Local historian Johannes Kammerstaetter said 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.”
“Nobody cared until all this publicity,” he said on the telephone. He refused a request for a longer interview, saying he was busy for the next two weeks with haying.
In any case, the government’s recent sale of the castle — with all its historical trappings — has suddenly made the bell an issue beyond the sleepy village of 1,500 people about 60 miles west of Vienna.
In a country particularly 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. They also are under pressure to justify a ruling by the government agency in charge of historic monuments that it must remain part of the castle as part of its heritage— despite the refusal of the new owner to say what he plans to do with it.
Propagating Nazi values or praising the era is illegal in Austria. Kammerstaetter, the historian, has formally asked state prosecutors to examine whether the government’s sale of the bell is a criminal offence. He says the change of ownership could constitute a case of “spreading National Socialist ideology” on the part of the government agency in charge of state-owned property
Raimund Fastenbauer, a senior official of Vienna’s Jewish community, invokes other concerns, noting that other Hitler-era relics like the dictator’s house of birth in the western town of Braunau have become a magnet for neo-Nazis.
“I think the best thing would be if the bell disappeared and was buried somewhere,” he said .
For its part, the government says that the sale was legal, along with the decision to keep the bell in the belfry as an integral component of the castle.
Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner says the agency overseeing the sale was not aware of the inscription.
He notes in a letter to Kammerstaetter that “the bell up to now was neither publicly displayed nor generally accessible,” adding that he does not see the sale as constituting a criminal offense.