Europe: Chained By History
Europe: Chained By History
American Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner said, "history is not was, it is. " I take this to mean that, while history is constantly evolving, a better understanding of it will help us survive the political and economic winds now swirling around the globe. After majoring in history, I have never lost my passionate interest in the subject. I am writing this book not as an academic historian but as a storyteller, believing that a fast walk through Vienna's 2000-year history will highlight political, economic, and social mistakes of the past and suggest a better direction for the future.
Before going all the way back to ancient Vienna, then known as Vindobona, I will begin the city's story with a glimpse of the German occupation and the takeover of Austria, known as the Anschluss, on March 12, 1938. Jewish Austrians were dragged from their homes to face insult, injury, or worse, often by ordinary Austrian citizens who had for years been increasingly influenced by anti-Semitic writers and speakers. What happened in Vienna was similar to events in other countries taken over by Germany.
Early images of atrocities in Vienna will be seen through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Georg Klaar, whose family's long and distinguished history in the city meant nothing to their persecutors in 1938. Jews had long been restricted to occupations within medicine, law, banking, or retail, and Georg's father, Ernst, was a banker. The Klaars were among many upstanding residents of Vienna who were victimized simply because they were Jewish.
Georg Klaar's firsthand account will show us the horrors, the hatreds, and the loss of human dignity that occurred in 1930s Vienna as though we were standing beside him. A million deaths is a statistic, but one family's tragedy is a personal story to which we can all relate. 2 It is not easy to fathom the idea that countless numbers were killed because of anti-Semitism, but one family's experience brings it home. The Klaars' story is an integral part of the story of Vienna.
As it has for centuries, the Danube River continues to provide a major means of transport and a fertile landscape throughout Austria. This bustling highway for modern commerce was a decisive factor for the earliest settlements in and around Vienna, and ruins at the city's Hoher Market reveal the remnants of Vindobona, a city once occupied by 30,000 inhabitants of the Roman Empire. We will taste the flavors of Vienna's beginnings by visiting this ancient city. In doing so, we will find that while the Romans were stern masters of the lands they occupied, their enlightened policies allowed conquered peoples to participate in Roman citizenship. We will learn how the city provided, even during its earliest days, strategic defense against external threats to a mighty empire.
In a later era, Vienna provided defense for another enormous kingdom, the Habsburg Empire, arguably the most powerful since Rome. It once encompassed today's countries of Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Romania, and parts of Italy. Of the Habsburg Empire's sixty million inhabitants, only eight million were Austrian, but Vienna was situated strategically at the easternmost edge of Western Europe, so it became the empire's capital city for 640 years. For centuries, the city stood as the bastion of defense against external threats-especially from the Turkish warriors who threatened Christian Europe throughout the Middle Ages.
Eighteenth-century Austria was dominated by two Habsburg Emperors who tried to usher their medieval empire into the Age of Enlightenment, personified by Voltaire and Rousseau in France: Maria Theresa worked to unify her empire by instituting far-reaching reforms, and her son, Josef II, wielded his sovereign power to abolish serfdom, foster religious and social tolerance, and create a more just system