in 2007. No official attempts have been made since then.
Early during their development, the Nazis began to suppress several Christian minorities whom they felt were subversive to their goals. Even before the war, Jehovah’s Witnesses had been considered heretics by other Christian denominations and individual German states sought to limit their activities. In the early 1930′s, Nazi storm troopers broke up their meetings and beat up individual Witnesses. After the Nazis came to power, the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses intensified. On July 27, 1933, the Gestapo–the Nazi street police–closed the printing operation of the Watchtower Society, an organization of the Witnesses. The Gestapo ordered all state-police precincts to search regional Witness groups and organizations. The Witnesses, however, defied Nazi prohibitions by continuing to meet and distribute literature smuggled in from Switzerland. For defying the ban on their activities, many Witnesses were arrested and sent to prisons and concentration camps. They lost their jobs in both private industry and public service and were denied their unemployment, social welfare, and pension benefits. On April 1, 1935, Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned by law. However, they refused to be drafted into the military services or perform war-related work and continued to meet. In 1935, some 400 Witnesses were imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. By 1939, an estimated 6,000 Witnesses were detained in prisons and camps. Some were tortured by police to force them to renounce their faith. Few did so. The children of Witnesses also suffered. They were ridiculed by their teachers because they refused to give the “Heil Hitler” salute or sing patriotic songs. They were beaten up by their classmates and expelled from schools. The authorities took children away from their parents and sent them to reform schools and orphanages, or to private homes to be brought up as Nazis. In the concentration camps, Jehovah’s Witnesses were required to wear a purple triangle to distinguish them from other inmates. Many of them died from disease, hunger, exhaustion, brutal treatment, and exposure to the cold. About 10,000 Witnesses were imprisoned in concentration camps during the Nazi period. An estimated 2,500 to 5,000 died.
Shulman, William L. A State of Terror: Germany 1933-1939. Bayside, New York: Holocaust Resource Center and Archives. Retrieved online 19 September 2014 < http://jehovah.to/gen/holocaust/>
Nazi racial theory was based on a twisted version of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Nazis thought that in order to create a genetically perfect “Aryan” society, they had to “cleanse” the gene pool of people they found to be inferior. This group included people with physical or mental disabilities, mental illnesses, genetic diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, and alcoholism. Nazi doctors used the medical system to get rid of people that they found to be genetically “undesirable” through neglect, experimentation, and murder.
After the annexation of Austria into the German Reich, the public health Department for Genetic and Racial Hygiene (“Erb- und Rassenpflege”) within the Main Health Office began mass screenings of the Austrian population to make lists of people that were viewed as bad for the Aryan gene pool. The Nazis began by performing forced sterilization of people who they did not want to have children, such as people in psychiatric hospitals, juvenile delinquents, or people with non-white parents. Over 6,000 people were sterilized through this program in Austria.
In 1939, as war broke out, Nazis moved from forced sterilization to murder. Afraid of protests, the program was carried out in secret under the code name Operation T4. Institutions and hospitals would fill out questionnaires about their patient’s ability to work, and based on these surveys a physician would decide whether the patient should live or be “euthanized.” Most of those who were selected to die were sent to killing centers and gassed, a model later used to kill millions in concentration camps. Others were poisoned or used in hospital experiments, such as tests for tuberculosis vaccines. Hospital workers and doctors would then lie to family members about the cause of death, telling them that their loved ones had died naturally of disease.
Secrecy broke down quickly however, and in response to protests the program Operation T4 was ended. However, the killing continued unofficially. Instead of sending patients to killing centers, victims were killed through starvation, lethal injection, or neglect.
In Austria, the center of euthanasia operations was the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt “Am Steinhof” in Vienna (today’s Otto Wagner Hospital). Between 1940 and 1945 the so-called “children’s ward” Am Spiegelgrund murdered hundreds of sick or disabled children and young adults. Thousands of other adult victims were sent to Hartheim Castle near Linz and murdered by gassing or by starvation.
Most Austrian victims of Nazi medicine were not recognized as official victims by the Austrian government until the 1990s. Many doctors involved in euthanasia programs did not go to jail but instead continued their careers as medical professionals and psychiatrists. For example, Dr. Heinrich Gross from the Spiegelgrund clinic continued to work in medicine and to use the remains of victims from “Am Spiegelgrund” in his medical research until as late as the 1980s. Most of the remains were finally buried in a memorial grave in the Vienna Central Cemetery in 2002, and a Spiegelgrund memorial was built in 2012 to bury the rest.
 Or those declared to be so. This label was applied far beyond who would today be considered to have a mental or physical disability or illness, and was often used to categorize those who the Nazis found “asocial” or nonconforming.