A controversial regional museum to the glory of Austrian dictator Engelbert Dollfuss has been discreetly dismantled in the face of criticism, a new affair in a country which is still struggling to confront its history in the 20th century. “The museum has closed definitively,” the mayor of the village of Texingtal (northern Austria) told AFP this week, where the small exhibition opened in 1998 in the birthplace of the Christian Social Chancellor, in power between 1932 and 1934.
The conservative ÖVP party has long considered that this leader protected Austria from Nazism following Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany. He was also assassinated in 1934 during an attempted Nazi coup. But he also dissolved Parliament, establishing an authoritarian regime, massively repressing workers' movement activists and banning the socialist party.
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Criticism of the museum showing some 200 pieces - a uniform, photos, etc. - became stronger in 2021, during the appointment to the Ministry of the Interior of the first councilor of this rural commune, the curator Gerhard Karner.
In the process, a commission of historians recommended the gradual dismantling of the museum, accompanied by work on memory. Dissatisfied, the heirs and other donors then demanded that exhibits be immediately removed and returned to the region, a conservative stronghold. “We respected their wishes,” explained Mayor Günther Pfeiffer, which led to the closure. But Alexander Hauer, who heads the group of historians, said he was “surprised” by the speed of the closure. The specialists wanted a “constructive and critical on-site” dismantling of this museum, which had all the makings of a “memorial”. “Dollfuss was honored” for decades despite his dark legacy, he reminded AFP. Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg succeeded him before the Anschluss (annexation by Nazi Germany) in 1938. “This period from 1933 to 1938 was totally neglected,” he laments, while the thousands of victims were rehabilitated only in 2012.
There is still no consensus between historians and the political class on how to think about these years and how to name this sequence. A portrait of Engelbert Dollfuss even adorned the premises of the conservative parliamentary club until 2017. Unlike the FRG after the war, Austria also evaded its responsibility for Nazi crimes.
The turning point only came at the end of the 1980s with the international debate on the Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim, former secretary general of the UN and Austrian president from 1986 to 1992. It was only then that she looked at the authoritarian period preceding Nazism.