"I don't know of anything more important than knowing
that this archive exists. Far more people should know about it."
Nobel Literature Prize winner
Former resistance fighters, victims of Nazi persecution and committed academics set up the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes/DÖW) in 1963. Why the archive was founded relatively late - 18 years after the end of World War II - can be explained by the fact that the main influence on Austrian political life in the 1940s and 1950s was not exerted by anti-Fascists or those persecuted or driven into exile by the Nazis, but by those who had taken part in the war on Germany's side or had been members or supporters of the NSDAP. The main political parties let themselves be guided by the interests and attitudes of this "war generation," who, by the way, were not subjected to any psycho-political denazification programmes and, in many cases, persisted in their long held views and ways of thinking. Such individuals formed a majority of the population and were sceptical of, if not downright hostile towards, the very idea of Austrian resistance during the war. Former opponents of Nazism were seen to be "oath-breakers," "traitors," "criminals," "murderers" and often so slandered in public. The record of resistance in Austria was frequently called into question, trivialised or ignored. "The Documentation Centre of an Austrian resistance which never existed," sneered Staberl, Austria's most popular columnist, in Kronen Zeitung in 1971. Recognition of the resistance struggle was paid lip-service to by politicians at ceremonial gatherings. The resistance record was often used for purposes of Austrian foreign policy, for instance, to provide proof of Austria's own contribution to liberating itself (as prescribed by the Moscow Declaration of 1943) during the lengthy negotiations leading up to the signing of the Austrian State Treaty (1955). The activities of DÖW and the resistance research which it fostered, however, did not stem from the official Austrian "victim" standpoint (i. e. Austria being the first country to fall under the yoke of Hitler's aggressive foreign policy), but rather from the intention that the resistance fighters and others persecuted by the Nazis should describe their own struggle and assert themselves against those in society who were ignorant of their rôle or wished to suppress its memory. It was not until 1983 that DÖW - in the legal sense a registered association - established a foundation, which in subsequent years has been financed by the Federal Ministry for Science and the City of Vienna.
From the very beginning the founders of DÖW held the view that it should encompass all democratic movements in Austria and not be under the control of any one political party. The Board of Trustees (Kuratorium) and the Executive Committee (Vorstand), as well as all DÖW staff, belong to those political and ideological groupings which were either involved in the resistance or were themselves victims of persecution by the Nazis. They are bound together by the common belief that everything must be done to combat Nazi and racist propaganda. This attitude ensures that DÖW is not unduly influenced by changes or topical controversies in Austrian politics and it promotes an atmosphere of cooperation in the daily running of the archive. In this sense DÖW is an institute which embodies an Austrian community of interest, corresponding to the spirit of togetherness across party lines on which the foundations for the Second Republic were laid in 1945.
Rudolf Kirchschläger, Federal President of Austria, gave this rôle full recognition in a speech at DÖW's AGM in 1986:
"I am taking this year's AGM as an opportunity to thank, in the name of the Austrian Republic, all those of you who have, by personal commitment, by assistance, by the giving of your time, contributed to the work of the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance. I also wish to state publicly that DÖW fully deserves the important function assigned to it in its protection of democracy and promotion of peace in our Republic."