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Austria closes controversial museum on ex-chancellor

By AFP

January 23, 2024 11:21 PM


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Austria has shut down a museum that was seen as too sympathetic to the man who installed a dictatorship when he briefly held the chancellorship between the two world wars, officials said.

With Austria regularly criticised for not fully coming to terms with its history, the museum had come under scrutiny as being a "memorial shrine" to Engelbert Dollfuss, who ruled from 1932 before being shot and killed by Austrian Nazis in 1934.

The museum, financed by the local community, opened in 1998 in the house where Dollfuss was born in Texingtal in Lower Austria province and comprised some 200 pieces, including his uniform, briefcase and photos.

The museum mostly hailed Dollfuss and his opposition to the Nazis.

Critics said it should have taken a more nuanced view of the man, including criticising his setting up a dictatorship, suspending parliament and imprisoning critics.

The museum did not get much attention until the mayor of Texingtal, Gerhard Karner, became interior minister in 2021 under the conservative People's Party (OeVP), bringing the small community of 1,700 people and its museum into the spotlight.

The museum was closed temporarily at the beginning of 2022, with experts tasked to study what to do with it.

But upset Dollfuss heirs and others who loaned the museum pieces demanded they be turned over to the province of Lower Austria, run by a conservative government.

"We honoured their wish," current Texingtal mayor Guenther Pfeiffer told AFP, adding that a majority of the pieces have been turned over.

Activist Alexander Hauer said that "Dollfuss was honoured as a chancellor though he suspended parliament... The years from 1933 to 38 are a completely neglected topic," he told AFP, describing the museum as "first and foremost a memorial shrine".

Dollfuss -- a conservative Social Democrat -- installed an authoritarian regime after coming to power in 1932, but also staunchly opposed Austria's annexation to Nazi Germany under Hitler.

On July 25, 1934, Austrian Nazi partisans attacked the chancellery in Vienna, hoping to force the government to resign and install a regime favourable to Hitler's Germany.

The coup failed but Dollfuss was shot and killed.

He was succeeded by Kurt Schuschnigg before Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938.

In 2012, a law took effect to recognise those persecuted by the state from 1933 to 1938.

A portrait of Dollfuss hung in parliament until 2017.


AFP


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