Brown Spots Require Clean-Up

An Austrian town littered with references to its Nazi past has been forced to clean up its image after the country's Chancellor demanded the reluctant socialist mayor remove its National Socialist "brown spots."Backed by Chancellor Viktor Klima, the Austrian Young Socialists have won their fight to change the hue of Wels in Upper Austria. The city is known for a memorial to the Waffen SS, a recreation hall sporting a large swastika and named after a leading Nazi athlete, and a street bearing the name of a composer who wrote the popular Nazi Party anthem, "The Swastika Song."Town mayor Karl Bregartner, who has voiced his opposition to renaming the sports hall and street, has been given until October to remove the offending signs and to erect a monument to the victims of the Holocaust.Wels' sports hall, named the Moritz Etzold Hall in an official ceremony in 1960 after a prominent gymnast and early Nazi, will be renamed "Sportshall on the (River) Traun," and a swastika-relief will be removed from the wall. Made from plaster, four F's -- standing for Frisch, Froehlich, Fromm and Frei (fresh, joyful, pious and free) -- form the hooks of the swastika. Last year it was whitewashed in an attempt to blend it into the wall.Kernstock Street, in the town center, named after Ottaker Kernstock, is also to be "denazified." A catholic priest and revolutionary, Kernstock was a nationalist poet who wrote "The Swastika Song," the first line of which runs: "We have no fear of death or evil. God is bound to us." One of the founders of national socialism, he died before Hitler came to power.For Mayor Bregartner, who has held his post for the past 15 years, it is a black and white issue. "As long as there are other Kernstock Streets in other towns, why should Wels have to make the change? I will keep my stubborn position on this," he said. The Young Austrian Socialists have now said they will widen their campaign to rid Austria of the 53 other Kernstock streets, squares and lanes scattered nationwide. Signs have already been renamed in three towns in the last couple of years, including the Dr. Ottaker Kernstock Lane in Vienna.Robert Pichler, chairman of the Young socialists said, "We've fought for over three years for this. The mayor made no effort to change things, but we've fought against him and won."But the inhabitants of the town conquered by the Romans in 15 BC, are livid about the upset the changes will cause to their lives, none more so than those living in Kernstock Street. Getrud Avi, 62, helps run a fun-fair firm -- one of four businesses on the street. "Businesses here will have to change the notepaper, business cards, registration forms, and stamps and although the town has said it will cough up, they have not taken into account the amount of time we will spend on paperwork," she said.A 56-year-old retired shop assistant who has lived at number 24 for twenty years said: "There are people called Ottaker Kernstock living for real in St Leonard am Hornerwald and in Vienna's 16th district. Should they now be forced to change their names?"The town of 20,000 inhabitants is not facing controversy over its right-wing affairs for the first time. In September 1994, a memorial to local members of Hitler's Waffen SS who were killed in the second world war was stolen from a local church, after the group "Wels citizens against Fascism" fought to have the thirty-year old plaque removed. Mayor Bregartner was forced to back down after permitting the commissioning of a replacement plaque."That brought an end to the first of the town's brown spots," said the anti-Fascist campaigner, Wels-born Dr. Robert Eiter, 37.As part of the deal struck with the Socialist party, Bregartner has also agreed to erect a monument to the 1,200 Jews who died in Wels, which lay on the so-called death-march route which prisoners had to make between Mauthaussen and Gunskirchen concentration camps.Meanwhile the town hall is busy discussing possible new names for Kernstock Street, a nondescript, mainly residential road. Among those put forward so far include are of author and outspoken Hitler-opponent Thomas Mann; the Jewish-Catholic poet, Hilde Spiel; and poet Karl Zuckmayer who was forced to emigrate from Austria to the USA in 1939.Life-long Wels resident and taxi driver Klaus Linhart, 42, was reluctant to make the journey across town to Kernstock Street. "For us it's not an issue. In Wels we have no brown spots, only freckles," he insisted.Christine Horner, 79, at number four, cannot understand the fuss. "I don't understand what all the palaver is about. Don't you have any Kernstock Streets in England?"


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