VIENNA -- Austria's two largest political parties quarreled recently over what a history brochure for eighth graders should say about chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who was murdered by Austrian Nazis in 1934.

The conservative People's Party still reveres Dollfuss as "Hitler's first victim." The Socialists, whose political predecessors were crushed in bloody street fighting on Dollfuss' orders, stress instead that his authoritarian government paved the way for the Nazi takeover here.

The squabble illustrated this nation's awkward ambivalence about its role as a part of the Third Reich from 1938 to 1945. From the classroom to the family dinner table, issues have been revived that the country preferred to ignore for decades.

The debate over Austria's Nazi past has sharpened because of next month's 50th anniversary of Germany's absorption of Austria, which is the subject of the school brochure, and because of the continuing controversy over President Kurt Waldheim's World War II record.

"Mr. Waldheim is a symbol of this country. He lives with a black hole of seven years in his memory," said Trautl Brandsteller, chief of the Society, Youth and Family Department of Austria's broadcasting network ORF.

The Waldheim affair "makes clear not only to the international public but also to Austrians that we don't have a clear relationship to our past," she said.

A report on Waldheim's war record, issued Monday by an international panel of historians, has placed the subject at the forefront of national debate. The report, which was more critical than expected, has eroded support for Waldheim even among his backers in the People's Party.

The six-member panel found that Waldheim sought for decades to conceal his record as a staff lieutenant with a German Army unit that waged a brutal campaign in the Balkans from 1942 to 1945. The panel found no evidence that Waldheim was personally guilty of committing war crimes, but the report was widely interpreted here and abroad as formally endorsing longstanding charges that Waldheim repeatedly lied about his past.

"The president's moral authority has been battered by the report," Helmut Kukacka, secretary general of the People's Party, said.

Some Austrian newspaper reports suggested last week that Waldheim may be forced to resign before the official commemorative ceremonies March 11.

That is the anniversary of the resignation in 1938 of Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, who opposed the Anschluss, or annexation. German troops marched into Austria on the following day, and the annexation was proclaimed officially on March 13.

It is highly uncertain, however, whether the People's Party will turn against the man it backed for the presidency in 1986. Even if the conservatives withdrew their support, Waldheim may choose to defy the political establishment and remain in office, according to Austrian and foreign political experts.

"The mood in the country is very fragile. Basically it will depend on public opinion," said a senior Socialist Party official who favors Waldheim's resignation. "I think he would resign only under extreme pressure."

Even before the report was issued, Waldheim's participation in the Anschluss anniversary ceremonies had caused political difficulties. The opposition Greens Party, which groups pacifists and environmentalists, threatened to boycott a parliamentary commemorative session if Waldheim spoke at it.

In his largely ceremonial position of president and chief of state, Waldheim normally would make such an address.

Partly as a result of the Greens' threat, the planned official ceremony was shifted from the parliament chamber to a conference center in the Hofburg Palace, Austrian officials said. Waldheim will speak there, together with Chancellor Franz Vranitzky and other government leaders.

Commemoration of the Anschluss would have been a sensitive and painful affair for Austrians under the best of circumstances.

The theme of the official ceremonies will emphasize that Austria lost its sovereignty in 1938 and that the democracy built since World War II is strong and able to resist any future efforts to establish a dictatorship, according to Socialist and conservative officials.

That view matches the way the event is taught in the schools and how both big parties have treated it since the war.

Austria, unlike West Germany, has been able to denigrate its Nazi past to a large extent because the Allies during the war declared that Austria was Germany's "first victim."

The declaration was made partly to encourage Austrian resistance, and the western allies supported that stance after the war to foster anti-Soviet feeling.

But some Austrian critics say that approach lays too much stress on the view that Hitler, by assembling a threatening force of German troops on the border in 1938, forced annexation on a recalcitrant Austria.

The critics contend that such an interpretation gives inadequate attention to the support for the Anschluss from substantial numbers of Nazi sympathizers and from Austrians who had favored union with Germany long before Hitler came to power.

"We say we were victims {of Germany}, but we were not only victims. Many Austrians wanted the Anschluss, demonstrated for the Anschluss, fought for the Anschluss," said Gustav Spann, a professor at the University of Vienna's Institute for Contemporary History.

Spann, an expert on the teaching of history in Austrian schools, said textbooks here "write hardly anything about the Nazis in Austria." Spann said that he left the People's Party a year ago because he disagreed with its position on the history of the Nazi period.

Despite such criticism, most historians say Austrians would have voted to reject the Anschluss if a referendum had been held on the issue before German troops occupied the country, as Schuschnigg wanted.

A referendum on April 10, 1938, was declared to show a 99.75 percent majority in favor of the Anschluss, but by then Austrians were voting on an accomplished fact. Already the Gestapo had begun arresting tens of thousands of Nazi opponents, many of whom were not released until after the war.