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Review: The Black Cross. Remembering the Victims of War – for Peace

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Review: The Black Cross. Remembering the Victims of War – for Peace (Wienna: BM für Inneres, 2012)
Das Schwar ze Kreuz. Kriegsopferfürsorge-Arbeit für den Frieden (Wien: BM für Inneres, 2012)

The Austrian Black Cross is an organization that dates back to the First World War. It looks after and renovates graves and cemeteries of soldiers who perished in the two world wars.

The Republic of Austria spent a great deal of money in publishing a large report on the activities of the ÖSK. The ÖSK was founded after the First World War to commemorate the soldiers who had died in the war. The organization is responsible for Austrians of the former Wehrmacht and their graves abroad, as well as for all graves, graveyards and cemeteries of foreign and refugee soldiers in Austria. The ÖSK has its office in the center of Vienna, and a large scientific and administrative board, headed by Dr. Stefan Karner, a history professor at the University of Graz. The administrative board is composed of representatives of the nine federal states, and South Tyrol, a province in Italy. Its duty in the nine federal states is to maintain the graves and graveyards of the soldiers, and ensure visitation rights for their families from all over the world. Anyone who has an ancestor in an Austrian cemetery has the right to visit the grave. The central office in Vienna works like a travel agency; it employs several translators and organizes group excursions from Ukraine, Russia, and Eastern Europe to visit graveyards. Maintaining the cemeteries where soldiers are buried and commemorating the deaths of our ancestors are the tasks of the Black Cross.

Academic research and publications are created by the LB Institute für Kreigsfolgenforschung, Universität Graz, where large conferences are held, and books and individual articles are published. A book has been issued, for example, on all the cemeteries in Austria and all the graves of Austrians in other European countries and South Russia. Since the Second World War the Black Cross has been involved in care for and commemoration of stone monuments and ceremonies in graveyards, helping to locate graves, to identify people, and to inform families. The organization also maintains foreign soldiers’ graves in Austria. Its photographs and documents are used for scientific reports all over the world. Some examples of its cooperation are the Austrian-Italian peace meeting, and the peace service for the Near East in North Israel-Syria (for the UN). The young people’s organization of the Black Cross offers practical assistance for graveyard work. The documentation contains a list of all the foreign programs since 1963–2011. These special programs are located in Poland, Croatia, Italy, Germany, and Austria.

Young people have come to St. Pölten from Germany, Austria, Russia, Poland, Eastern Europe, and twice from Russia.

Every federal state in Austria has its own organization.

Forty-seven locations are cemeteries, thirty-eight for the Red Army or Russians.

Nine hold Austro-Hungarians, Serbs, Italians, Dutch, Romanians, or laborers from the east. All of Burgenland is full of graves of Russians who died in 1945 as a third Ukrainian army. Vienna’s roll-over to the Nazi troops is history, but the number of victims is not. Lower Austria is another province which holds an enormous number of graves, but cites 202 cemeteries, with the graves of the parents of Austrian oligarchs like Abramovich or Deripaska among them (all Zwettl).

Twenty-one were dedicated to German Wehrmacht, thirty-two to the Red Army, thirty-four to the Austro-Hungarian army, seven to Germans expelled from the Czech Republic, and small graves for Russia, Italians, Serbians, Romanians, and Montenegrins, as well as three cemeteries for Jews.

The list of grave-related activities concludes with gardening, preservation, tourism etc.

The second emphasis is on the foreign work on World War I and II graves abroad. In the years 2007–2012 old graves were renovated and reconstructed in Italy. This work was done by a organization of volunteers called Alpinis und Fantis. The Austrian Black Cross paid for part of the work, but the bones of Austrian soldiers were exhumed and placed into “Sossarien.”

The nine federal states and South Tyrol describe their activities on all graveyards. Only men take part in the work. The masculine character of the organization is overt, and as such, the Black Cross is denounced as conservative or reactionary. It is a gathering of soldiers, officers, and military personnel from the Austrian army, as well as high-ranking civil servants. The organization is gathered in nine boards, the general assembly, with two heads and two vice-secretaries, presently managed by General Barthou, in Vienna, on behalf the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The various tasks are a very important factor in the life of the organization, and the nine federal states describe their history and practices to date, as well as the tradition of the groups, the people, the journeys, the cemeteries, the spending policy, and public opinion. South Tyrol is a special case, as it is Italian; its three cemeteries, in Meran, Brixen, and Bruneck hold 699 Austro-Hungarian soldiers, 103 Russians, thirteen Serbs, and seven Romanian soldiers. The book ends with the foreign graves, as Austrians are buried in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Hungary, and Cyprus.

The timetable at the end is a summary of the activities from 2000–2011 (international conferences, work with children, commemoration ceremonies, peace services in churches, commemorative sculptures etc.)


Sabine Stadler studied social sciences, political science, and European studies in Vienna and Paris. She is a social worker and documentalist; speaks five languages. She works for the Austrian after-care service and in the Federal Academy of Public Administration and the Austrian State Archive. She has been a freelance social scientist, adult educator, and museum/library/archive worker since 2000. She is an Austrian expert to the European Commission and University teacher in Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Russia. She has contributed around 140 publications in German, English, and Russian on Youth, Central Europe, Women, Russia and EU expansion. She is an expert in cultural heritage, and on the gray scientific literature in Austrian files.


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This article has been published in the second issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the European memory of the First World War.

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