|Samson Munn, M.D.
- Facsimile: 617-327-8259 / Boston Massachusetts U.S.A.
The Austrian Encounter
I am interested in dialogue per se and in the
power of dialogue to do good. I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Although I am a physician, my specialty (radiology) is about as professionally
far from dialogue as one can possibly be in medicine. I have had no advanced
training in dialogue, in psychology, in group dynamics, or in therapy.
However, I have had extensive experience in a particular kind or application
of post-genocide dialogue, one example of which I will describe here.
Before considering The Austrian Encounter in detail,
it is important to know that there exist a number of innovative dialogues in
relation to the Holocaust. The variations are perhaps theoretically limitless;
indeed, a variety already exist. They may be of therapeutic intent or
explicitly not, be large or small, be mediated through talk or other
modalities (e.g., music, imagery, drama, etc.), be local or international, aim
for reconciliation or forgiveness or disavow them both, emphasize
Christian–Jewish relations or disregard religion in their dynamic, be
intensive and profound or not so deep but differently important, be of several
weeks duration or only of several hours, be composed simply of Jews and/or of
Germans or explicitly of descendants of the victims and of the victimizers of
the Holocaust, comprise just students or not, or meet recurrently,
sporadically, or just once. The people who take part are not randomly included
and their meetings are not simply academic experiments (if they have any
academic connection at all). Rather than being affected, sanguine or
histrionic, they are genuine personal and interpersonal explorations, mediated
in one modality or another. Interestingly, these post-Holocaust dialogue
groups have recently begun to network with each other.
Only some examples of fine such work are: the U.S. and
German university student groups of Björn Krondorfer and Christian Staffa;
several, local, evening, once monthly Jewish–German Dialogue groups in Boston;
the large, international meetings and seminars created together by Katherine
Klinger (in London) and Christian Staffa (in Berlin); an international group
formed on its own composed of approximately 300 members, called "One by One";
and a variety of interesting and worthy groups in Holland (such as one related
to the sons and daughters born of Dutch mothers and Nazi fathers, by rape).
Amidst this diversity is The Austrian Encounter, a
small, international group of thoughtful, motivated people who are personally
related to the Austrian portion of the Holocaust through their parents’ and
grandparents’ victimization, perpetration, or related involvements. The
Austrian Encounter has so far met in Vienna thrice for intensive dialogues
of several days each. The fourth encounter is again scheduled for Vienna, for
five days in Summer 1999.
The background of The Austrian Encounter begins with
another group. In June 1992, a genuine encounter group first met in Germany
composed of sons and daughters of German Nazis (mostly of high rank or
responsibility) meeting with daughters and sons of Holocaust survivors.
Included were the daughter of an S.S. general responsible for the killing of
approximately 750,000 people (who was hanged after post-war trial in Russia)
and the son of perhaps the second most powerful and culpable Nazi in the
entire Reich (who fled to South America, thus escaping trial). That encounter
group was created and facilitated by Dan Bar-On, Ph.D., Professor of
Behavioural Sciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. I am a
member of that group, which subsequently named itself To Reflect and Trust,
or TRT. My parents are both Jewish concentration camp survivors (from
Germany and Poland).
TRT was not constructed
intentionally or primarily to be therapeutic, but rather to be more
simply a true encounter. The experience was felt by all to be
worthwhile and/or beneficial in a variety of ways (even if not
therapeutic per se), and so we decided to continue to meet.
TRT’s dialogues are intensive and each lasts approximately four
days. The group has met a total of seven times in three countries
over the past seven years. TRT has been the subject of a
B.B.C. documentary film, three of us (including myself) the subjects
of another B.B.C. film, and two of us (including myself) of a recent
German documentary. In addition, TRT has received much
positive press (and none negative) in Le Monde, in
Süddeutsche Zeitung, and elsewhere. It is beginning to serve as
a model for constructive dialogue in an area of strife or genocide,
with the intention being to address current problems and past
enmities and prejudices, and hopefully to prevent future acts of
hatred or perhaps genocide.
In the midst of the second TRT meeting, April 1993
in Israel, I noted to myself and to the others that my contributions did not
feel to me to be sufficient ethical compensation for the powerfully
positive feeling of being so privileged to be amidst the others in that
special experience. It had occurred to me that it would be of merit to create
other similar encounters between children of survivors and of perpetrators
generally (e.g., in South Africa regarding apartheid), and I had
already said so at public presentations given by TRT. From some
subconscious place the idea of moving toward the creation of another group
percolated upward into consciousness, simultaneously connecting with
long-standing knowledge about Austria’s involvement with the Holocaust.
Austria was annexed by Germany, as opposed to other
countries that were invaded, conquered, and occupied, such as Poland,
Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Austrians were generally pleased or even gleeful
to be annexed by the Reich. Further, Austrians were subsequently stunningly
successful in rising quickly and effectively within the Reich, to important
positions in infamous settings of war crimes and crimes against humanity,
perhaps related to even more pervasive anti-Semitism in Austria than in
Germany. Finally, since the war, Austria and Austrians have been particularly
effective in denying their Nazi pasts, domestically and internationally — in
convincing themselves and the rest of the world of their innocence, even their
victimization! So, the concept of a similar encounter group in Austria, a
country laden with profound culpability and with great denial, seemed to me to
be particularly appropriate and especially poignant.
I began work on what would later become The Austrian
Encounter in Boston in the days after having returned from the April 1993
meeting of To Reflect and Trust. The creation process began by thinking
of the group’s structure. My goal was to include thoughtful, intellectually
honest, motivated participants who are able to listen as well as to speak. I
planned to include daughters and sons of Austrian Nazis and of Austrian
victims—men and women approximately equally. Finally, I hoped that there would
be two facilitators, one male and one female, and one affiliated with each
"side" somehow. It was important to me that the facilitator(s) facilitate but
not lead, enhance the flow of discourse when necessary but not control it, and
know enough not to presume that psycho-pathology inherently exists in the
participants. It did not become clear for some time (perhaps a year and a
half) that circumstances would lead me to facilitate alone.
I expected it to be far more difficult to contact children
of Austrian Nazis than children of Austrian Jewish, Roma, or Sinti victims. In
the end, however, the reverse was true. While it was understandably difficult
to find appropriate participants who were the children of Austrian Nazis, it
proved even more difficult to contact Israeli and Austrian children of
Austrian refugees or especially survivors, whether Jewish, Roma, or Sinti.
How does one go about finding interested, appropriate
children of Austrian Nazis? Too bad one cannot simply turn to the "post-Nazi"
section of the yellow pages ! I placed an ad in each of the three
largest Austrian newspapers’ major weekly edition. That ad, in English, asked
directly for responses from honestly introspective children of Austrian Nazis,
who wished to take part in an open and non judgmental encounter with children
of Austrian survivors. In the end, the ads led to two participants and to
several other contacts. Another successful connection was made for me directly
to a child of an Austrian Nazi from a German member of TRT, for which I
am very grateful. That was the only contact made easily in the two-year
process of finding and screening participants.
Also, I wrote about two dozen initial letters to therapists
who had attended a recent European conference on psychological trauma from the
Holocaust. Dr. Bar-On and others gave a few names to me, and he and still
others also tried to find Israelis who might take part. All of those avenues
led to more and more people, mostly unproductively. Sufficient success was
ultimately achieved through hundreds of letters, scores of faxes, dozens of
phone calls, several internet bulletin board listings, and even an interview
on Vienna’s Blue Danube Radio!
All the participants were screened by me, sometimes for
several hours. Three visits to Vienna were required in the year before the
encounter in order to organize the participants, to prepare for the group, and
conscientiously to try to meet with each participant. All agreed easily upon
simple, historical truths: that the Holocaust had indeed occurred, that it was
perpetrated primarily by German and Austrians Nazis (but also by their
collaborators in many countries), that the victims were primarily and
especially Jews (but also homosexuals and other targeted groups, particularly
Roma), that millions of Jews (and others too) were killed and many more hurt
in a variety of heinous ways, and that the Holocaust was ethically and
socially, wholly indefensible.
Among the participants at the initial encounter, there were
no children of concentration camp survivors, no Roma or Sinti, no Israelis,
and no contemporaneously Austrian Jews. Despite repeated efforts to derive
such participants, through a great variety of avenues, over greater than two
years, none attended. (Those were acknowledged shortcomings of the first
The initial Jewish members of this group were children of
Austrians who had escaped the remainder of the Holocaust there by being forced
to flee and by fleeing successfully. Unfortunately, the organized, Viennese
Jewish community was not at all helpful in any aspect of The Austrian
Three Roma and one Sinti did agree to participate in the
first encounter in two pairs at different times, but in the end withdrew, at
least two in fear of bombing by neo-Nazis, etc. Although we went so far as to
keep the location of our meeting secret from even the participants until one
hour prior to the meeting, that measure was certainly no guarantee of
security. Their fear was understandable since, earlier in 1995, four Roma were
killed in a single bombing outside Vienna. (Between that bombing and our
encounter, there were several other racist attacks in Austria, two of which
were against Roma.)
The Austrian Encounter first
met July 1–4, 1995. There were ten participants, two translators,
and myself. The participants were five women and five men, six
children of Austrian Nazis and four of Austrian victims. The overall
age range of the participants was 31–61; the average age (46) was
similar on both "sides" but the age range was a bit wider on the
"side" of children of perpetrators; I was 43. The offspring of
perpetrators were five male and one female (one from Germany, three
from Vienna, and two from elsewhere in Austria); their fathers were
mostly of moderate rank or responsibility. The descendants of
victims were all female (one from Canada, two from the U.S., and one
from England, but having lived in Austria for 14 years at that
point). In addition, there was one couple in the group, composed of
one member from each "side".
We sat in a circle. At our center was only a low table upon
which was placed a small tape recorder and a tiny microphone. The participants
were a 36 year old pediatrician and psychiatrist still in training, the son of
an illegal Nazi party member; a 59 year old highly ranked judge, the son of a
prominent Austrian Nazi journalist and propagandist; a 39 year old English
teacher, the daughter of Viennese Jewish refugees; a 31 year old who finished
schooling (Magister in psychology) in the days prior to the encounter,
the daughter of an SS man; a 50 year old dealer of antique books, the son of
an SS man; a 47 year old social worker, the daughter of Jews who fled Vienna
in December 1938; a 46 year old psychologist, the son of a German army officer
and Nazi party member; a 61 year old pensioner and former travel agent, whose
father was first a manager in a Reich airplane manufacturing plant in Austria
and later became chief of the Reich’s film repository and production center
for all of Austria; a 45 year old American adoption educator, the daughter of
a Jewish woman who fled Austria in September 1938; and, a 52 year old writer,
the daughter of Viennese Jews who fled in September 1938 and February 1939.
The first day initially dealt painstakingly for hours with
logistical details. Introductions could not begin until after we had decided
many recording issues, because I had given my commitment to do so to one very
thoughtful participant who had well-reasoned reservations about privacy. That
led to discussion about the translators.
The group genuinely decided (and still decides) its issues
itself; I scrupulously avoided biasing the outcomes of group decision-making.
In the end, the entire encounter was sound-recorded and both translators were
retained. Introductions occurred later in the first day and were mostly
completed that day. They were generally factual, logical, and reasonably calm,
but personally historical. There was some time even the first day to move
beyond introductions in our discussion. Still, the first day remained
generally very collected. However, the last comment of the first day was
emotional and angry, from a daughter of an Austrian victim, and had to do with
her level of trust within the group. She asked pointedly whether we each
trusted our parents to have had our best interests at heart when they made
decisions that might directly or indirectly have had an influence upon us.
The next morning, the children of victims all answered
"yes." Most of the children of perpetrators replied "no." It was an important
transition. The participants were beginning to trust each other a bit and
perhaps to like each other, too. That day was definitely less factual and
collected; it was more loose, and began to become more, and more frequently,
emotional. There were also amazing questions and comments from several
participants; for instance, the son of a Nazi lamented with regret,
desperation, anger, pain, and great power in his voice: "I never had the
strength to say to my father at the dinner table: ‘Were you a murderer,
The third day was almost entirely emotional! It lasted until
10:30 at night, with no dinner break. It was highly personal and utterly
amazing! Discussion and emotions became very revealing. For instance, one
person who was repeatedly sexually molested by a Nazi father, and who had
determined definitely not to share that with this group, decided to break that
promise and to do so. That participant could not manage to do so with words
but still wished to communicate it! So, not making clear what was about to
happen, the person instead mostly silently enacted on the floor a typical
scene of such sexual molestation. All the rest of us remained completely
silent, in awe. I had suspected that some such expression was coming for two
days, but no one else had even known of that participant’s past, and thus
could not possibly know what was happening! I watched as several minutes
later, one person’s face revealed dawning realization of the substance of this
communication, and then a few minutes later another’s face did the same. Thus,
a wave of acknowledgement flowed around and through us.
Deeply moved, we all lowered ourselves to the floor rather
than remain above (the father’s position). For three days afterward, that
participant’s central concepts of and reactions to this meeting, the members,
and the revelations that arose, were changed markedly positively. That
participant felt and became energized and happier, and remains (a few years
later) glad to have broken through the barrier and to have shared with us.
We did minimally approach the relationship between abuse and
that participant’s deceased father’s Nazi past, etc., but there remained much
more for the group to discuss about abuse generally and about sexual matters
in particular. Despite the gravity and emotionality of the described
re-enactment, there were other deep and very moving moments that day, too.
The final day included some more emotional perspectives, but
began to turn toward our closing, toward organization of a future meeting, and
toward other logistical matters. We planned to meet again, perhaps in a year,
probably again in Vienna. We chose one person in each continent to act as
liaison. We decided to add more participants. I reminded the others that when
and where we meet again, whether we need translator(s) or facilitator(s), whom
they should be, etc., were all their decisions.
Many themes were addressed during those four days, in
varying emotional and intellectual depths. All were raised by the participants
themselves. Some were perceived bilaterally symmetrically: a contemporaneous
cognizance of marginalization during childhood, the importance of ethics in
our lives and work, a lack of independence from the Holocaust in adult life,
and altered trust in personal and professional relationships.
However, importantly and interestingly, many threads ran
through both subgoups but differently so. Examples included hurt or damaged
roots in some sons and daughters of Austrian Nazis versus absent roots in some
of both "sides", warmth versus coldness in our childhood families, generalized
fear or anxiety (to some extent) throughout life for some children of victims
versus childhood terror from the father in the families of Austrian Nazis, and
the relationships between shame and secrets for children of Nazis versus
between protection and secrets for the children of victims.
Two themes that seemed to relate to the children of victims
alone were that despite feeling "as though they live on a packed suitcase",
they nonetheless are very active and visible in community activities (fighting
racism, etc.); and, that they generally empathize with other victims,
including with the sons and daughters of Nazis in their roles as victims of
their own fathers!
It was stunning and wonderful for these people to have
approached so many important issues, so earnestly, in such short time.
Certainly, they are bright, incisive, motivated, imaginative people. Over the
next 2–3 days there were a few social gatherings of various combinations of
us, and two carefully conducted newspaper interviews. All of that went well.
Warmth had grown from trust, which developed similarly in this encounter to
To Reflect and Trust’s first encounter.
Despite the definite overall success, there were weak
aspects. Four days was too short. We took as long as half a day or more simply
to address logistics because we had not yet developed some trust between us;
on the other hand, working through those matters in a careful, detailed, and
respectful manner created the foundation for such trust. Also, there was
insufficient time to delve deeply into many of the issues and questions
broached. On the other hand, these busy, accomplished people would likely not
have been enthusiastic to attend a longer meeting given the exigencies of
However, if these people had known each other a bit more
beforehand (as had been the case for the children of perpetrators and for some
of the children of victims in To Reflect and Trust), they might have
been able to consider themes more deeply in less time, because they would
already have become comfortable with and trusting of each other. In that way,
the first meeting served as a foundation for the subsequent ones. We had come
to trust that each other was for the most part conscientious, respectable,
knowledgeable, and concerned.
Fortunately, no one had an untoward psychological reaction
to the encounter, during it or afterward. Indeed most participants described
it as psychologically very positive and eye-opening, and found it worthy or
beneficial in other ways, too.
During the period after the first encounter, those living in
Austria met several evenings socially, usually at a pub or restaurant. In
those meetings, they discussed some of the subjects raised during the
encounter, related and expanded themes, and the upcoming encounter. They
decided that they would prefer the next meeting to be after a hiatus of two
years (not one), that the two translators should be invited back as
participants (but not as translators), that I should be invited back as a
participant (but not as facilitator), and that there should be no facilitator
(despite several offers and varied options).
Most of those participants living in North America also met
several times during the interval, mostly socially. We generally acceded to
the wishes and decisions of the Austrian participants as they evolved,
although sometimes with hesitation, with disagreement, or with pessimism.
Between the first and second encounters, one of the
participants published a collection of interviews she conducted with
Austrian-Jewish, refugee couples who settled in Los Angeles, one of whom was
her parents. The second Vienna meeting was preceded the night before by an
author’s book-reading, held at Urania, a large and very well-known
center for adult education and film in Vienna. Poignantly, Urania
had long been a cultural center and had been frequented by the author’s father
during his childhood and remembered fondly by him.
The second meeting took place June 13–15, 1997. In all,
there were twelve participants. Eight of the twelve were women and four men.
Of each gender, half were new. Neither of the translators could attend.
I attended, but began the meeting by voicing neutrally an
acknowledgment of my clear transition thereafter to participant. However, by
mid-morning, it was clear that I was still being expected to make logistical
decisions and to provide facilitative commentary. By mid-day, it was
realistically determined by explicit consensus that I was indeed still
facilitator and that that was what the group wanted.
As before, we sat in a circle, spontaneously and randomly.
We met the first day in a private room at a well-known, old Viennese coffee
shop. The other two days we met at the Literaturhaus. As at the first
encounter, we recorded the proceedings on audio tape.
The six participants who had also attended the first
encounter were the pediatrician/psychiatrist; the highly ranked judge; the 33
year old who had received her Magister; the social worker; the writer;
and, myself, then 45 years old.
The six new participants were a 28 year old Austrian
student, Jewish, whose Polish Jewish father survived Mauthausen and
subsequently married an Austrian Christian (who converted to Judaism); a 26
year old Austrian historian and student, whose maternal grandparents lived
very near Mauthausen, whose grandfather was in the Wehrmacht, and whose great
uncle was a "fanatic" Nazi in the S.S. in Poland; a 52 year old American
college art history professor, whose parents escaped Austria to Shanghai in
‘38, who was born in Shanghai but who lived in Vienna ages 2–6 (after the
war), all four of whose grandparents were killed by the Reich; a 41 year old
Austrian teacher and creator of interactive exhibits, whose father was a
member of the Nazi party and who was an industrial opportunist; a 50 year old
Israeli musician of world-class stature (whose Israeli parents were not
Holocaust survivors), then living in Austria for approximately seven years,
who previously had lived in Germany for twenty-seven years, who married a
German, non Jewish woman, and is raising their daughter atheistically in
Vienna; and, an Austrian woman in her thirties, with a strong family history
of culpable Nazism and anti-Semitism.
The meeting was conducted two-thirds (or more) in German. In
the awful heat of our first day, we met from 9 AM until 10 PM (with breaks).
The day was filled primarily with long and very personal introductions. A seed
of trust was palpably present, presumably because half the participants had
already known each other. A bit more fully developed trust was already present
upon arrival the second day, based simply on the revelations of the first day
and their percolation through our souls and dreams. That increase in trust
accelerated during the early-mid portion of the second day, and remained
It was during the second and third days that we more freely,
deeply, and variably discussed topics of interest to us. Some themes addressed
were "belonging" socially vs. belongings (issues of loss, worth, property
ownership, etc.), the ethics of making use of social "connections" during the
Holocaust and now, anger, what real friendship is and entails (e.g. "Does a
good friend reveal to a Jewish friend anti-Semitic remarks that a mutual
acquaintance has made?"), the narrow-mindedness and intolerance of the
organized Viennese Jewish community currently toward non orthodox or even non
observant Jews, that secular Jews seem to represent a perceived "threat" to
the "security" of the official (and ostensibly observant) Jewish community in
Vienna, where "home" really is and where one can feel "at home", fear of
neo-Nazis for participation in The Austrian Encounter
or for other endeavors, fears more generally, and individuation from our
parents (i.e., finding a truly independent path in life).
Beginning during the second day, the group also considered
the next (third) Austrian Encounter. It was decided that it could be in
Vienna or in the U.S. (leaning slightly toward Vienna again), that the peak
number that we would allow ourselves to reach was fourteen (so as not
materially to change the dynamic), that if we were to add new participants
they should come preferentially from among those in the first encounter who
hadn’t attended the second, that we should definitely meet the next time for
five days, that the next meeting should be after no more than one year, that
we should continue to meet without a formal translator, and that I should
remain facilitator. Those two days’ discussions did not run so late into the
evenings, although afterward many remained together socially.
During our two hours or so of closure, all twelve of us
acknowledged that the experience had been wonderful and remarkable. Additional
descriptors that came up often were "fabulous", "compelling",
"once-in-a-lifetime", and "energizing". It was poignantly pointed out by
several that non Jewish Austrians and Jews could be at the same Viennese
coffee shops, even at the same table, for thirty years without experiencing
the dialogue they had all come to know in just these three days!
One participant wrote afterward, "My last night (four days
after the group ended), nine of the twelve went out to dinner together." Bernd
"commented that night that we were all one big happy family. We enjoyed really
sharing our struggles, but also enjoyed laughing and joking together, and like
each other as individuals."
Based upon growing trust and the reciprocal sharing of
personal histories, participants felt "energized" to talk more, to socialize
very actively, and to begin a variety of projects individually and in smaller
groups, etc. Examples included the creation of a formal site for the
collection of formerly Jewish property in the hands of non Jewish Austrian
families, the donation of one participant’s collection of his father’s
propagandistic publications and other writings to the archive in Vienna, and
the performance of public concert (by a trio composed of the professional
musician and Jewish participant; an amateur musician and non Jewish member;
and, the victim-father of third participant).
In considering The Austrian Encounter, parallels to
the first meeting of TRT come to mind. It was not until the second
Austrian encounter that half the participants had already come to know each
other, while the other half was new. (That mix occurred at the first meeting
of To Reflect and Trust.) Trust grew in a parallel fashion, and finally
the creation of apparent energy.
On the other hand, that most of the dialogue of the second
meeting was in German likely made an important difference in experience from
and from our first encounter. I suspect that it lowered the stress level of
some of the native Austrians; it may be that these participants operate daily,
especially in regard to their feelings and opinions regarding the Holocaust,
at a prominent stress level in ambient Austrian society. I also suspect that
it elevated the stress of some who came from America; as Jews, simply having
been in Austria may have raised their stress levels a bit, and having
struggled to understand and to be understood in German was likewise stressful.
Finally and importantly, there are underlying widely historical, personal
family historical, and contemporary psychological connections to the facts
that the Holocaust was effected primarily in spoken and in written German,
primarily by Germans and Austrians, etc. For all these reasons, I suspect that
meeting in Austria and primarily in German served very poignantly to highlight
awareness and to stimulate psyches for us all, and perhaps a bit to balance
Holocaust-related inner stresses between our two "sides."
The day after the meeting ended, interviews were conducted
and recorded on audio tape with two of the participants who volunteered, one
from each "side" (both female), and with me. The interviews were done by a
German journalist, Silvia Pfeifer, for an English radio program on
Deutsche Welle, broadcast only a few days later. Also, another radio
interview was given by two of the participants, that time for an Austrian
program, in German.
A day or two later, I met for 2-3 hours over coffee one
night with two Viennese therapists (one Jewish and one not), at their request.
Interestingly, they had optimistically decided approximately six weeks earlier
to create a therapy group in early July comprising sons and daughters of both
"sides" of the Austrian component of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, their hopes
were dashed when they succeeded in enlisting only one possible participant in
response to the newspaper announcement that they had placed. The evening’s
discussion supported all our perceptions that creating such a group is
especially difficult in Austria.
The Austrian Encounter
reconvened in Vienna, June 18-22, 1998, for our third meeting. All
twelve previously committed did indeed take part, plus one child of
a Nazi who had attended the first but missed the second encounter.
However, soon after starting, two women dropped out over an issue of
trust within the group: one woman (a daughter of a victim) accused a
son of a Nazi of having made a sexually abusive phone call to her a
couple of weeks earlier. After brief discussion in the group
setting, she dropped out (by her own choice and contrary to the
overall sentiment of the group) and a daughter of a Nazi also did so
in support of her. (Another participant, also a daughter of a Nazi,
dropped out for a time, but returned thereafter.) Thus, most of the
meeting was attended by eleven participants, six women (half from
each "side") and five men (three the sons of victims).
This intra-group trauma immediately raised two other issues
of trust between a pair of male participants (one from each "side"), and those
matters were successfully worked through in the group. All of these challenges
led to discussions about issues of trust within the group (between people in
general, between people and the courts, etc.), of silence (perceived and real)
and of communication, of continued dialogue when it is especially difficult,
and of a perceived improvement in consciousness in Austria regarding its awful
involvements in the Holocaust. On the other hand, the group has so far
continued to avoid discussion of the importance and variety of sexual abuse
under the Reich.
The Austrian Encounter was
profoundly existentially challenged by the matter of the abusive
phone call. Although the issue itself remains unresolved, the group
survived its first truly major trauma and learned from the
experience. In the end, even though personal trust between the
involved three women and the man sadly remained gone, group trust
was generally improved by having worked through the shock and by
having moved forward thereafter. All eleven (plus one woman at the
original meeting who did not attend subsequently) have committed to
attend the fourth Encounter, scheduled for the summer of
1999, again in Vienna.
In conclusion, there certainly has been and continues to be
sterling success in The Austrian Encounter; amazingly, a group composed
mostly of sons & daughters of Austrian Nazis and of daughters & sons of
Austrian Holocaust victims has met, and in Austria! For these people simply to
have met, to have been honest and earnest with each other, and to have done so
several times intensively, were and remain remarkable and unique in Austria!
Although Austria harbors terrible enmity of Jews, retains a
history and a legacy of heinous responsibility during the Reich, and mastered
denial of that culpability after the war, we continue to see deep openness
lead to warmth, trust, and the beginnings of much more by wonderful, varied,
motivated people, despite personal differences and despite their origins from
opposite sides of a major world trauma (and the greatest trauma in Jewish and
in European histories).
Robert S. Wistrich, the Neuberger Professor of Modern
European and Jewish History at Hebrew University (Jerusalem) wrote in a very
recent report, "There is now, for the first time in post-war Austria, a
serious commitment to fighting racism and anti-Semitism" and "…there is even
the beginning of a movement to discuss the Holocaust critically and openly …
and to seek to learn its lessons." How intensive post-trauma dialogue might be
of potential benefit after other holocausts, both contemporaneously and in the
prevention of future or repeated genocidal acts, is a matter that is barely
beginning to be explored11, and one which I hope will be examined
in greater depth and in more varied settings soon.