SIGN UP for our newsletter ✉️ :

Get the latest stories delivered straight to you

Austria honours WWII deserters for first time

Vienna (AFP) - Austria unveiled Friday its first national monument to the estimated 1,500 people executed by the Nazis for deserting or refusing to fight in World War II, 69 years after the conflict ended.

"Hitler's army was not our army," President Heinz Fischer said at a ceremony inaugurating the flat, X-shaped concrete memorial in central Vienna attended by several aged former deserters.

The monument is a stone's throw from Heldenplatz ("Heroes' Square"), where in 1938 some 250,000 Austrians enthusiastically welcomed Hitler after the "annexation" of the Nazi dictator's native country by Germany.

Several hundred thousand Austrians served in Hitler's armed forces during the 1939-45 conflict, and it took until 2009 -- like in Germany -- for Austria to quash convictions for refusing to fight.

"Until very recently deserters were considered by many people as traitors, even as murderers of their comrades," historian Walter Manoschek from Vienna University told AFP.