The 8 May
End of II World War
May 8th is the date of the unconditional capitulation of the German Wehrmacht and the official end of World War Two in Europe. The victory of the Allied troops over the National Socialist regime ended the criminal war of aggression and annihilation, as well as the racist and political persecution and murder of millions of people. May 8th is not an official memorial of commemoration day in Austria.
The quickly carried out “denazification”, the rapid reoccupation of important positions with (former) National Socialists, the limited recognition of the victims of the Nazi regime, and the failure to invite émigrés to return to Austria show a lack of ‘turning point’. This is also evidenced by the so-called “victim myth” and the celebration of the Austrian national holiday on October 26th: The end of the occupation and the beginning of Austria’s neutrality.
The belated reappraisal of Austria’s Nazi history and the establishment of a collective memorial culture favour the reinterpretation of May 8th and the use on this day of the Vienna Heldenplatz (Heroes’ Square) by the extreme Right fraternities of the Wiener Korporationsring (WKR). In the 1990s, these fraternities began to hold memorial ceremonies for the fallen Wehrmacht soldiers and members of the SS criminal organisations at the crypt.
The room in which the crypt is in the right wing of the Burgtor and was built in the 1930s as a memorial space for the soldiers of the First World War. The fusion, after WWII, of the memorial for soldiers of both world wars meant some confusion about which “Heimat” was being fought for.
In 1997, all parties in the Austrian parliament voted for May 5th to be established as the Austrian national memorial day. From 1998, representatives of the Austrian government have, on this date – the anniversary of the liberation of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp –held a memorial day against violence and racism in memory of the victims of National Socialism.
The first efforts to resist the development of May 8th into a day on which the defeat of the German Wehrmacht is mourned came in 2012 through the civic society alliance “Jetzt Zeichen setzen”. Since 2013, the Festival of Joy, organised by the Austrian Mauthausen Committee, has been held on Vienna’s Heldenplatz, featuring a free concert by the Wiener Symphoniker. This was also the first year that the Austrian army held a vigil outside of the crypt. Austria’s official position is clear: May 8th is a day of joy about the end of the Nazi regime in Europe and is dedicated to the memory of the victims of a politics of persecution and annihilation.