Obituary: Hellmut Andics

David Childs
Thursday 20 August 1998 23:02

HELLMUT ANDICS was a prominent Austrian writer and journalist who spent his life attempting to get to grips with his country's history.

Born into an officer's family in 1922 he was forced early on to confront questions of loyalty to the state. Some officers had to take the oath of loyalty several times having started their careers under the Hamburg monarchy, continued under the republican government after 1918, then under Dollfuss's authoritarian regime of 1934-38, and finally being incorporated into Hitler's Wehrmacht in 1938. Like many Austrians of his generation Andics asked himself the question, "Am I Austrian or am I German?"

Andics was persuaded to take up a "solid" profession and trained as an engineer but drifted into the precarious life of journalism after 1945. Although for political reasons classified by the Allies as a victim of Nazism, Austria was placed under four-power occupation. Perhaps a third of Austrians had supported the Nazis and many others had been caught up in the early enthusiasm of the 1938 Anschluss. As the new republic emerged after 1945 and the battle for hearts and minds raged, many questions were swept under the carpet. Andics' restless spirit and inquiring mind attempted to raise them.

Andics started on local papers covering trials, which occasionally brought him into contact with Nazi reality. From 1948 to 1951 he studied and worked in Sweden and the United States. He was soon writing for leading Austrian and Swiss papers including Die Presse and Der Kurier. From1964 he worked for the radio and then for television as scriptwriter, presenter and director.

He wrote over 40 television plays. Among his best known were Der Fall Arthur Nebe ("The Arthur Nebe Case", 1964) and Gnade fur Timothy Evans ("Mercy For Timothy Evans", 1969), both based on actual events. Nebe was a policeman and well-known detective who had joined the Nazi Party in 1931 disillusioned with democracy because of his acquaintance with the Berlin underworld. He rose to head the criminal police department but later joined the resistance to Hitler. He stayed at his post on behalf of the resistance, an example of someone involved in evil in order to prevent worse.

The Evans case, in which an innocent man was convicted of murder and hanged - he was lodging at the same address as the mass murderer John Christie - fascinated Andics because of Britain's civilised image. It was a hard lesson to learn that even here an innocent man could be hanged. His series Ringstraenpalais, named after the famous Vienna street, revealed the contrasts between the "good old days" image of Vienna and the grim reality of its slums.

Andics' books were usually well-received and again he turned to major themes which Austrians needed to confront. In Der Ewige Jude Ursachen und Geschichtedes Antisemitismus ("The Eternal Jew: origins and history of anti-Semitism") he sought to clarify how the Holocaust could happen and Austria's part in it. This is a theme still much debated today. Der Fall Otto Habsburg ("The Otto Habsburg Case") raised issues concerning Austria's former ruling family. In 1968 50 Jahre Unseres Lebens ("50 Years Of Our Lives") appeared. This is a 740-page history of Austria since 1918 to which one can return again and again.

In 1967 Andics went to live in the province of Burgenland, bordering on the Iron Curtain, and therefore the least popular place in Austria and sparsely populated. Although helped by EU funds, it has suffered recently from competition from its low-wage neighbours. Andics used his energy and journalistic skills to promote the area. He was director (1982-86) of the regional television station there.

David Childs

Hellmut Andics, writer and journalist: born Vienna 25 August 1922; married 1945 Gertrud Cermak (two sons); died Vienna 18 August 1998.

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