The monument to the 65,000 Viennese Jews who were victims of the Holocaust stands in the centre of the city’s Judenplatz.
It is remarkably restrained: a concrete box. But its sides are made as books – 65,000 books – with the spines on the inside and the pages facing out, so that its stories cannot be read, not even their titles.
Now dig another layer: this is the site, the exact site, where the Vienna synagogue stood until it was destroyed in 1421, the Jews forcibly converted, murdered or expelled.
But it is the plaque that stands alongside the monument that makes me skip a breath:
This memorial commemorates the 65,000 Viennese Jews who were murdered during the Nazi regime.
That “during” elides the whole issue. This what occured in this when, we are informed, but we are not to be told of the why, or even a how, and absolutely not by whom. It is a science fiction episode, when a mysterious cloud arrives from space and 65,000 Jews disappear.
It’s a Viennese thing, I think, this slipping past of history.
We went to the Belvedere the day before. A sprawling and delicious summer palace built in the early 18th century for Prince Eugene of Savoy, the Austrian’s premier military genius, which now hosts a magnificent collection of art ranging from the 15th to the 20th centuries. And none of it, none of it, dared mention 1848 or 1918 or 1938 or 1945. Not even 1683, which was a victory! For bloody Eugene!
It was as if politics and geography and economics never happened and had no relationship to art.
There’s a funny thing about the Belvedere. In 1945 the Soviets built themselves a victory monument, slap bang in front of Eugene’s palace, just to put him in his place. The inscription is in Cyrillic, which is another way of asserting dominance, and the whole thing oozes “We beat you once, and we’ll bloody do it again if we have to.”
But this monument does not appear on the maps or guides, and there is no explanation for it. It is clean and well-maintained and lit in the evening, but it’s as if there’s a genteel agreement to pretend not to see it, and we would certainly not be so rude as to talk about it.
As I write this I am sitting in Demel’s, one of the old-time Viennese cafes. It is all high ceilings and wood panelling and fabulous little cakes and heart attack hot chocolates. It is a confectionary conceit, pretending that nothing of any merit has really happened since the pomp of Vienna’s fin-de-siecle moment. Good Franz Joseph is still on his throne, the Dual Monarchy stretches in all directions, the uniforms are gorgeous, Mozart and Strauss reign supreme.
News of the birth of a young A. Hitler just up the road in Braunau am Inn has yet to arrive.