In the heart of Vienna stands a monument against war and fascism, warning the world of the horrors perpetuated by dictatorial whims and territorial greed
“Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it kills them,” philosopher Jean Paul Sartre has said. The world has time and again been witness to and a victim of this destructive force which has since been established as a common enemy of humanity and civilisation, in the words of author and journalist, Christopher Hitchens.
In order to remember the horrors of fascism and warn the coming generations of its dangers, memorials and monuments against war and fascism have been built across the world, especially in places that have borne the brunt of fascist regimes.
In the heart of Vienna in Austria, stands one such monument against war and fascism, in remembrance of the victims of the Nazi regime in Austria (1938-45) and those killed in air raids of World War II.
Designed by Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka (1928-2009) the granite, sandstone, marble and bronze walk-in memorial is dedicated to all victims of war and fascism everywhere.
During World War II, Vienna was bombed 52 times and 87,000 houses of the city were lost (20 per cent of the entire city). The Philipphof, an imposing block of apartments built during the prosperous final quarter of the 19 century near the iconic State Opera House was hit on March 12, 1945. Around 300 people who had taken refuge in its cellars, died in the air raid. The exact number of the dead has never been verified as bodies could not be recovered from the rubble. For this reason, it was deemed during the commemorative year of 1988, to be an appropriate site for the city of Vienna to place a Monument against War and Fascism.
At the front of the square, stands the Gate of Violence, constructed from Mauthausen granite, identical to the stone that thousands of prisoners were forced to carry up the Steps of Death at Mauthausen Concentration Camp. This split-gate structure - sculpture Hinterland Front - is made of white Carrara marble and recalls the Nazi mass murders in other prisons and concentration camps. It also perpetrates the memory of those killed while working for the Resistance and of those victimised on the grounds of their national, religious or ethnic membership as well as of their mental and physical disability or their sexual orientation.
The second monument at the square, a group of figures - Hero’s Death, is also made from white Carrara marble and is dedicated to the memory of all victims of war.
Behind the structure is the kneeling figure of The Street-washing Jew in bronze. National Socialist leaders began by terrorising Jews and political opponents. With Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria on March 12, 1938, Jewish men and women were forced to clean the streets and buildings of graffiti and slogans. The ‘Street-washing Jew’ recalls the degradation that foreshadowed persecution and murder.
Behind it, the Stone of the Republic bears excerpts from the declaration of reestablishment of the Republic of Austria in 1945.
About the fourth monument, Orpheus entering the Hades’, the artist is reported to have said that it refers to the bombing of victims in the cellars of Philipphofs. “Who has sought refuge there, enter hell. Secondly, Orpheus is a salute to opera, theatre and Albertina Museum…As for the road washing Jew, anyone can tell what happened in Auschwitz, I do not know…but what happened in Vienna, the Viennese have the need to know...the gate of violence is about back country and front war…And finally a very optimistic thing, Declaration of Independence of Austria, carved into large granite,” the artist said.
Keywords: Vienna in Austria