In her column "Austrian Amnesia" [May 8] Mary McGrory, citing the case of former U.N. secretary general Kurt Waldheim, states that Austria should be denazified.
Austria was denazified. Under the law passed in February 1947, Nazi influence was effectively eliminated in Austria. This happened under the supervision of the Allied Powers (among them, of course, the United States). Within one year more than 100,000 former Nazis were removed from public office, thousands were put in jail and in 43 cases death sentences were pronounced by Austrian courts. Nazi activities are still banned by law, and offenses are criminally prosecuted. Nazi ideology is as abhorrent to the Austrians as to the people of this country.
It is simply not true that in 1938 all or most Austrians welcomed the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich. German troops marched into Austria two days before the referendum scheduled by the Austrian government on the issue of a free and independent Austria. Hitler knew quite well that a clear majority of the Austrian people would have pronounced themselves in favor of an independent Austria (estimates vary between 60 and 70 percent) and would not have welcomed the so-called Anschluss. When Hitler was greeted at the Heldenplatz in Vienna, 70,000 persons had already been put into jail and concentration camps by the Nazis.
Austria has not forgotten its past. Austrians also suffered tremendously from their involvement in the Third Reich. At the end of the war 247,000 Austrians drafted into the German Wehrmacht had been killed or missing in action. Some 35,300 Austrians had been executed or had died by the hands of the Gestapo because of their active resistance against the Nazis. Some 24,300 Austrian civilians had lost their lives in air attacks and other acts of war. Altogether almost 400,000 Austrians or 6 percent of the population, including more than 65,000 Austrian Jews, had perished during the Nazi period.
Although three-fourths of the Austrian population of today were not yet born or were still children at the time of the Holocaust, Austrians are not indifferent to history's greatest crime. Austrian students regularly visit a former concentration camp, and young Austrian soldiers pledged allegiance to democratic Austria at Mathausen.
Austrians are also not "waltzing away" from discussion of anti-Semitism. Great efforts are being made, particularly in the field of education, to deal with remnants of anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. Recent surveys indicate that anti-Semitism in Austria is not higher than in most other countries, including the United States. A poll of June 1985 has shown anti-Semitic tendencies in 3 to 10 percent of the Austrian population, with the lowest percentage among the younger and better educated groups.
Ever since its re-establishment as an independent and sovereign state, Austria has made every effort to play a useful and constructive role in the international community of nations. Austria has become a country of asylum for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from persecution and oppression. It serves as the only way station for Soviet Jews who were allowed to emigrate; since 1968 260,000 haved passed through Austria. At the 1984 commemoration of the Holocaust, Austria received the Humanitarian Award for its role in the Jewish Refugee Program. Austrians were also active in securing the release of Israeli prisoners of war and helping to allow Ethiopian Jews to emigrate.
Austria is aware that in order to overcome the legacy of the past still more will have to be done in the future. Not to forget, but to heal and reconcile. To pass summary judgment over Austria and its people in blatant disregard of historical facts and the country's postwar record is surely not the way to achieve this objective.