Historical Social Research

Gerhard Botz: A “War Child” as a Historian of Austria’s Nazi Past [2016] [Abstract]

This article presents four interwoven lines of argumentation: first, it describes the trajectory of a common Austrian in the first half of the 20th century, my father, his political inclinations towards authoritarianism and Nazism, and his "career" and death as a Wehrmacht soldier in the light of changing societal and political contexts; secondly, the author's process of interpreting scarce written documents, photographs, and vague oral accounts in an attempt to establish some historic "truth" is reported; third, this ("traditional") historiographical work is juxtaposed with Austria's conflicting "collective memories" since the 1960s and with the historical-political struggles around prominent Austrian figures (like Waldheim, Friedrich Peter, and other forgetful or silent participants in the Nazi war of extermination or the NSDAP and the SS) in which the author himself participated actively. In this way, the recent cultural historical dimensions of a modern (and successful) European state which has been struggling to come to terms with a strong dictatorial past are illuminated. But the author also discovers as a "participant observer" or "ego-historian" in how fragile and deceptive his own critical opinions and attempts to overcome the Nazi structures of his own society had been: they have unconsciously and indirectly perpetuated taboos about a harmful past and influenced his political as well as professional activities.


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