Sunday 31 May 2015

Hitler's speech on the Heldenplatz, Vienna

From an untitled novel manuscript by journalist Elizabeth de Waal (b.1899), published posthumously by her grandson, Edmund de Waal:

Kuno Adler, who escaped to New York in 1938, returns to Vienna:
There he was, on the Ring: the massive pile of the Natural History Museum on his right, the ramp of the Parliament building on his left, beyond it the spire of the Town Hall, andin front of him the railings of the Volksgarten and the Burgplatz…He sat down on a bench in a deserted avenue, and wept.

In postwar Vienna, Adler finds only a mild kind of anti-Semitism, like a suppressed toothache, but the past is still very much alive.

He encounters a scientist who had worked in a concentration camp, testing and researching with the only biological material that can yield convincing results in the field of medical science (he says) -- not with rats and mice and rabbits, but with live human subjects…but I can tell you for your comfort that our material – I mean my colleagues’ material—were not Jews. They were gypsies.

The infamous Heldenplatz, where Hitler gave a triumphant speech from the balcony of the New Palace in 1938, is the locale of a new beginning for Adler. It is there that he sees the woman he loves. He describes the Heldenplatz in romantic terms:

What first meets the eye and impresses the mind are the broad avenues of chestnut trees lining it on three sides, chestnut trees that bear a profusion of red candles in the spring. They give the square its peaceful, almost countrified look; they are conducive to slow perambulation and quiet contemplation.

My own recollections of the Heldenplatz are very different. The New Palace was headquarters to the Allied Forces occupying Austria until 1955. Every week the armed guard rotated. American, French, British, and Russian soldiers took their turn. When the Russians were on duty, we children were told to take a different route to school. The Russians were known to harass passersby and shake them down, especially women and girls. To them the place was anything but conducive to quiet contemplation.

(Source: De Waal, The Exiles Return, 2013)

No comments:

Post a Comment