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Austrian professor discusses Holocaust memory at PLNU

Austrian professor Heidemarie Uhl said her memory of the Austrian Holocaust as a child was distorted in comparison to the current Austrian view Dec. 4 in a presentation at Point Loma Nazarene University.

“We speak about the change of the generation, the generation which was coined by the Nazis, or the generation which evolved in society at this time, they were not in the social life anymore. They were not here anymore,” Uhl said during her presentation.

“In Austria, we had discussion about the war memory when the Austrian late president said in an election campaign that he did not do anything else in the war that hundreds of thousands of other Austrians had done; he fulfilled his duty. You can’t imagine the generation, which was my generation, which was raised with the idea that Austria was the first victim. It was, of course, not the truth, but it was the official way it was told in the textbooks, in the media…It completely changed the perspective of the Nazi time.”

Uhl spoke on the Holocaust and Collective Memory in Austria Dec. 4 in Colt Forum at Point Loma Nazarene University to a full room of students and some faculty. Uhl is the Fulbright-Botstiber visiting professor at Stanford University, the senior researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and a professor at the University of Vienna.

She spoke specifically of the military occupation of Austria and the Burning of St. Stephens, which became the icon of Nazism in Austria and was a picture in every textbook in Austria. The question of victimization was distorted during Uhl’s youth.

Uhl went through three points, how the Holocaust was possible from the periphery, what the case was for transformation and where Austria stands today. Three aspects she looked at were how other European nations dealt with the Holocaust in the past, victimization narratives and heroic memory.

“You see how important the question of identity, of history, memory, tradition, is in today’s societies because it is also always a question of acknowledgement,” she said. “So do we acknowledge an experience of specifics groups in society? And that’s a message of memory, to say you are a member of our society. It is not something we are not connected to.”

Diana Reynolds-Cordileone, a professor of history at PLNU, sees Uhl as a mentor from her time studying public and collective memory in Vienna. She heard that Uhl was on the West Coast as part of the Fulbright Fellowship and asked that the History & Political Science Department fund a talk from her.

Because of the delicacy of the topic, the Holocaust was neglected in Europe for many years, but Americans did a lot of the research until the 1980s, said Cordileone. She said even now the topic is important when history is “under attack” and for the humanities in general when thinking about technical educations and careers.

“It’s really important… we remember the significance of what social memory is about, why we remember certain events and how there’s a history to that too, that the history of how we remember the past will change from decade to decade as different generations grow up,” Reynolds-Cordileone said.

Nacoya Villegas, a junior managerial and organizational communication major, said she thought the presentation as a whole was an interesting and unique experience for PLNU.

“It’s rare and a privilege to get to hear a perspective of the war and the Holocaust itself from an Austrian or from somebody who lived in that area because it is very faux pas and it’s still a very sensitive subject so I thought it was a really great privilege to get not only a scholar and a very intelligent woman, but also someone from that culture,” Villegas said.