The Austrian government inaugurated on Tuesday a $7 million Holocaust memorial monument on the anniversary of the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms, listing the names of 64,440 Holocaust victims.
The “Shoah Wall of Names” that city and central government officials unveiled in Vienna lists the names on 160 granite slabs, and is the result of years of lobbying by commemoration activists for a major monument that reflects both the scope of the Holocaust and its individual victims.
Kurt Yakov Tutter, a Holocaust survivor of Austrian descent, initiated the idea for the monument, which in 2018 received government funding and the go-ahead to be built at Ostarrichi Park in the capital.
“My sister and I now have a place, in our hometown, where we can cry for our parents” who were deported to Auschwitz, Tutter told Austrian media.
Karoline Edtstadler, a cabinet minister in charge of the Chancellor’s office, said in a statement ahead of the unveiling ceremony that the country was “sending out a visible sign of its responsibility.”
“The victims are given their names and thus at least part of their dignity. And we realize that behind the 64,440 names, there are individual people — children, mothers, fathers and neighbors — with individual stories and human fates,” she said in the statement.
Austrian governments had maintained until the early 2000s that the country, which Nazi Germany in 1938 annexed without bloodshed amid mass displays of enthusiasm by the population, was primarily a victim of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, rather than a willing collaborator.
But amid criticism on this attitude, Austrian leaders have since acknowledged their nation and society’s active role in the murder of about 65,000 Austrian Jews, the vast majority of the country’s Jewish population in 1938. About 50,000 of the victims came from Vienna.
“We looked away for too long, until we realized our role as perpetrators of the crimes and the historical responsibility that comes with it,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at the ceremony.
The Kristallnacht — or “Night of Broken Glass” — pogroms of 1938 were particularly violent in Austria, where hundreds of Jews were made to clean sidewalks as crowds cheered at their humiliation. Many historians see the pogroms, which Nazi Germany initiated, as both a trial balloon and opening shot of the genocidal violence of the Holocaust.
In both Austria and Germany, projections were planned in the evening of synagogues in 18 cities that were destroyed or damaged by the Nazis.
The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, which organizes the virtual reconstructions together with the World Jewish Congress, warned that knowledge of the Kristallnacht events is declining.
“The pogrom of 1938, which at the time did not provoke widespread protests by citizens, should always be remembered in Germany as a warning,” Josef Schuster said.