Austria is filled with little known WWII stories. This weekend Tony and I learned about one of them.
An Austrian Jew who had fled his village of Erlauf in 1934 for America, discovered a manual in a library in Berkeley, California in the 1950s. The manual described the events of 8 May 1945, when Soviet General Dmitry Dritschkin and US General Stanley Reinhart met in Erlauf to celebrate the truce which came into effect at 00:01, effectively marking the end of WWII.
He shared his story with another Jewish peer from Erlauf living in Ohio; and together with the mayor of Erlauf, he himself a man with a history, worked to establish a memorial to this event, dedicated in 1965, a ceremony which both Generals attended. For as long as possible, every 5 or 10 years since the Generals had met in Erlauf for a commemorative handshake.
The document set from the initial celebration in 1965.
Only in recent months has a small museum opened that tells Erlauf’s tale, one all too common for the times.
Gauleiter Jäger wrote, ” Nowhere has the reunification with the German Reich, the wishful dream of all Germans, been more enthusiastically welcomed than in Lower Austria, Adolf Hitler’s ancestral region.”
There are few traces of Jewish culture in Erlauf. Ernst Brod, who found the brochure, fled in 1934 and was the only survivor of his family. His mother and brother, who ran the family store were deported to a concentration camp in Riga and murdered. None of the 14 citizens who lived in Erlauf ever returned.
The museum also tells of life at home and on the front. Franz Steirschneider owned an inn in Melk that he ran with his wife. Once reporting for duty the family kept records of his deployments, including a letter written on birch bark from Russia, dated 1942, one of the last pieces of correspondence they would receive.
In July 1975, the Stierschneider family received word that Franz had “likely died in combat” in Latvia in 1944. In 1985 the family was finally able to have him declared legally dead.
In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, the village began an annual recognition of this integral part of their country’s memory.