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The Ulrichsberg gathering ... the peace they stand for

By Rita Ruesch for Rosa Antifa Wien and Antifa-Net in collaboration with Josefine Broz for The Working Group against the Carinthian Consensus. Source: Searchlight, July 2006

Anti-fascists will be on hand to protest, on the weekend of 15-17 September 2006, at Carinthia's picturesque Ulrichsberg mountain where, every autumn since 1958, veterans of the Nazi Wehrmacht and Waffen SS have staged an annual rally at the so-called European Returnees' memorial.

At the gathering, the Nazi veterans, their relations and their ideological heirs join with top politicians to participate in what is now probably the biggest meeting of former Nazi volunteers in the German-speaking countries. Delegations and Kameradschaften from Germany, Norway, Belgium, Finland, France, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, and the Netherlands travel each year to the event which has the support of the present-day Austrian army, the approval of (almost) all the political parties in Carinthia and the clear sympathy of the local population. The purpose of the rally is to commemorate those who were killed in the war and their "decent fulfilment of their duties" as soldiers. In doing so, the myth of their death in combat and their "self-sacrifice" for the "freedom of the Fatherland" in both World Wars as well as in the Carinthian "defence campaign against Slovenia after 1918 is given ongoing sustenance. This myth reverses the relation of victims and culprits and promotes fascist, anti-Slovenian and historical revisionist traditions. While the alleged "victims" of anti-fascist partisans are commemorated, the role of the partisans in the liberation from fascism is obviously ignored. The deeds of the Nazi soldiers, on the other hand, are glorified and their crimes are downplayed, denied or reinterpreted as "necessary acts of war".

The Ulrichsberg Association is an organisation in which Kameradschaft IV (KIV), a right-wing extremist organisation of Waffen SS veterans, plays a key role. KIV derives its name from the claim that the Waffen SS, which was declared to be a part of the SS and therefore a criminal organisation by the post-war Nuremberg military tribunal, was actually the fourth component of the Wehrmacht and therefore "harmless".

During the Ulrichsberg rally, which also acts as a magnet for young nazis, former SS men from different countries hold Kameradschaftsabende (evenings of comradeship) at which they swap reminiscences. Traditionally the day before the Ulrichsberg meeting, KIV also organises its own accompanying event in nearby Krumpendorf at which the old (and new) Nazis meet in private and can openly voice their hate-filled opinions.

Among the regulars at these festivities is the Dutch Nazi icon Florentine Rost van Tonningen and her close friend, Heinrich Himmler's daughter, Gudrun Burwitz. Burwitz was an official of the Wiking-Jugend (WJ) banned in 1994 because of its hostility to Germany's democratic constitution. Today, she is active in the so-called "Stille Hilfe" (Silent Aid), which helps take care of former war criminals. Other regular participants include members of the German nazi outfit, the Ordensgemeinschaft der Ritterkreuzträger (an association of soldiers who were awarded the Knight's Cross, a high military decoration in Hitler's Germany), for example, Otto Kumm, a former member of Hitler's bodyguard unit. Other SS officers attending to the acclaim of the younger nazis are Peter Timm a member of the SS's notorious Dirlewanger brigade, Henri Moreau from the SS division Wallonie and Sören Kam, a former Danish SS officer. Kam was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a journalist in Denmark but continued to live comfortably in Bavaria. His trial was reopened in Germany in 1998 but wound up a year later. Every year, also, a number of members of the German SS veterans' organisation HIAG turn up to both the Krumpendorf and the Ulrichsberg meetings. During the Ulrichsberg weekend, lectures and speeches paint a positive view of German soldiers, including the SS, and deny the criminal character of the Nazis' war of aggression between 1939 and 1945.

The attendance of senior politicians has tended to provide a kind of democratic legitimacy to these activities but now, because of massive criticism since the late 1990s, some of those responsible for the Ulrichsberg gathering - opposed by the more right-wing inclined - have tried to pursue a more modest policy and to open the event to their former enemies. Also owing to the obvious decimation of the living Nazi "heroes", the commemoration of those who were killed in the war by those who survived has become more and more difficult to accomplish. Thus, the Ulrichsberg Association has had to adjust its stance and try to find a more future-orientated perspective. This has resulted in a new guise: The Ulrichsberg Peace Memorial according to which the Ulrichsberg memorial is not only seen as a venue commemorating those killed in the war but also in a European peace context. The new line even claims that the Waffen SS's true aim was the installation of a peacefully united Europe. In this way, the veterans of Hitler Germany's war of extermination mutate to fighters for a united Europe, and World War II, which was started by Germany, becomes even more a defensive war against Communism.

Needless to say, the Holocaust is completely and conveniently ignored; indeed it was never mentioned at the Ulrichsberg gathering until recently. When, in 2005, Josef Martinez, a Carinthian politician, gave the formal welcome and, for the first time, mentioned Auschwitz and the responsibility of the individual, in particular the members of the Totenkopf SS and the Waffen SS, for the despicable crimes they committed, many guests got up and walked out. (The same happened in 2003 when the historian Claudia Fräss-Ehrenfeld dared to point out the Wehrmacht's guilt in Hitler's war of mass murder.) Martinz' accusations against the SS provoked Rudolf Gallob, the president of the Ulrichsberg Association, to make clear that it can distinguish between members of the Totenkopf SS and the soldiers of the Waffen SS and those who have served in the Waffen SS as soldiers are of course welcome to the Ulrichsberg.

One of the particular features of the Ulrichsberg memorial site is the so-called "Ehrenhain" (Grove of Honour) where one can find several plaques with commemorative inscriptions and armorial symbols, among theme one for the Kameradschaft IV, several for the "Kameradschaft ehemaliger Gebirgsjäger" (the association of former Wehrmacht mountain troops), some from a number of units of so called "Freiwilligen" (volunteers) and the Wehrmacht from different countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, and Latvia. Most prominent are inscriptions referring to the motto of the Waffen SS: "Our honour is loyalty" which has been slightly changed to read: "The soldiers' honour is his loyalty". In addition, there is also a plaque dedicated by the members of the "Medical Academy Berlin-Graz" and a relief called "Kameraden" created by Hitler's sculptor Arno Breker, whose sculptures expressed the Nazi perception of art. Several other plaques or their inscriptions prompted objections by the Austrian Ministry of Internal Affairs because they belonged to forbidden organisations or did not conform to the Austrian post-war laws, and thus had to be removed or at least changed.

In 1997, activists calling themselves "kommando z.a.l.a" destroyed the Ulrichsberg memorial in attack that resulted, on the one hand, in a general distancing from this terrorist act and, on the other hand, in a wider debate on the Socialist aspect of the memorial which was rebuilt soon afterwards without much protest. In 2005, a group of anti-fascist activists founded the Working Group against the Carinthian Consensus (AKCC) and mobilised on a broader scale for protests against the militarist Ulrichberg gathering. Among their activities, they organised an information stall in Klagenfurt, a demonstration and they invited historical witnesses and historians to public meeting. The information stall, which some nazis tried to attack, in the heart of Klagenfurt caused heated discussions between activists and passers-by intending to join the crowd on the Ulrichsberg. Protest, at least, had now been established.