Monday, May 10, 2010

Skorzeny not a war criminal

Thursday January 11 2007

I found Kim Bielenberg's portrayal of Colonel Skorzeny ('the Shamrock and the Swastika', Irish Independent, January 6) most unfair and factually inaccurate. It was a highly emotional piece and laced with terms that suggest the man was a war criminal.
Otto Skorzeny was an elite and highly decorated soldier who fought bravely for his country, Austria being part of Germany at the time, and who earned the respect of his foe. Churchill called his rescue of Mussolini "a mission of great daring."

His membership of the Waffen SS, an elite fighting force that had nothing to do with the concentration camps, does not make him a criminal.

The late Simon Wiesenthal pointed out that only two per cent of the 450,000 strong force had engaged in war crimes.

Skorzeny was tried as a war criminal, but the only thing the Americans could charge him with was having his men wear American uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge. The trial soon fell apart when it was pointed out that the Americans had also worn German uniforms to infiltrate enemy lines.

Kim Bielenberg conveniently omits the fact that Skorzeny was "denazified", meaning that he was innocent of any wrongdoing, long before he came to Ireland, and that he worked as an agent for Mossad.

His article becomes farcical when he claims that Skorzeny tortured the July conspirators in 1944. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. RONAN-GEAROID O DOMHNAILL, GAILLIMH * Kim Bielenberg writes: I made clear in my piece that Skorzeny was acquitted of war crimes by a US military court.

However, as the best known commando in the SS, an organisation guilty of countless atrocities, he was not just an innocent cog in the Nazi machine. The Waffen SS, in toto, was declared a criminal organisation at the Nuremberg trials.

There is no doubt that Skorzeny played a key role in rounding up the July 20 plotters, demonstrating his Nazi zeal in the way he ripped off their badges. In the days that followed, plotters were tortured.

A drinking society

Tuesday February 22 2005

Sir - Reading Helen Bruce's article 'Ryanair is lashed over promotion of alcohol targeted at teenagers' seems to indicate a fresh drive on the 'demon drink' in Ireland. The article portrays these vodka sachets as some kind of evil substance for preying on the young. Is the prohibition of these sachets really going to stop binge drinking in a country where the pub is the main,
Sir - Reading Helen Bruce's article 'Ryanair is lashed over promotion of alcohol targeted at teenagers' seems to indicate a fresh drive on the 'demon drink' in Ireland. The article portrays these vodka sachets as some kind of evil substance for preying on the young. Is the prohibition of these sachets really going to stop binge drinking in a country where the pub is the main, and in many areas the only, point of social contact? Once more, the drinks industry is presented as the scapegoat and the retailers as irresponsible. Indeed the only person who does not have to accept responsibility in the matter is the consumer of alcoholic beverages.

Personal responsibility simply does not enter the equation. Ireland is perhaps one of the few countries where you can get drunk, cause trouble and blame it on the person who sold the alcohol to you, or even better say 'it was the drink that made me do it'. Such excuses do not work anywhere else. The binge drinking of the Irish and their English neighbours does not seem to occur on the continent. Why is that? Could it not be that the problem with alcohol in Ireland lies not with the sale of vodka sachets, but with Irish society itself? Ronan-Gearoid O Domhnaill, Koppstrasse 55/5, 1160 Vienna
Sunday Indepenent
Sunday November 19 2006

Sir - In ‘No compulsory resuscitation can ever revive Irish' (SI, 5/11/06) Emer O'Kelly provides a rather facile argument relying on hearsay and well-worn arguments. She is both ill-informed and behind the times. Indeed I am surprised she didn't harp on about Peig. English has an influence on most languages, but just because lexical borrowing takes place, one cannot possibly deduce that the language is dead. It would be equally absurd to argue that English is dead because it has so many words from French and German.

She claims that the language is bereft of 'modern terminology', obviously unaware of any modern words in Irish. One only has to consult a technical dictionary of Irish terms to find that new words are being coined all the time. Indeed in the world of computers, words are continuously coined in Irish while other languages simply use the English term.

Nor does she appear capable of writing Irish words, which is extremely sloppy. She writes druggai (sic) and doesn't appear to be aware that Daingean takes the definite article. The 'Irish language is dead' way of thinking was extremely popular following the publication of Reg Hindley's book The Death ofthe Irish language in 1990.

However attitudes have since changed dramatically yet O'Kelly with her vague reference to a report published in 1991 doesn't acknowledge this. So please if you must produce more anti-Irish language articles, as is your wont several times a year, then do some research and introduce fresh arguments.

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill, Gaillimh

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Doctor Death

Doctor Death- the case of Heinrich Gross.

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

Killers come from all walks of life, on occasion even from the profession that is supposed to preserve life. During the war Doctor Heinrich Gross (1915-2005) was involved in state sanctioned murder as part of the Nazi’s euthanasia programme. Shockingly, he avoided imprisonment after the war and researched the brains of the murdered children, to critical acclaim.

On the outskirts of Vienna at Am Spiegelgrund is Austria’s largest psychiatric hospital, More than 772 children were murdered here during the war. The Nazis wanted a pure race and exterminated all those with real or imagined mental, physical or social disabilities. How many deaths Gross was directly responsible for has never been established. It could never be proven that he directly murdered anyone, but his signature appeared on 238 death certificates.

Friederich Zawrel was 10, when he was sent to the clinic. His father, an alcoholic communist disagreed with the Nazis making his son ‘anti-social’. Gross diagnosed him as being ’beyond reform’. The children at the clinic referred to Gross as Doctor Speiberl (Dr Vomit) because he administered injections as a disciplinary measure to ‘cheeky’ children’. The injections induced vomiting that would go on for days. Gross never regretted inflicting such pain and was still prepared to defend it at his brief trial in 1999. Zawrel spent nine months in solitary confinement in a cell that was completely bare. When he saw the dead bodies of other children being brought out he knew he had to escape and eventually did with the help of a nurse, who did not believe in murdering children.
Perfectly healthy children became ill while Gross treated them. Children were deliberately murdered through starvation or an overdose of sleeping tablets and a letter was sent to the family stating that their child had ‘died of fever’. Other children were subjected to painful x-rays to see what would happen when the cerebrospinal fluid was drained and air injected into the cavity. Ann-Marie Haupl, aged four was admitted to the hospital suffering from rickets. It was discovered that a distant relative had a brain disorder and Gross deduced from this that the child was mentally ill. She was murdered so he could dissect and study her brain and this research would make Gross Austria’s leading neurologist after the war.

The end of the war was kind to Gross. His boss at the clinic, Doctor Illing, was hanged for war crimes in 1946, but Gross, having been taken prisoner by the Russians, missed the euthanasia trial. He returned to Austria in 1948 and was put on trial for manslaughter. He received a two year sentence, but was released on a technicality a few months later and he resumed work at Am Spiegelgrund. Gross joined the league of socialist academics and also the socialist party, who would shield him from any harm and became one of Austria's most respected and highly-decorated neuro-psychiatrists and forensic experts. Postwar Austria suppressed its Nazi past and it was and still is considered bad taste to mention this period. It was a society that forgave the murderer and called the victim a liar. Thus nobody was unaware of the man’s horrible past and nobody wanted to know.
He published five articles between 1955 and 1965 based on research using the preserved brains of children murdered because he had deemed them handicapped or antisocial. This ‘left over material’, numbering 417 brains in total, was preserved in jars of formaldehyde at a room in the clinic to which only Gross had access. His research was so highly regarded that in 1968 he was given his own research institute. In honour of his work in the field of arts and Science the Austrian government awarded him the Austrian Cross of Honour in 1975. Research was carried out on these brains as late as 1978 and nobody ever asked where they had come from.
Meanwhile Zawrel had survived the war, though not without emotional scars. He never spoke about the horrors he had experienced until he was involved in a minor property dispute and had to go to court in 1975. The court wanted a psychiatric examination of Zawrel and to his horror Zawrel once more came face to face with ‘Dr Vomit’. The war was long over but the victims still had much to fear. Gross was shocked that one of his patients had survived to tell unwanted tales. Using his notes from the war he judged Zawrel to be a psychopath and had him incarcerated for seven years.
In 1979 Doctor Werner Vogt accused Gross of being involved in the euthanasia programme at Am Spiegelgrund. Gross sued for defamation and denied ever working there, but this was revealed to be a lie. Vogt was proven correct but miraculously the investigation into Gross’s past was also quietly dropped and he emerged unscathed. It was obvious that he had friends in high places and he had nothing to fear from the Austrian judicial system. He retired in 1989 but still gave court appraisals until 1997.

When the East German Stasi files were opened a file on Doctor Gross was uncovered. His medical notes for a one-month period in the summer of 1944 were found, a time when he said he had left the hospital and was in the army. In these notes he had described how he starved children to death.
Relatives of murdered German children, who had been deported to their death in Vienna, had been enquiring about their loved ones for years. Their requests for information met with no response from the Austrian authorities. The existence of the preserved brains was denied, but after international pressure mounted, they were suddenly ‘found’ and their existence made public in 1997.

The state prosecutor brought charges against Gross in 1999 after the horrific events had gained worldwide media attention and it was no longer possible to suppress his war time activities, but the trial quickly turned into a farce, lasting less than an hour. The 84 year old was charged with the murder of nine children, but all charges were dismissed as the judge felt Gross suffered from dementia and could not understand the charges against him. The court overlooked that he had been still giving court testimonies until 1997. Immediately after the trial, Gross held interviews with the media, showing no regret or any indication of dementia. He was an embarrassment to the Austrian legal system and once more the case was quietly dropped.
Gross avoided the limelight thereafter. It was not until 2003 that he was finally stripped of his state award. The mortal remains of those murdered had finally been put to rest at a low-key ceremony the previous year. He died in December 2005, never once expressing remorse and never having to do penance for his crimes against humanity.

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill lived in Vienna for five years, where he lectured in English at BOKU, one of the city’s universities. He currently resides in Dublin where he teaches German.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Viennese as they are

The Viennese as they are

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill,

Wien, Wien, nur du allein, sollst von allen verachtet sein.

Arnold Schönberg

While the positive aspects of life in Vienna have been well documented criticism of the Viennese is noticeable by its absence. The Viennese, it is said, have a heart of gold, but gold is hard.
The following article is not entirely all my own work. Along with my own opinions formed from personal experience and observations over the years it is a compilation of opinions expressed by my students in English class, who are of all ages and walks of life with their origins in Austria and all over Europe.
It is not meant to be an attack on the Viennese, although it does not really put them in a positive light. No city or people are perfect and I believe every people and city, including my own native town, have room for improvement. It is through disputation that such advancements can be made. Nothing and no one should be above criticism.
I have spent most of my time in Vienna and am fully aware of the phrase ‘Vienna is not Austria and Austria is not Vienna’. Thus when one speaks of Vienna, one cannot speak of the entire land.

To start on a positive note one can say without hesitation that Vienna is one of the safest cities in the world. Unlike other European capitals you can walk anywhere, anytime, without fear of being mugged. Apart from the dog dirt, which I will discuss later, Vienna is undoubtedly a very clean city and the cleanliness is maintained day and night. The city does a lot for its inhabitants. Sports facilities and libraries are everywhere and easily affordable. The theatre and opera is also open to less fortunate members of society. In a nutshell, one is never bored in the city.

The Viennese themselves are however very much a closed group. Vienna, it is said, is the largest village in the world and it is true to say that a village mentality reigns in what should be a cosmopolitan city. Non-Austrians are regarded more of a threat than an enrichment. Exceptions are made if the foreigners happen to be extremely rich or who can play good football.
Ernst Hinterberger summed up the openness of the Viennese when his favourite character Mundl remarks ‘Alles was kein Wiener ist, ist praktisch ein Tschusch. Wurscht, ob er aus Sankt Pölten, Buxtehude, Japan oder aus dem Urwald kommt.’ (Anyone who is not Viennese is practically a Tschusch [term of abuse for people from the Balkans]. It doesn’t matter if they’re from St. Pölten, Buxtehude, Japan or the rainforest.)
On a more serious note, although illegal in other EU member states, it is still common to see racist phrases such as Nur Inländer[1] or Nur Österreicher in the newspapers when looking for a job or an apartment.
According to the far right politician[2], Heinz Christian Strache, to be Viennese you must be at least two generations in the city, speak Viennese and live the Viennese way of life. The majority of Viennese seem to share this view. They divide the city’s inhabitants into Urwiener (those fulfilling Strache’s definition), Wiener (those with parents not from Vienna but Austrian) and Neowiener (foreigners living in Vienna, who have recently become Austrian citizens but are not really Viennese). It is little wonder therefore, that so few of the 300,000 foreigners in Vienna wish to integrate.

The charming and easy-going manner of people such as Hans Moser, while stirring up a pleasant image does not really reflect daily reality. Requests for information whether on the street or in shops will often be met with terse responses or grunts. In the smaller shops customers are often regarded as a nuisance. Service in supermarkets can be a shocking experience for English speakers used to customer service. I have come to understand that it is because a different philosophy reigns in supermarkets in Vienna. People want to get out as fast as possible. Therefore, the girl at the checkout will work, as fast as possible and common courtesies are deemed unimportant. It disturbed me for the first two years as I allowed myself to be treated like dirt. Living in Vienna you become acclimatized to it and it is only when you receive visitors or visit another Austrian city that you realise how rude and impersonal shopping in a supermarket in Vienna can be. I remember once when my mother went into a supermarket alone and returned shocked and upset telling me how the girl had swept the shopping almost in one go over the scanner, not helped her pack the shopping, tapped in her fingers on the desk in impatience as my mother paid and then threw the receipt at her. Recently I bore witness to a Chinese lady standing in front of me at the checkout. When it came to paying she looked desperately for a clue as to how much she owed. Normally it appears on the cash register, but in this case it didn’t and the lady at the checkout wasn’t going to make it easy. She snapped the price once more at the bewildered Chinese lady who was either a tourist or not au fait with the heavy Viennese dialect. This is what one calls the Viennese charm.

The EU has made zero impact in Vienna. The average citizen has no idea what it is all about and would be challenged if asked how many states are in the union. My students at university once asked me if they needed a work permit to work in Ireland. The EU flag is rarely seen[3] and the citizens are EU sceptical if not hostile. One wonders why Austria joined the EU in the first place. The majority are completely unaware of any advantages the EU might have. The government fails to inform them otherwise and the Kronen Zeitung, the tabloid that tells Austrians what they should be thinking, with a readership of nearly three million is extremely anti-EU.[4] The EU threatens to bring change and while the Viennese want change, albeit on a very small scale, they do not want reform. The city is still very much living in imperial Austria The EU threatens to bring the outside world into the city and modernise it. The EU must also compete with the ‘red-white-red’ ideology that grew steadily from the 1980s as the Austrians began to gain an identity independent of the Germans, and is firmly implanted in the minds of the young. This ideology stresses the importance of ‘Austria first’ over a united Europe. It is intolerant of any criticism. Anyone remotely critical of Austrian nationalism is immediately classified as an enemy of Austria and writers such as Jelinek, Bernhard and Simmel who dared criticise their country found themselves either ostracized or the victims of hate campaigns. It is not surprising therefore that some of the best Austrian writers live abroad. It was this nationalism at times bordering on the extreme, that I first noticed when I moved to Vienna not long after the present government had taken up office. I learnt to my cost that it was taboo to compare the Viennese with the ‘stupid’ Germans.[5] This is perhaps part of an inferiority complex. Having had personal experience with Irish and German nationalism I was not terribly impressed with Austrian nationalism and it is all very much like what Nestroy once said: “Es ist alles uralt, nur in andere Gestalt”. (It’s the same old thing, just in another shape).

Imperial Austria is still very noticeable in the city. The University of Vienna is the best place to see how imperial Austria worked. Nothing has changed there in the last hundred years and the feudal system in operation is unparalleled in the western world. The students are treated like serfs and in order to study there they behave as such. The so-called ordentliche professor has the role of Kaiser and enjoys unlimited powers and it is he that makes the rules. He may be racist, sexist and generally xenophobic but in a country where titles are cherished above all else he is answerable to nobody. Indeed, with enough titles you can get literally get away with murder. One only has to think of the late Dr. Gross, who recently died peacefully, unlike his victims. The university is designed chiefly for the Viennese with many professors delivering their lectures in Viennese dialect to ensure that only Austrians will be able to follow the lectures, which is too bad for foreign students who only understand Pfiefchinesisch (Standard German). This was in contrary to the policy at other universities where I studied. In Dresden for example, if the German literature professor were to have spoken dialect, it would have been regarded as ill educated and unprofessional.
The University of Vienna suffered a brain drain from which it never recovered, when it expelled all its Jewish professors in 1938 and showed little interest in taking them back after the war. These mathematicians, scientists and psychologists went to America, where their talents were used to the full. An anti-Semitic atmosphere prevailed at the university (and in the city itself) until the late 1960s. Far right student groups[6] still enjoy the support of the university, making the University of Vienna one of the most closed and intolerant universities in the world.

A trip on the U-Bahn is like a journey to hell. Everybody looks either depressed or angry. In the tram people generally sit on the outside seat, leaving the inner one free but inaccessible to the passengers standing. When exiting, it is usual to push your way through. The Viennese only speak to strangers to warn or insult them. If they speak to you otherwise they are almost definitely from one of the other federal states. The favourite hobby of the Viennese is to complain (raunzen). They will however, not try to change their situation, because although they don’t like it, it is too strenuous to change it and they could risk being faced with an uncertain future.
The Viennese love their dogs more than they do small children. There are currently over 50,000 registered in the city. They bring their dogs everywhere, even into restaurants. Dog dirt is a serious problem. Only the overwhelming stench of urine and horse dung of the first district can compete with this eyesore. I have never lived in a city where it is so omnipresent. Given the disgusting amount of dog dirt and urine in the streets it is hardly surprising that the shoes are removed when entering the apartment. It is common practice to walk your dog in another district, other than the one in which you live and let him do his business in the middle of the footpath or in a doorway. To walk along some footpaths is to move like a ballerina.
Every year it snows in Vienna and every year warnings of snow are given on radio and TV, yet the Viennese are deeply amazed when it does indeed snow the next day and chaos ensues, as the people are unprepared.

It takes years to really get to know the Viennese. It is said however, that once you get to know them you have a friend for life. In this regard they cannot be accused of superficiality. They seem to be perpetually cantankerous. Their bark is however, worse than their bite. While they have a big mouth, disputes rarely escalate into violence. Although the socialists are in power Vienna is essentially a conservative city, whose inhabitants rarely let their hair down. It would be an exaggeration to call it Europe’s party capital. Singing and busking in the streets or making noise in public is frowned upon and are likely to involve the police. In this regard it is a city designed more for old people than young people.

To get invited to a Viennese home is a rare honour. They prefer to meet people in a restaurant or heurige. It is possible to know the Viennese for years and have never seen the inside of their apartment. I was once invited to Viennese home, but only after they had seen my apartment. If you do get invited to their home it will be to show it off. Thankfully this practice is limited to Vienna and people from the Federal states think nothing of inviting you to their home, however humble, whether it is in Vienna or the countryside.

When talking to a Viennese the questions you will be asked are extremely predictable. You can basically prepare for the questions they will ask. The usual question (question no. 2 or 3, depending on the person) is ‘how long are you staying?’ which although could be interpreted as impolite, intolerant if not bordering on racist, is not actually intended as such. Once you mention you are from Ireland you will here things like ‘Protestant or Catholic’? ‘Northern Ireland’, ‘Guinness’ or ‘whiskey’. It is always the same old clichés, regardless of the age or education of the Viennese. These clichés are generally intended as humorous, even if they indicate a complete ignorance of Ireland, but when you hear them on average at least once a day over a number of years, they tend to become tired.
In the eyes of the Viennese no foreigner can speak perfect German. Once they hear a trace of an English accent they will answer the other person in English, which irritates those who make an attempt to speak German. It is regarded as a compliment when a Viennese says that someone ‘speaks good German for a foreigner.’ Nor is a foreigner permitted to correct the Viennese. If they do so they will be reprimanded with the phrase ‘Wos was a Fremder?’ (What does a foreigner know?)

Vienna is a city of music and money. The latter is important and those who have it tend to flaunt it and it also allows you to behave anyway you please. Clothes make the man and those not dressed accordingly will be treated shoddily should they venture into an expensive shop. Vienna however, has no financial centre comparable to Milan or New York and little or no industry. The Viennese lives from the Habsburg legacy, Mozart and the Viennese waltz. While the waltz may be something that died out a hundred years ago in Western Europe it is still very popular in Vienna. While this way of living appears charming at first, the accompanying snobbery is not.

Tourists are warmly received. They are the city’s life-blood. They bring money into the city and best of all, like all good foreigners, they go again. Western Europeans are treated like tourists even if they have been living in the city for years. Since the Viennese do not leave Vienna it is beyond their comprehension that somebody from western Europe would want to work and live in the city for longer than two years. The vast majority of EU citizens will work for international companies or organisations. It is nigh on impossible for a non-Austrian to find gainful employment in an Austrian company. Protectionism is too strong. Exceptions are sometimes made for the Germans[8] and those married to an Austrian. A French student of mine once advised me to invent an Austrian fiancée or wife when going for a job interview. This strict protectionism does not apply to blue-collar workers, who are permitted to do the dirty work but not expected to rise above their station. Thus an Italian should sell ice cream, a Turk is here to make kebabs and a English native speaker should work as a native speaker.

As fore mentioned, for the Viennese there is no life outside of Vienna. They tend to get homesick in Hütteldorf. Vienna is for them, the centre of the earth and those who go as far a field as Bratislava or Munich are shocked to find that Austria and more importantly Vienna, does no really feature in the news and newspapers. Most of them leave the city only to go on holidays. Otherwise they are born there, go to school there, get a job there and die there. The majority of Viennese have never been to Bratislava, although it is only half an hour away. They only venture into the Czech Republic and Hungary to avail of cheap counterfeit goods and to help support the sex industry.

Languages such as Czech, Slovak, Slovenian and Hungarian are not taught in Viennese schools. Spanish, French and Italian are deemed more relevant. This would suggest that there is very little contact with the surrounding neighbours. The Viennese are similar to the Americans, namely they tend to live in their own world, except the latter travel more. Their knowledge of the outside world is limited largely to clichés. They know exactly how the Americans live because they watch American TV shows which reflect reality perfectly, just like Kaisermühlen Blues and Mundl reflect exactly how all the Viennese live. Thus, all Americans are fat and stupid. They don’t even know basic things that shaped our modern world like who scored the wining goal against Germany in 1978.

Problems such as racism and sex slavery in Vienna are not openly acknowledged. The Viennese prefer to examine these problems in other countries. Austrian anti-racism associations such as ZARA do not get government funding and although he was honoured all over the world the late Simon Wiesenthal was regarded more of an embarrassment and a thorn in the side of a country that insisted it was a victim.[9] While Germany went overboard with its examination of its dark past the topic has hardly been touched upon in Austria. Programmes regarding Austria’s role in the Third Reich will either not be screened on ORF or shown at an awkward time like one o’clock in the morning. History books still stress the high level of resistance to the Nazis (which was representative of only a very small minority) and only mentions war crimes committed by the Germans.

The Viennese are the Viennese. They live in their own little world, blissfully unaware of the world outside. They are content to live like this for the world outside would be very strange for them and they therefore rarely venture into it. A student of mine once compared them to trolls living under ground, never seeing the light of day. It may appear that they hate Jews, Turks, blacks and Muslims but they do not really hate anyone. They are merely indifferent, which reminds me of something George Bernhard Shaw once said- the worst sin towards our fellow man is not to hate him, but to be indifferent to him. That is the essence of inhumanity.

[1] Living in Germany, a country where EU membership is noticeable, I never came across such a term. Unlike the Viennese, the Germans regard foreigners as those who do not come from the EU.
[2] Despite evidence to the contrary the majority of Austrians do not view the FPÖ as an extreme right wing party. In fact they are highly accepted socially.
[3] This is not entirely true. In January 2006 Austria took over the EU presidency and since then the EU flag has been on prominent display on two city buildings, the City Hall and the parliament.
[4] The newspaper has also an extreme right-wing touch to it. On 20 April 1994 when the country was experiencing a surge in neo–nazi violence they published a poem in honour of Adolf Hitler.
[5] Although the Viennese hate the Germans so much it does not prevent them from watching German shows such as ‘Wetten, dass…’ or ‘Der Bulle von Tölz, supporting German football teams or entering German shops. Indeed, the vast majority of shops in Austria are under German ownership.
[6] These groups also exist in Germany but with a considerably weaker xenophobic and racist agenda than in Austria. Regrettably, most of the politicians in the ÖVP, FPÖ and BZÖ are members.

[8] I recently telephoned with an Austrian newspaper. From her clear understandable German it was obvious that the woman on the other side was German. Asking her how she managed to get a real job in Austria she replied it wasn’t easy and that in the interview an important question she was asked was what she could do for Austria.
[9] Jews in Berlin were ten times more likely to survive the holocaust than in Vienna. It is interesting to note that the Gestapo agent who arrested Anne Frank survived the war. When Wiesenthal tracked him down to Vienna he was still working for the police under his real name. He was eventually brought to trial. Although through his actions innocent people were sent to the extermination camps, he was acquitted of any wrongdoing. During the infamous Eichmann trial demonstrations for Eichmann’s acquittal were held in Vienna.

The Irish as they are

The Irish as they are-a guide to getting to know them better

Hard Facts, clichés, opinions, exaggerations, praise and scorn in 50 points.


Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

(originally published in Polish in The Polska Gazeta in 2005)

1. The Irish don’t speak foreign languages, because they believe everyone speaks English. The main foreign languages taught in schools are French, German, Spanish and Italian. Everyone learns a smattering of one of these languages and after six years they are only in a position to make simple conversation. Irish is an official language of the Republic and is compulsory but few can speak it proficiently, chiefly because although it is a school subject it is not really taught in school. Irish is more than merely a language. It is patriotism, cultural identity and for many a traumatic experience. English Grammar is barely taught in schools with the result that many have a poor standard of written English.

2. Tipping is not common (restaurants are an exception). Most believe prices are too high. In some places tips may actually be refused.

3. The Irish are generally quite friendly towards strangers. Many Irish people know what it is like to be in a foreign country and for this reason racism does not really suit them. Tourists looking a map will often be asked if they need help. They will not however, bow down before tourists. Tourists are expected to adapt to Irish culture.

4. Ireland has a very beautiful landscape, which attracts thousands of tourists. Unfortunately, it is an asset that, neither the government nor the people look after or respect. Anyone interested in protecting the environment is labelled a ‘tree hugger’. This attitude is changing, albeit slowly and the rusty cars deserted at the roadside have been removed. Following a levy on plastic bags the number of them blowing around has been reduced.

5. The average Irishman, regardless of occupation or education, has a broad general knowledge because they seem to read a lot. Semi-learned magazines crammed with fascinating facts are popular.

6. The Irish do not like to be ordered about and are not impressed by titles. Should a grand title be mentioned the standard response would be ‘who’s he when he’s at home?’

7. The Irish go to church every Sunday, but do not on the whole, take religion too seriously. Catholicism was strongly implanted until the end of the 20th century. The colonial masters tried to make the Irish become Protestants and this was bitterly resisted. Catholicism was also forbidden during the British occupation, which made the religion stronger. The once strong connection between Church and state is separating. For many, belief in God has been replaced by a belief in making money.

8. The Irish spend an eternity waiting for a bus. The timetable, if indeed there is one, is only a rough guideline. When the bus is actually going to come is anyone’s guess. In the country a bus can be flagged down along the road. It is usual to thank the bus driver, who in the city will let you off wherever you want to get off.

9. It is very easy to get to know Irish people. To get to know them well is another matter. Very often their friendliness is somewhat superficial. Nor are they above a little backstabbing.

10. The Irish are highly mobile. They travel all over the world both on holiday and to work. Until the 1980s there was high unemployment and it was taken for granted that there was no future for the youth in Ireland.

11. Contrary to popular belief the Irish do not drink more than other people. They do however drink differently. Alcohol is not consumed with meals at home. Irish people prefer to drink with other people in the pub rather than at home. Alcohol can only be purchased between certain times and is not sold on Christmas Day or Good Friday. There is an organisation called the pioneers, whose members don’t drink at all. Teetotallers will be more accepted in Ireland than other countries.

12. The Irish tend to shy away from discussing religion and politics in pubs, but generally prefer light-hearted topics. Indeed, with many Irish it can be nigh on impossible to have a serious conversation.

13. The Irish have two favourite football teams - Ireland and whoever is playing against England. In general, Irish people do not have a problem with the English. The latter come as tourists in droves and provided they don’t behave like colonial masters or make condescending and racist remarks about the locals they are warmly received. If you are curious to find out why the some Irish don’t like the English just read an Irish history book. Thousands of Irish fought for the English in both world Wars and were regarded as traitors until the mid 1990s. The days of ‘burn everything British, but their coal’ are however part of history.

14. School children boast continually how little they study and then go home and study until the early hours. The focus is on getting good grades and not necessarily learning something. PE and religion are not examination subjects and therefore not taken too seriously. They apply for a university course six months before their Leaving Certificate and will only be awarded a place in the course if they have the requisite points. Should they not be satisfied with their offer they repeat the Leaving Certificate a year later.

15. A rip-off culture pervades. The Irish will pay exorbitant prices to have their fun, without giving the cost any consideration. Only if tourist numbers fall will the prices fall. Irish products such as whiskey can be up to 10 Euro cheaper outside of Ireland.

16. Since 2004 there has been a smoking ban in all pubs, restaurants, shops, offices and public buildings. The vast majority of people who have come to cherish clean air accept the ban. Those wishing to smoke can go outside, and as they have something in common with the other people outside, come easily into conversation.

17. It is not unusual for men to start up a conversation with strangers in the toilet. This does not mean that they are gay as some tourists have thought but they are merely being sociable.

18. Ireland has possibly Europe’s worst train system, though there are political reasons for this. If there is no efficient train system, more people will drive. If there are more cars on the road, there is more revenue for the government.

19. Many politicians own pubs. Therefore any motions such as permitting alcohol to be sold in cafés or decreasing the price of alcohol will be quickly defeated.

20. Ireland has a professional army, but no military service. Irish Society is very unmilitary and apart from when the army brings money to the bank soldiers in uniform will very rarely be encountered. Most soldiers only wear the uniform inside the barracks and change into their normal clothes when their working day is over. Many people would not be in a position to tell it apart from other military uniforms.

21. The Irish tend to dress very lightly when they go out. Even in winter coats or jackets are unusual. The argument is that they could get stolen in a pub or club and also makes you less mobile when hunting. Shirt and jeans for the boys, summer dresses for the girls. Women generally only carry umbrellas.

22. They wear a swimsuit in the sauna. The naked body would cause offence and embarrassment. Nudist colonies are unknown and the picture of the naked page-three girl will not be closely examined, at least not in public.

23. Homosexuality was a crime until 1993. Now it is completely accepted and two TDs (members of parliament) are openly gay and nobody has a problem with it. Playboy was illegal until 1996, but these days sex shops and lap-dancing clubs are thriving businesses. Prostitution is still illegal

24. The Irish do not care in the slightest about Northern Ireland. The conflict was referred to as ‘The Troubles’, never ‘the war’ and is very much part of the past.

25. Local patriotism is only important in (Gaelic) football. Every team has their own colours; red and white for example represent Cork. When the local team plays the county colours are to be seen everywhere and the streets become deserted when the game starts. Gaelic football and hurling is more popular that the Irish soccer league. Soccer fans tend to support English teams more than the Irish ones.

26. Every county has its own nickname. For example Galwegians are referred to ‘The Tribesmen’, Corkonians ‘The Rebel County’. Some also have derogatory name. Thus people from the capital are referred to Jackeens, while Dubliners refer to the rest of the country as culchies.

27. Ireland has a very young population. While it is currently been downsized to two, most families have four children. A generation ago families were bigger. Paradoxically, the poorer the family the more children they had.

28. Ireland has had a female president since 1990. The first president Mary Robison changed the country greatly and was succeed by another woman, Mary McAleese.

29. Ireland joined the EEC in 1973.

30. Ireland has a compensation culture, influence by the American model. This has led to the omnipresent ‘health and safety’ regulations, which are extremely strict, bordering on the silly. The most notorious example of this was when the army sued the state for deafness.

31. Blood sports such as foxhunting and hare coursing are still legal. Bare-knuckled boxing, badger baiting and dog fighting have been outlawed.

32. Betting on dogs and horses, indeed betting on anything is popular. The Irish bookies made a massive loss a few years ago when they invited people to place bets on who shot Mr Burns (The Simpsons). What they didn’t know was that the episode has been shown the week before in America and Irish students returning from summer work in the US made a small fortune.

33. Ireland has an unarmed police force. In an effort to integrate our recent arrivals, membership is open to foreigners. The population has a bad habit of working against the Police. Everyone complains about drink driving, yet if there is a checkpoint, motorists will flash their lights at other motorists to warn them that there is a checkpoint ahead.

34. Most weapons i.e. flick knifes, handguns, high calibre hunting rifles, gas pistols, are forbidden. Fireworks and bangers are also illegal.

35. The Irish love to read about petty crimes described in great detail in the local newspapers. Ireland has a policy of naming and shaming and the name and address of the guilty party will be published, which can be very embarrassing in a small town, where everyone knows everyone. Older people tend to read the deaths column every day, perhaps to see if they have died.

36. The TV is central to family life. When visitors enter the volume may be turned down but the TV will often remain switched on. Soaps are followed religiously. The mundane happenings in Coronation Street (from Manchester) are an integral part of Irish family life. The characters are spoken of as if they were family members. What happens in the soaps is even discussed on radio and in the newspaper. What will happen is a main feature of women’s’ magazines.

37. The Irish do not feel threatened by foreigners. Together with Britain, and Sweden it has an open-door policy on immigration. An influx of foreigners into the country is something new but they have been generally well received. To date there are no racist groups in The Republic. ‘Irish-only’ signs regarding accommodation and jobs are unknown and this policy is strictly enforced by the ‘race and equality’ legislation.

38. Although it has received massive funding from the EU, US investment in the country has also been considerable. Most computers for the European market are assembled in Ireland and American firms in Ireland employ over 100,000 Irish people. It is little wonder that anti-American protestors are not as strong as in other EU member states and those who do protest are looked upon as subversives. Ireland is a neutral country but American warplanes and quite possibly captured insurgents pass through Shannon (geographically the first European airport). This is slowing becoming a problem. Ireland owes America, but it also has an untarnished human rights record.

39. Abortion is still illegal, but it is not as issue. If women want an abortion they can fly to Britain.

40. Like the English, the Irish drink tea in large amounts. Some people have up to twenty cups a day. The vast majority of the population only drink black tea, which is stronger than continental black tea. Milk is nearly always added. The milk is generally fresh and long lasting milk is almost unknown in Ireland. Similarly most people use real sugar and not some kind of artificial sweetener.

41. The Irish go shopping seven days a week. Sunday Trading has been possible for the last twenty years. The larger supermarkets are open 24 hours. The maxim ‘shop till you drop’ is very much part of the Christmas spirit.

42. Shoes are not removed when entering houses. It is polite to ask if one should remove ones shoes, to which the response is nearly always ‘only if they’re dirty.’

43. Tradesmen will come when they feel like it. If they say Monday they may not appear until Friday.

44. Property in Ireland is extremely expensive and is continually rising. The Irish do not like to rent. It is illogical for them that Continentals rent their apartment all their lives. Ownership is important. The Irish live in houses and unless they are students or just passing through, they will buy a house. Owing property is something of a national obsession.

45. Football jerseys and jogging trousers do not automatically signal working-class.

46. They pursue a policy of rounds when going drinking. This gives the appearance that people drink faster. People drink at a different pace and the first one finished, usually gets in the next round, which can create a problem if you are a slow drinker. Toasting is unusual in the pub as are drinking games.

47. Regarding work, the Irish pursue a policy of late to bed, late to rise. Most people only start the working day at 09:30. In this regard they are somewhat laid back.

48. Greetings in shops are unusual. The customer will not be automatically addressed or followed around the shop until they indicate that they want assistance.

49. Younger people speak a type of English that is mixture of Hiberno-English (English as it was traditionally spoken in Ireland, incorporating Gaelic grammar and pronunciation), British English and American slang learnt from TV. Hiberno-English is rich is colourful expressions that mystify other English speakers. It is still not possible for most Irish people to pronounce ‘th’ and they still pronounce film as filum.

50. In dealing with Irish people you must be human first. Everything else takes second place. This applies to everyone, regardless of rank and station. A writer who writes the finest books cannot live in Ireland if he lacks the common touch.

Lili Marlene

Lili Marlene

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate,Darling I remember the way you used to wait, 'Twas there that you whispered tenderly, That you loved me, You'd always be,My Lili of the lamplight, My own Lili Marlene

Lili Marlene undoubtedly ranks as the most famous song of The Second World War. It became the unofficial song of both the Germans and Allies and had many different versions, some designed to promote longing and love, others hatred towards the foe while others were anti-war.

The song was originally written by Hans Leip (1893-1983) in 1915, who was a young soldier about to go to war. What he experienced at the front horrified him and he often reminisced of happier times when he stood on guard duty and caught a glimpse of his girlfriend and wondered if he would survive the death and destruction that surrounded him. Amidst the horrors of war he longed to be with her once more, a longing his generation and the next one could readily identify with. The name Lili Marlene was a combination of the name of his girlfriend Lili, with that of his friend’s girlfriend Marlene.
It was published as a poem in 1937 under the title of 'The Song of a Young Sentry' when it caught the attention of the composer Norbert Schultze who wrote music to ita and in 1938 and got Lale Andersen to sing it. It was first sung at a cabaret but this version was forbidden due to its anti-war message, one of the verses which ran:
Who recovers the bodies,Lost in desert sands?Who counts the victimson the oil-soaked beaches?Tell me, how much pain must pass,'til we see the waste and stupidity of it all?Oh God, Lilli Marleen

It landed Schultze in hot water with the authorities and in order to appease the Propaganda Ministry who could make or break his career he later came up with marches such as 'Bombs for England', which in turn landed him in trouble with the English after the war.
When the song was released it didn’t prove popular. The propaganda minister Josef Goebbels wanted to make a march out of it, which Andersen didn’t want and no radio station wanted to play it. When it was launched it only sold 700 copies.

In 1941 when the Germans occupied Yugoslavia they set up a radio station in Belgrade to broadcast to their troops. It was powerful enough to broadcast to most of Europe. Lieutenant Karl-Heinz Reintgen had the job of running the tiny station with rather limited resources. After the radio station was bombed he was left with only five records, three of which were banned. Therefore Reintgen had no option but to play the same two records again and again. It was assumed that the station in Belgrade would have a very limited audience and he played the Lili Marlene for his friend serving with the Afrika Korps who liked the song very much, until he couldn’t take it anymore and resolved never to play it again. What happened next shocked him. The station was inundated with letters and telegrammes from all over Europe requesting the song be played. One of the letters was even from an American, although America was now at war with Germany, requesting that Reintgen play a request for a friend of his. At the time the song was not been played in Germany as the propaganda ministry felt that the sad song was bad for morale and Andersen herself was forbidden to perform as she was consorting with Jews. Now everyone in Germany wanted to hear her sing it and the authorities were forced to back down. Field marshal Rommel also ranked among the legions of fans of the song and requested that it be permanently integrated into the programme. Thus every evening at 9:55, just before the station went off air the sad song echoed over the deserts of North Africa and soldiers on all sides listened in. For a brief moment they could reminisce about they love they had to leave behind back home. The station also proved to be a way of contacting the Allies. On one occasion an RAF pilot, who had been shot down was brought into the station under guard. He had been posted as missing and was anxious that his pregnant wife back in England know that he was alright.
The popularity of the song meant that it could be used for propaganda purposes and the BBC came up with a German version with a subtle anti-Hitler message, to remind the German troops that due to Hitler, their wives were suffering alone at home with the hardships of war. The British were becoming concerned that their soldiers were whistling and singing a German song and when several English soldiers were given a dressing down they responded by saying that someone should write an English version of it.
In 1944 Tommie Connor did just that and composed the English text in only 25 minutes. It was first sung in English by Anne Shelton. Over a million records of the song were sold in a month. It was also sung by Vera Lynn, Edith Piaf, Amanda Lear, Bing Crosby and Perry Como but it was Marlene Dietrich who immortalised the song for the Allies. Dietrich was originally from Germany but joined the American forces to help the fight against her fellow countrymen, something that Germans never forgave her for. She entertained the Allied troops with ‘The Girl under the Lantern’ both on radio and live performances in North-Africa, Sicily, Italy, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and England over a three year period. The theme of a soldier longing for his love was something people all over the world could understand, especially in a time of separation that the war had brought.
By the time the war had ended the song had been translated into 48 languages and its popularity didn’t show signs of waning. As late as the 1980s it was still been re-released into the charts. Never before had a single song captivated so many people and it has yet to find its equal.

In February of 1997 a bizarre trial took place in Krems near Vienna. A sixty-six year old woman was in court. She could have been anyone’s grandmother and her charming, helpful demeanour showed no trace of the horrific crime of which she was accused. It was a crime that had shocked all of Austria and attracted worldwide media attention. She stood accused of poisoning her husband and at least two other men.

The woman was Elfriede Blaunensteiner. Her partner, Alois Pichler had died only two months after meeting her. He was not the only one and her victims were all her age group, both male and female who were lonely with few or no relatives. In all the cases that could be proven she was the sole inheritor of the victim’s property, thus providing greed as the sole motive.
A murderess is not common in Europe and especially not one so cold and calculating. In many ways she fitted the profile associated with murderesses. Female killers tend to kill differently to their male counterparts. In accordance with this pattern, Blauensteiner was careful, precise and methodical in her work. She poisoned her victims with drugs that were easy to obtain. Nobody can be too careful though, and it was when Blauensteiner made her first mistake that she was apprehended.

Little is known about Blaunensteiner’s early life. There was nothing special about it and perhaps this is one reason why she would later enjoy the media attention. It would to be her brief moment of attention. She was very much an ordinary woman, who was born in Vienna in 1931. Her father died in the war, which was a fate thousands of families had to suffer at the time and therefore grew up without a father figure in her life. The family was extremely poor and lived in squalor and dirt. Blauensteiner saw only one way to break out of this- with money. She married relatively young but the marriage failed, which left her with embittered towards men, a bitterness that was to have terrible consequences.

She had met the 76-year-old age pensioner, Alois Pichler who came from the village of Rossatzbach in the beautiful wine region of the Wachau, in the autumn of 1995 through an ad in the lonely-hearts column of popular newspaper the Kronen Zeitung. The ad she had placed read simply ‘looking for a lonely man, who longs for a home-loving widow’. It was exactly what the postmaster Pichler had been looking for- a caring companion with whom he could live out his days. Blauensteiner would oblige him in the latter, though sooner than he had thought.
He had no major health problems but suddenly fell into a comma, only two days after meeting Blauensteiner. He died in November, only two months after meeting her, leaving her his entire inheritance. She had earlier forged the will, quite possibly with the knowledge of her lawyer, one Harald Schmidt, who would later receive a prison sentence for his role as an accessory to murder. It wasn’t long before the inheritance had been spent in the casino at the roulette table, for Blauensteiner was addicted to gambling.

It would later emerge that Pichler, who had become bedridden since meeting her, had been locked in his room. As part of his ‘treatment’ she had covered him with wet blankets and left the window open although it was winter. She also gave him hot and cold baths to speed up his demise.
Pichler was where Blauensteiner had become careless. His sister, a 91-year-old nun who had become suspicious of her brother’s sudden deterioration in health and a nephew who wondered why he had been suddenly disinherited when it was expected that he would inherit his uncle’s estate, survived him. How was it that his uncle had left everything to a woman he had known for such a short time? He challenged the will and contacted the police. Once the police were involved and autopsy had to be carried out. The body was removed to Vienna, where the autopsy revealed large quantities of the anti-depressant anafranil in Pichler’s body. Pichler had obviously not died a natural death and Blauensteiner was the only suspect but how could it be proven that she had murdered him? After all, it could have been an accidental death.
In the meantime, the funeral, having been delayed because of the autopsy took place in December and Blauensteiner’s behaviour did little to dispel rumours in the village that she was nothing but a gold digger, who had probably sent Pichler to his grave. She did not appear to be in mourning and arrived late for the funeral, wearing a fur coat in the company of two bodyguards to protect her from the angry villagers. She walked up to the grave and with the words ‘adieu, Alois’ threw in a bunch of red roses into the open grave, turned and left. It was later claimed that she wrote a new ad for the lonely-hearts column while being driven away from the graveside.

The murder investigation began in earnest after the funeral. As part of the investigation Blauensteiner’s phone was tapped. The police officers, who listened, were shocked at what they heard. Not only was she talking to her lawyer matter of factly about the murder, but she also made reference to other murders. A serial killer had been found, of whose activities the full horrid details had yet to emerge.
The telephone conversations were enough for the police to move in and she was arrested in her Viennese apartment in Margarentenstrasse in January of 1996. She made no attempt to deny the accusations and spoke freely and in great detail about her activities, even giving herself the nickname the ‘black widow’, sending a cold shiver down the spine of the policemen interviewing her. She admitted to the murder of her partner and two other men. From the way she described her victims it was clear that she despised them. Had Blauensteiner not volunteered so much information to the police many of the deaths would have gone unnoticed. She did not see herself as a murderess though. She believed she had merely helped put them out of their misery.

Her first known victim was an old age pensioner by the name of Otto Reinl. She administered euglucon to him. Euglucon is a drug used for diabetics, which lowers the blood sugar level. Tan overdose of it can be fatal. The advantage for her of using euglucon and the anti-depressant anafranil was that they were tasteless and could therefore be added and dissolved in any hot drink. Thus her victims may not have been aware in the initial stages that Blauensteiner was poisoning them. By the time they realised she did not have their best interests at heart it was too late and like the spider who paralyses the fly they could only lie there and await their terrible fate. They drugs had been easy to get and she had simply made an appointment with a doctor and slipped him a little money. The official cause of death was diabetes mellitus and no suspicions were aroused.
In August 1992, her second husband, Rudolf Blaunensteiner then aged 52, fell ill and was nursed by his wife. Again euglucon was given to him as part of his ‘treatment’ although he was not even diabetic. He eventually went into a comma brought on by her ‘treatment’ and she continued giving him his ‘medicine’ until it killed him a week later. Blauensteiner was careful about disposing the body and had her late husband cremated.

A chance to get more money arose when the next-door neighbour, Franziska Köberl, became ill and Blauensteiner offered to nurse her back to health, but the patient’s health did not improve. It took somewhat longer for the euglucon to work on Köberl for she was a bit of a sweet tooth but once Blauensteiner became aware of this she increased the dose until Köberl also died on the 15 December 1992. Köberl left everything to Blauensteiner.

Friederich Döcker, a 65 year old bachelor also fell victim to her Blauensteiner’s care on 11 June 1995 after he answered her ad in the paper. According to his wishes his body was given to medical research, making a later autopsy impossible. She also helped her 61-year-old janitor to commit suicide.
The gaps between her murders were now narrowing and she was going out of control. The more she murdered the more difficult it would be to conceal it. She was bound to make a mistake soon and it would only be a matter of time before she was discovered. Alois Pichler was her last murder.

Her trial began in February of 1997 in Krems. She basked in the media attention and behaved like some kind of star who had just been invited to a talk show, doing her best to entertain her audience. Had her crimes not being so cold it would have been entertaining. Displaying her religious belief she even brought a golden crucifix into the trial and proclaimed before the judge ‘I wash my hands in innocence. I would never kill’. She seemed to have forgotten that she earlier admitted to everything. At no stage did she express any form of regret.
The only motive for her cold-hearted murders that could ever be established was simply greed. According to her own statement Blauensteiner spent 21 days a month in casinos playing roulette. She needed the money to feed her addiction. Sometimes she won and sometimes she lost. It has been estimated that she lost over a million euro in the casino.
There was insufficient evidence to link her to the murder of her husband and the charge was dropped, but not that of Pichler.
She was given life imprisonment for the murder of Pichler. True to character, at her sentencing she turned to the media and quipped ‘take all the photos you want of me. I’m a star now.’
Thus, she began her life in prison, where the other prisoners received her well and she became something of a mother to them. Ever aware of a fresh opportunity to make money she began work on her memoirs, expressing the hope that Steven Spielberg would buy the rights and make a movie about her life, with maybe Elisabeth Taylor in the lead role. A TV film was actually made for Austrian TV but was not as glamorous as Blauensteiner had hoped.
At a later trial in 2001, she was found guilty of murdering two other people. Her only concern was the lack of media attention and only wanted to discuss the recent film on her life with the media. Because she had already been given life she could not be, according to Austrian law, be sentenced any further. The judge proclaimed that while he could not sentence her further the case was of such an unfair dimension that is was too much for an earthly court to pass judgement on.
Thus she was officially charged and found guilty of the murder of three people, though it is more likely that she killed five or even more, but this could never be proven. Much to her disdain she faded into insignificance after this. Nobody cared about her anymore and her death of a brain tumour in 2003, while still in prison, failed to make the headlines.