VIENNA, Austria – A delegate on the outer fringes of Austria's far-right party on Sunday took his leave from the party's convention with "heil" — the greeting associated with Adolf Hitler. The head of the party said he had no problem with the word.
"I'd like to end my short address with a greeting that really is our old greeting ... I greet all of you with a heartfelt 'heil,"' Walter Sucher told a meeting of the Vienna chapter of the FPO party. He received strong applause.
FPO head Heinz-Christian Strache said he saw nothing wrong with the greeting.
"I travel a lot in the western (Austrian) provinces, and wherever I go I am met with this word," the Austria Press Agency quoted him as saying.
While the FPO met in the Austrian capital, thousands of people — including Austrian President Heinz Fischer and other government dignitaries — gathered in Mauthausen in Upper Austria province to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the concentration camp's liberation from the Nazis.
About half of the more than 200,000 people held at Mauthausen and its subsidiary camps died. Many prisoners were killed by gassing, shooting, hanging or beating, but Nazi guards mostly worked inmates to death in an adjacent quarry. It was the last big Nazi death camp still operating when the U.S. Third Army's 11th Armored Division arrived in early May 1945.
While "heil" still is sometimes used by clubs or sports gatherings — as in "hunter's heil," or "skier's heil," it is usually avoided — particularly used alone — because it is most commonly associated with "Heil Hitler," the greeting demanded by the Nazi leader.
The FPO, which runs its election campaigns on a strong anti-foreigner platform, has the support of Austria's far-right voter fringe, including some linked to anti-Semitic sentiments.
It has turned more radical since Joerg Haider, who led it into government after it finished second in 1999 federal elections, left the party last year and took with him its more moderate members to form a new party.
While government leaders now regularly acknowledge Austria's leading role in Hitler's atrocities, latent sympathies for that time still linger, particularly among older Austrians. A 2004 poll showed that more than a third of Austrians believe the Nazi era was in some ways positive.
Just last month, a former Austrian politician was sentenced to probation for breaking a law that bans attempts to diminish, deny or justify the Holocaust. John Gudenus pleaded not guilty to charges that he broke the law by questioning the existence of gas chambers.