Elfriede Jelinek's new play Rechnitz is to open in Munich on 28th November in the Münchner Kammerspielen. It will explore the the events that took place outside the small Austrian town of Rechnitz, near the Hungarian border, on 24th March 1945.
Today, more than sixty years after the Nazi terror, a great many Austrians are still unable to look closely at their history. They push it away, they sidestep it, they change the subject, or they refuse point blank to talk about it. What they think about it is anybody's guess. And this is where Nobel Prize winning author Jelinek comes in. She's the door through which the world, and those Austrians who want to, and who have the courage to, can confront the nation's recent past, can look at it, and maybe can deal with it in some way.
It happened that a thousand Hungarian Jews from Köseg/Güns were brought by rail to Rechnitz. They were to be used as slave labour. On arrival some two hundred were found to be unfit for work. These two hundred were separated from the others and taken to a stone building normally used for storing the maize, pumpkins and other produce from the land. They awaited their fate. It wasn't long in coming.
Nearby at Batthyany Castle, as evening set in, Count and Countess Batthyany were greeting many local nobs who were arriving for an evening of partying. And indeed the party was soon in full swing. The guests included such celebrities as Franz Podezin, the NSDAP Group Leader and his followers; dependable, reliable, trustworthy types such as the Count's Estates' Manager and the local District Administrator.
Shortly after midnight several guests led by Franz Podezin equipped themselves with guns and a large quantity of ammunition made their way to the farm building where the two hundred elderly and infirm, the so-called 'unfit for work', were imprisoned. All but eighteen of them were shot dead. The eighteen who had been spared were detailed to dig a mass grave. Needless to say having buried their fellow prisoners they were duly executed.
In 1948 three men, Ludwig Groll, Josef Muralter and Eduard Nicka, were put on trial. They received terms of imprisonment. Podezin disappeared. It is believed that he made his way to South Africa. Of the two hundred murdered prisoners only eighteen have been found; the eighteen who were forced at gunpoint to dig the mass grave.
Today Rechnitz is a peaceful town at the foot of a wooded hill rising to 884 metres. It welcomes its visitors, who come to cycle, walk or ride their horses in the surrounding countryside. And there's the added attraction of the lake, an oasis where one can cool off on hot days. Here and there can be found shady wine taverns. There's a brass band and a choir; and there's even some traditional folk dancing in the way of entertainment.
The Rechnitz area, part of the Province of Burgenland, has a wonderful sunshine record. On warm summer days there is only one cloud; and nobody will say where it is.