By Rick Steves
While waltzing from the Schönbrunn to Sachertorte, don't miss a powerful memorial standing behind Vienna's Opera House (on Albertinaplatz). The Monument Against War and Fascism consists of four thought-provoking statues.
The split white monument, The Gates of Violence, remembers victims of all wars and violence, including the 1938–1945 Nazi rule of Austria. Standing directly in front of it, you're at the gates of a concentration camp. Step into a montage of wartime images: clubs and WWI gas masks, a dying woman birthing a future soldier, and chained slave laborers sitting on a pedestal of granite cut from the infamous quarry at Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
The hunched-over figure on the ground behind is a Jew forced to wash anti-Nazi graffiti off a street with a toothbrush. The statue with its head buried in the stone (Orpheus entering the underworld) reminds Austrians of the consequences of not keeping their government on track. Behind that, the 1945 declaration of Austria's second republic — with human rights built into it — is cut into the stone. The experience gains emotional impact when you realize this monument stands on the spot where several hundred people were buried alive when the cellar they were hiding in was demolished in a WWII bombing attack.
Austria was pulled into World War II by Germany, which annexed the country in 1938, saying Austrians were wannabe Germans anyway. But Austrians are not Germans — never were, never will be. They're quick to tell you that while Austria was founded in the 10th century, Germany wasn't born until 1870. For seven years during World War II (1938–1945), there was no Austria. In 1955, after 10 years of joint occupation by the victorious Allies, Austria regained total independence on the condition that it would be forever neutral (and never join NATO or the Warsaw Pact). To this day, Austria is outside of NATO (and Germany).