On Sunday evening the Vienna Symphony Orchestra performed a free concert on Vienna’s Heldenplatz, as part of a “Festival of Joy” – including Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and Arnold Schönberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw.
Speakers at the event stressed that people must remain vigilant in the face of rising right-wing extremism – and made reference to Austria’s presidential election, in which the far-right Freedom Party’s candidate Norbert Hofer is the bookies’ favourite to be elected in the May 22nd run-off.
Willi Mernyi, chairman of the Mauthausen Committee, criticised Hofer for saying that May 8th was not a day of joy, as so many people had died during the war. “For us, May 8th is a day of joy, because the killing stopped,” Mernyi said. Hofer has since clarified his statements, saying that he meant that the end of the war was a day of joy, but war itself was no cause for joy because of the suffering of its victims.
Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) said it was a day to remember when suffering and injustice came to an end in Austria, but that there are still people who have a different view on this and that a growing right-wing extremist movement must be “fought with great strength”. He added that in 1933 events had been kicked off with right-wing graffiti and that this could be seen today.
Health Minister Sabine Oberhauser (SPÖ) said that Austria had given tens of thousands of people refuge from war and persecution last year and now the task was to enable people to live together with mutual respect and appreciation.
Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, who is also the head of the ÖVP, emphasized the European Union’s peacemaking role and warned that “nationalism is dangerous, and is often the basis for conflict and war”. He said that member states must act in solidarity, and prevent Europe from breaking apart.
Holocaust survivor Rudolf Gelbard remembered the waves of arrests and killings as the Nazis took power in Austria and stressed the need to learn from history: “We survivors are not only committed to the dead, but also to future generations. We need to share our experience, so that they can learn from it… We cannot be wrong a second time and view as harmless what could end in catastrophe,” he said.
On May 8th, 1945 Germany’s armed forces surrendered unconditionally. A few days earlier, on May 5th, Allied troops liberated the Mauthausen concentration camp in Upper Austria.