Passengers on an express train to Vienna on Sunday night were surprised and upset when instead of the usual overhead announcements, a scratchy recording of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi refrains of “Heil Hitler” and “Sieg Heil” played over the train’s public address system for about 20 minutes.
The train’s engineers were powerless to stop the broadcast or even use the loudspeaker system to communicate with passengers.
The strange episode has led to outrage, embarrassment and head-scratching in Austria, where Hitler was born. Was the train hacked? Were national rail staff to blame? And why was nobody able to stop it?
Tuesday, the mystery seems mostly solved. With the help of a specialized key that opens access to the microphone of the train’s P.A. system, a passenger got access to the system and simply held their phone, which was putting out the recording, up to the system’s microphone, according the national rail service, Ö.B.B. Because the system is designed for emergency broadcasts, it could not be overridden.
National rail investigators used video feeds to identify two men they believe are responsible. The police planned to interview the suspects “as fast as possible,” according to Johann Baumschlager, a regional police spokesman. The suspects are not railroad employees and their motive is unclear. While spreading Nazi propaganda is a criminal offense in Austria, charges have not yet been filed.
Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister, Vienna’s community rabbi, who happened to be on the train when the recording blasted from the speaker, called it “disturbing” especially when the first reaction of some of his fellow passengers was laughter.
“Some Nazi ‘rascals’ apparently hacked into the loudspeaker system of the train” he wrote in a tweet. They were “quite undisturbed and uninhibited” for about 20 minutes, he wrote, recounting his experience.
The recording, which was unusually loud, started at the end of the journey, just outside of Vienna, sometime after 9 p.m., according to witnesses. Before the Nazi recordings, official-sounding fire-alarm announcements were broadcast.
David Stögmüller, a Green Party parliamentarian, was on board and managed to capture a short section of the recording. In a tweet he posted from the train, he said he hoped the case would be resolved and the guilty charged soon.
The men thought to be responsible had performed a less sinister version of the takeover on two other trains last week, a ÖBB spokeman said. Instead of the Hitler speeches, however, they played children songs. They also played an audio blooper reel of Chris Lohner, who has been the official voice of Austrian train announcements for decades, misspeaking station names and instructions.
Like recordings of Hitler, the blooper recording is readily available online.
Addressing the national rail service over Twitter, Colette Schmidt, a journalist with the broadsheet Der Standard, asked on Sunday night: “Quite apart from the fact that I and other Austrians were completely shocked: What does a guest from abroad think when Hitler speeches are played over loudspeakers in our trains?”
- On an Austrian Train, Hitler’s Voice Played Over the Loudspeakers
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