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Austrian villagers were unaware of Hitler's bell

Like many others in Austria's countryside, a tower bell above the red-tiled rooftops of Wolfpassing marks the passing of each hour with an unspectacular 'bong'. But this bell is unique: it is embossed with a swastika and praise to Adolf Hitler.

The bell was apparently overlooked by official Austria up to now.

Ensconced in the belfry of an ancient castle where it was mounted by fans of the Nazi dictator in 1939, the bell has tolled on for nearly 80 years. It survived the fall of Hitler, a decade of post-war Soviet occupation and more recent efforts by Austria's government to acknowledge the country's complicity in crimes of that era and make amends.

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The Wolfpassing bell pays homage to Hitler for his 1938 annexation of Austria, a move supported by the vast majority of the nation's citizens.

It describes Hitler as "the unifier and Fuehrer of all Germans" and says he freed the 'Ostmark' – Nazi jargon for Austria – "from the yoke of suppression by foreign elements and brought it home into the Great-German Reich".

Local historian Johannes Kammerstaetter says most villagers would have known about it.

But village mayor Josef Sonnleitner asserts even the villagers had no clue until the first media reports last month on the Fuehrerglocke, or Fuehrer Bell.

In a country sensitive about suggestions it has not fully faced its Nazi past, officials are scrambling for explanations of why the bell apparently evaded notice for so long.

Raimund Fastenbauer, a senior official of Vienna's Jewish community, notes that other Hitler-era relics like the dictator's house of birth in Braunau have become a magnet for neo-Nazis.

"I think the best thing would be if the bell disappeared and was buried somewhere," he says.

hnews@herald.ie


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