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Austria wasn't 'ambivalent' about Nazis

MacDonell Moore, a bomber pilot during World War II, recounts his tale of being helped out by Austrian soldiers who defied orders to turn him in after his plane was shot down over enemy territory. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

The Sun's fascinating story of the fate of the B-24 bomber crew that crash landed in Austria during World War II grossly mischaracterizes the attitude of Austrians towards the Nazis as being "deeply mixed" and "ambivalent." ("Former Army pilot recalls little-known WWII tragedy, the mates who didn't make it," March 5.)

As noted by historian A.J.P. Taylor, the Nazis' 1938 annexation of Austria was accomplished not by invading, but by "marching in to the general enthusiasm of the population." Just a month earlier, Hitler had been cheered by some 250,000 Austrians in Vienna, and after the annexation, a half million Austrians lined Vienna's imperial Ringstrasse to raucously welcome him. In a plebiscite held on April 10, 1938, Austrians voted 99.7 percent in favor of their country's union with Nazi Germany. Historians agree that the result genuinely reflected the willingness of Austrians to join the Nazi movement.

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No less ambivalent was Austria's conduct after the annexation. Prior to being deported and murdered, Vienna's Jews were viciously and sadistically attacked by an Austrian population which supplied nearly 75 percent of the staff of Nazi concentration camps and which boasted a higher percentage of Nazi party members than did Germany.

To this day, Austria has failed to come to terms with its past and instead views itself as the "first victims" of the Nazis. It is unfortunate that The Sun's otherwise commendable article contributes to this whitewashing of history.

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Jay Bernstein, Baltimore

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