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Austria's first memorial for Nazi 'deserters'

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Austria's first memorial for Nazi 'deserters'
Detail of the memorial sculpture by Olaf Nicolai.
15:35 CEST+02:00
After years of debate a memorial to the thousands of people executed by the Nazis for deserting or refusing to serve in the military during World War II will be opened in Vienna on Friday.

Nazi military justice handed out more than 30,000 death sentences to soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians.

Most of the death sentences were given to deserters and “Wehrkraftzersetzer” (subverters of the war effort). Thousands of soldiers died at the front after being sentenced by the military courts to serve in “penal battalions”.

Any form of resistance, or support for deserters by civilians, was regarded as a political crime.

After the end of the war, survivors of this persecution were often met with rejection and hostility in Austria. After the war Austria saw itself as the “first victim” of German war policy, and viewed the service of Austrian soldiers in the German Wehrmacht as an act of duty, or even heroism.  

In 2009, the SPÖ, ÖVP and the Green Party voted to rehabilitate the victims of the Wehrmacht courts, and in 2010 the City of Vienna decided to erect a monument to the victims.

The sculpture by Olaf Nicolai is located in the city centre on Ballhausplatz, next to the chancellery.

It is in the form of a large “X” with an inscription which can only be read from above - quotes from a poem by Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay who was friends with many in Vienna’s experimental arts scene.

The committee in charge of finding a location decided against Heldenplatz, where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938, because it is already home to several other monuments.

The opening ceremony takes place on Friday October 24th at 11am, in the presence of President Heinz Fischer as well as 92-year-old Richard Wadani, who is one of the few surviving Wehrmacht deserters.

Preparations for similar memorials are underway in Bregenz and Linz.

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