Memorial Speech to Mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of Hitler’s Invasion March 10, 1988, Rathausplatz, Vienna
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope for your understanding when I ask you in this hour of remembrance to join me in thinking of my father—he perished in the Theresienstadt camp; my brother—he died in Auschwitz; my mother—she was killed in the gas chamber at Auschwitz; and my first wife—she lost her life in Bergen-Belsen.
And yet I must ask you to expect no words of hatred from me. Whom should I hate? I know only the victims, not the perpetrators, at least I do not know them personally—and I refuse to call people collectively guilty.
There is no collective guilt, it does not exist, and I say this not only today, but I’ve said so from day one when I was liberated from my last concentration camp—and at that time it was definitely not a way to make oneself popular to dare publicly to oppose the idea of collective guilt.
Guilt can in any case only be personal guilt—the guilt for something I myself have done—or may have failed to do! But I cannot be guilty of something that other people have done, even if it is my parents or grandparents. And to try to persuade today’s Austrians between the ages of nought and fifty of a sort of “retroactive collective guilt,” I consider to be a crime and an insanity—or, to put it in a psychiatrist’s terms, it would be a crime, were it not a case of insanity.
And a return to the so-called “kin liability” of the Nazis! And I think that the victims of former collective persecution should be the first to agree with me. Otherwise it would be as if they set great store by driving young people into the arms of the old Nazis or the neo-Nazis! I shall now come back to my liberation from the concentration camp: I then took the first possible lift I could get (even if only illegally possible) on a truck back to Vienna. In the intervening years, I have been to America sixty-three times; but every time I returned to Austria.
Not because the Austrians loved me especially, but rather, the other way round, because I love Austria so much, and we know that love is not always based on reciprocity. Well, whenever I’m in America, the Americans ask me: “Mr. Frankl, why didn’t you come to us before the war? You could have spared yourself a great deal.”
And I then have to explain to them that I had to wait for years to get a visa, and how when it finally arrived, it was already too late, because I simply could not bring myself, in the middle of the war, to leave my elderly parents to their fate. And then the Americans ask me: “Well, why didn’t you at least come to us after the war?
Hadn’t the Viennese done enough to you—you and yours?” “Well,” I then say to these people, “in Vienna there was, for example, a Catholic baroness, who at the risk of her own life hid a cousin of mine as a ‘U-boat’ and thus saved my cousin’s life. And then in Vienna there was a certain socialist lawyer who at great personal risk secretly gave me food whenever he could.” Do you know who that was?
Bruno Pittermann, subsequently vice chancellor of Austria. Now, I go on to ask the Americans, why should I not return to such a city, where there are such people? Ladies and gentlemen, I hear you say: That’s all well and good, but those were only exceptions—exceptions to the rule, and as a rule people were just opportunists—they should have shown resistance. Ladies and gentlemen, you are right, but consider: resistance presupposes heroism, and in my opinion one may demand heroism only of a single person and that is . . . oneself!
And whoever then says that someone should have preferred to be locked up rather than get on with the Nazis, then that person can only actually say this if they themselves have proved that they preferred to let themselves be put in a concentration camp, and consider this: those who were in concentration camps do in general judge the opportunists far more lightly—more lightly than those who stayed abroad for the duration. Not to mention the younger generation—how can they imagine how afraid people were and how they trembled for their freedom, for their very lives and for the fate of their families, for whom they were always responsible?
We can only admire all the more those who dared to join the resistance movement. I am thinking here of my friend Hubert Gsur, who was sentenced to death for undermining the military and executed by the guillotine.
National Socialism nurtured racism. In reality there are only two races, namely the “race” of decent people and the “race” of people who are not decent. And “segregation” runs straight through all nations and within every single nation straight through all parties. Even in the concentration camps one came across halfway decent fellows here and there among the SS men—just as one came across the odd scoundrel or two among the prisoners. Not to mention the Capos.
hat decent people are in the minority, that they have always been a minority and are likely to remain so is something we must come to terms with. Danger only threatens when a political system sends those not-decent people, i.e., the negative element of a nation, to the top.
And no nation is immune from doing this, and in this respect every nation is in principle capable of a Holocaust! In support of this we have the sensational results of scientific experiments in the field of social psychology, for which we owe thanks to an American; they are known as the Milgram Experiment.
If we want to extract the political consequences from all this, we should assume that there are basically only two styles of politics, or perhaps better said, only two types of politicians: the first are those who believe that the end justifies the means, and that could be any means . . . While the other type of politician knows very well that there are means that could desecrate the holiest end.
And it is this type of politician whom I trust, despite the clamor around the year 1988, and the demands of the day, not to mention of the anniversary, trust to hear the voice of reason and to ensure that all who are of goodwill, stretch out their hands to each other, across all the graves and across all divisions. Thank you for your attention.
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