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www.jta.at - 01.05.2012

Feste der Freude

OUR JOYOUS CELEBRATIONS IN REMEMBRANCE OF MAUTHAUSEN

From May 5 through May 12, 2013, Austria publicly celebrates the Liberation of Concentration Camp Mauthausen in lavish, official fashion. What does this say about us?

I have long had misgivings about the use of the expression "Befreiungsfeier" (celebration of liberation) in this context. Reflection concerning how such atrocity could ever have occurred and why it was not interrupted sooner weighs far more heavily in my thoughts than any feeling of cause for celebration. Indeed, I can see no more cause for celebration than I can see for celebrating the aftermath of Hiroshima, the "survival" of Native America, the clearing of the smoke and debris at Ground Zero, or even the arrest and prosecution of a child molester.

What will the attendees of the Befreiungsfeier on May 12 at Mauthausen witness about the present? What if any of the few remaining camp survivors should step out of marching line to revisit the bunker area that housed the torture chambers, situated just above the crematoria? What if, standing in these rooms whose walls today are decorated top to bottom with the graffiti of contemporary visitors - mainly Austrian youths - the Befreiungsfeier participant should notice the numerous, variously sized, swastikas drawn or scratched into the walls? How will this bear on the spirit of celebration?

I will never forget the waking shock of finding myself trapped in the midst of some 5000 classical music aficionados, seated before a great stage erected at the depths of the infamous concentration camp quarry on May 7, 2000. There, celebrity guest Simon Rattle - himself a first-time visitor, not to Austria, of course, but to this most impenetrable patch of rock - faithfully conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and State Opera Chorus in Beethoven′s glorious 9th Symphony in all its euphonic bombast and its high-soaring, ground-Rattling "Ode to Joy".

Alongside other distinguished speakers, the Federal President himself personally opened the gala Befreiungsfeierlichkeiten. The birds sang along with the chorus and I thought the walls began to sweat in vaulted blood. Afterward, negotiating the "Stairs of Death" among the mass of audience clambering to decamp the Konzertpark quarry in the struggle to get back to its cars, I felt confronted with the barely surmountable challenge of escape, even in the present, from the snares of blithe incomprehension. My conscience suffers still today for ever having partaken in such grim form of celebration.

Warren Rosenzweig

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