Lantos Holocaust comments spawn squabble with Austria

los angeles (jta) | Austrian diplomats in the United States have taken issue with an indictment of their country’s attitude toward the Holocaust by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo).

“I am tired of being told that Austria was the first victim of Hitler, when in fact Austria was the first ally of Hitler,” Lantos, a Holocaust survivor born in Hungary, said last month at the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in Los Angeles.

Speaking after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lantos concluded, “I look forward to the day when Gov. Schwarzenegger will be in Vienna to help open a Holocaust museum there, where it is so long overdue.”

After the speech, Eva Nowotny, Austria’s ambassador to the United States, sent Lantos a letter pointing out that former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, in a speech to Parliament in 1991, “acknowledged guilt and responsibility for the atrocities committed by Austrian citizens during the Holocaust, a speech which has changed Austria’s official position forever.”

There have been several issues that have strained relations at times between Austria and Jews — and Austria and Israel — in the post-war era.

Much strain surrounded Kurt Waldheim, the secretary-general of the United Nations and later president of Austria, who served as a Nazi army officer during World War II.

More recently, participation of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, led by Jorg Haider, in the Austrian coalition government prompted Israel to recall its ambassador from Vienna.