VIENNA (AP) — Thousands of children were murdered by the Nazis because they fell short of the Aryan ideal. On Friday, a hushed audience gathered in Austria's Parliament to watch the world premiere of an opera depicting how the Nazis methodically killed mentally or physically deficient children at a Vienna hospital during World War II.
The killings were part of a greater campaign that led to the deaths of about 75,000 people — homosexuals, the handicapped, or others the Nazis called "unworthy lives" — and served as a prelude to the Holocaust.
Austrians played a huge role in these and other atrocities of the era — nearly 800 children were killed at Vienna's Spiegelgrund psychiatric ward — and Friday's premiere of the opera "Spiegelgrund" was the latest installment of a national effort to atone for such acts in word and deed.
The timing was picked to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, which will be observed worldwide Sunday, and the performance was streamed live on the Internet for international audiences. But the parliamentary venue was chosen for a particularly Austrian reason: as a reminder of how the country's politicians fomented the atmosphere of intolerance and authoritarianism that allowed Hitler's troops to walk in in 1938, and a determination to not let history repeat itself.
Composer Peter Androsch said his focus on the era was in part born of his own family's history. His great grandfather died in a Nazi concentration camp. Androsch said the fact that that was hidden for generations "says a lot about conditions in totalitarian regimes and should serve as a reminder for me and many others."
At the premiere, legislators were joined by diplomats, Holocaust survivors and other invited guests in an ornate chamber lined with Ionic columns and used for special legislative sessions for a hauntingly effective hour-long performance.
Spiegelgrund survivor Friedrich Zavel was in the audience. He was brought to the clinic in 1940 after being accused of homosexuality. Now 83, he still shudders when he speaks of his ordeals: humiliation, solitary confinement and torture.