VIENNA—Like many Austrian fraternities, Germania zu Wiener Neustadt sometimes uses a songbook at its get-togethers. It looks ordinary enough, with its red cover, gold crest, and curling script. The cover is studded with metal nails called “Biernagel” that keep the book slightly elevated so it doesn’t get wet when lying in beer.
Unlike most other songbooks, however, it contains lyrics about killing Jews. “Step on the gas,” one line reads. “We’ll manage the seventh million.”
When the Vienna-based newspaper Falter (for which I am a frequent contributor) wrote about the book in January, it promptly derailed the political career of one of the fraternity’s most notable members: Udo Landbauer, who was running as a candidate for Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) in state elections on January 28. One day before the vote, the Austrian president suggested he step down. On February 1, Landbauer resigned from all political positions. He had been a city councillor in Wiener Neustadt and the head of the FPÖ’s district office in that city.
Landbauer, 31, who was also the deputy chairman of the fraternity for a couple of years, claimed he hadn’t known about such lines: “Not being a gifted singer, I didn’t go through all the pages,” he said in a television interview. The songbook outraged the nation anyway. The prime minister of Lower Austria, Johanna Mikl-Leitner of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), said she wouldn’t work with Landbauer. Bad international press followed, causing embarrassment the FPÖ could ill afford. In the six weeks since it had become the junior partner in a coalition government with the ÖVP at the federal level, it had struggled to appear respectable. The party had gotten negative press just two weeks earlier, when its minister of the interior proposed “concentrating refugees into camps.” The Jewish community of Vienna, where the majority of the country’s 12,000 to 15,000 Jews live, has been boycotting the FPÖ; it refused to participate in the government’s official Holocaust memorial ceremony last month.