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Over half of Austrians think the Nazis would be elected if the party was readmitted to politics

75 years after Hitler annexed country, poll reveals worrying views about banned party

As Austria prepares to mark the anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany, an opinion poll has shown that more than half of the population think it highly likely that the Nazis would be elected if they were readmitted as a party.

A further 42 per cent agreed with the view that life “wasn’t all bad under the Nazis”, and 39 per cent said they thought a recurrence of anti-Semitic persecution was likely in Austria.

The disturbing findings were contained in a poll conducted for the Vienna newspaper, “Der Standard” in advance of Tuesday’s 75th anniversary of Austria’s Nazi annexation - a date which still counts as one of the most shameful and controversial in the country’s history.

Tens of thousands of Austrians gave Adolf Hitler and his troops a rapturous welcome when they invaded the country unopposed in March 1938. Austria fought World War II as part of Nazi Germany and many Austrians helped run Nazi death camps. Yet for decades, post-war Austria frequently perpetuated the myth that it was a victim of Nazi oppression. Der Standard said its poll was designed to show how today’s Austrians judged Nazi rule.

Neighbouring Germany’s popular “Stern” magazine described the poll’s findings as shocking today. The poll also showed that 61 per cent of Austrian adults wanted to see a “strong man” in charge of government, and 54 per cent said they thought it would be “highly likely” that the Nazis would win seats in they were allowed to take part in an election.

Some 46 per cent of those polled said they believed Austria was a victim of Nazi oppression in 1938, while 61 per cent said they believed that “enough” had been done to reappraise Austria’s Nazi past.

The poll’s damning findings have been echoed by organisations such as the Israel office of the Simon Weisenthal Center which, among other things, has accused Austria of a “consistently terrible record” on tracking down Holocaust perpetrators over the past 30 years.

In an attempt to improve Austria’s record on Nazi-era reappraisal, the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra announced yesterday that it would publish details about its Nazi collaboration during the Third Reich. The move follows allegations that the orchestra has whitewashed its past.

The orchestra is expected to reveal that it expelled 13 musicians because they were Jewish or opposed the Nazi annexation, and that some of its members were Nazis themselves. Five of those expelled are believed to have later died in concentration camps.