THE KZ THERESIENSTADT: THE DECEIT OF THE NAZIS OF A “JEWISH GHETTO FOR THE PRIVILEGED AND THE OLD” & THE TRUE LIVING CONDITIONS, ESPECIALLY OF THE ELDERLY

This article deals with the desperate attempts of the prisoners of the KZ (concentration camp) Theresienstadt at keeping up appearances of a fragile normality and at maintaining scraps of human dignity under the inhuman conditions of the NS (National Socialist) concentration camp. Furthermore, this research would like to destroy once and for all the myth the Nazi propaganda had created for the international public of the KZ Theresienstadt as a “Jewish ghetto for the privileged and the old”, where music, art and theatre thrived. This vicious piece of NS propaganda has been so long-lived and tenacious that it sometimes pervades documentaries about the KZ Theresienstadt even today and often involuntarily creates a romanticised picture of life in this atrocious collection and transit camp. My great-grandparents Ignaz and Rudolfine Sobotka were imprisoned there from 9 July 1942 until liberation by the Allied armies on 9 May 1945. They miraculously survived the hardships and the terror and returned to Vienna and the family of their daughter Lola, my grandmother. They formed part of the group of elderly prisoners who were crowded into this former Austro-Hungarian fortress city. Ignaz was born on 9 July 1872 and Rudolfine, called Ritschi, on 1 October 1876. So, Ignaz was imprisoned on his 70th birthday and Ritschi was turning 66 in October when she arrived at the concentration camp in July 1942. At the end of the Habsburg Empire they were quite well-to-do middle class Viennese citizens. Ignaz was born in Vienna and after training as a beer brewer he ran the brewery in Kaiser-Ebersdorf near Vienna as a manager. He got to know Ritschi in Eywanowitz in Moravia, when he was working at the brewery there. She was the daughter of the local family doctor and moved with Ignaz to Vienna after the birth of the second of their four daughters. (see article: “The Career as a Beer Brewer in Vienna”). Here are some documents that have been preserved from their stay in the KZ Theresienstadt (KL Terezin in Czech):

In Ignaz’ membership card of the KZ Association, issued in four languages (German and the languages of the four liberating Allied Forces, English, French and Russian) the return date to Vienna, 7 July 1945, is cited as the end of their stay in Theresienstadt, which makes 156 weeks of imprisonment, since they had to remain in the camp after liberation (9 May 1945) because of the outbreak of an epidemic there and the problems of repatriation

Ritschi’s document as a member of the Association of Austrian KZ prisoners and the politically persecuted

In Vienna Ignaz and Ritschi’s situation worsened when the Austro-Fascists took power in February 1934 and Ignaz lost his job as the brewery’s manager.

Left: Ignaz and Ritschi with their daughter Lola and her husband Toni and Herta, my mother, on Ritschi’s lap in 1934

Right: They lived on Margaretengürtel in Vienna, where heavy civil-war fighting took place in February 1934, when the Austro-Fascists put an end to democracy in Austria. One of their sons-in-law, Karl Elzholz, lived there, too, and took a photo of the damaged public housing building and “Konsum market” (co-operative market), where army and police had shot at the Socialists in the building

Ignaz and Ritschi both helped Lola and Toni run a coffee house at Hamerlingplatz (see article: “Viennese Suburban Coffee Houses”) in the 8th district of Vienna

Ignaz and Ritschi on the café’s terrace

When they lost their flat due to the NS race laws, directed against the Jewish population in Vienna, they moved in with Lola, Toni and Herta. Ignaz had to do forced labour for the road construction firm Teerag until they were ordered to move into a “Sammelwohnung” (collective flat) in the 2nd district of Vienna (see article “Nazi Collective Camps in Vienna…”) before their deportation to the KZ Theresienstadt. Their three daughters and their husbands who had managed to flee from Vienna in 1938 / 1939 had tried to get their parents out of Nazi-ruled Vienna, but for the elderly without money it had become impossible to leave because no country wanted to grant them a work or residence permit. Unfortunately, their daughters Käthe and Agi failed to get them visas to join them in England, and Mitzi and Karl were unsuccessful in obtaining permits for entry in Bolivia, where they had fled to. So, they had to remain in Vienna with their daughter Lola and her non-Jewish “Aryan” husband Toni, who in the end was unable to protect them.

From March 1938 on the mass emigration of Jews from Austria was speeded up and any country that was prepared to grant them a work permit and a visa became a potential destination. Despite all difficulties and despite having been robbed of their savings and their movable possessions many Austrian Jews managed to leave the country in time. At the beginning of 1938 185,246 Jews lived in Austria and before the deportation to concentration camps started in 1941 128,500 had succeeded in fleeing the area. Yet it should not be forgotten that many of them were soon afterwards caught up in the Nazi terror and persecution because they had sought refuge in countries which were later occupied by the German “Third Reich” during the 2nd World War. Those who had been left behind, became victims of the Nazi “Endlösung der Judenfrage Europas” (Final solution to Europe’s Jewish question). After the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 58,000 elderly and sick Jewish citizens had remained in Austria, most of them in Vienna, with practically no chance to flee; of these only 2,000 managed to leave until 23 October 1941. After this date any emigration of Jews was categorically prohibited. In Vienna Jews were harassed, abused, used as forced labour and then hoarded into so-called “Sammelwohnungen” (collective flats) in the 2nd district before their deportation to concentration camps.

The term “KZ Theresienstadt” is applied here because it was the term used by the survivors, which is documented in the book of commemoration “Theresienstadt” (see: literature list), where former prisoners of Theresienstadt used the term “KZ Theresienstadt” exclusively, and Ignaz and Ritschi called it a KZ, too. That is why the term is being used here; in deference to the victims, whose memories should not to be questioned. There are discussions among historians about the technicalities of the organisation of Theresienstadt in the NS bureaucracy, which can be considered irrelevant in an analysis of the living conditions there. According to these historians’ findings Theresienstadt was neither a ghetto nor a concentration camp, but in fact a kind of collection and transit camp. No matter which term is used for the terror regime there, the truth remains that thousands of prisoners died of famine, disease and maltreatment and were transported to the death camps from there. In the small fortress of Theresienstadt many prisoners were murdered on site and the death rates in the KZ Theresienstadt were so high that a crematorium had to built to deal with the large amount of dead bodies.

A map of the fortified city of Theresienstadt and the small fortress on the right
An old postcard of one of the streets of Theresienstadt

The Austro-Hungarian emperor Joseph II had this fortified city, Theresienstadt, built in the Czech lands at the end of the 18th century and named it after his just deceased mother, Empress Maria Theresia. It was strategically important in the confrontation with Prussia, but was never involved in any acts of warfare and remained a garrison town. The small fortress was used as a prison for military and political prisoners in the 19th century. Already in 1940, the Nazis established a GESTAPO prison there, while at the end of 1941 the grand fortress, the fortified city, was used as a collection and transit camp, called “Ghetto Theresienstadt”, for Jews from Bohemia and Moravia initially, then from Austria and Germany and finally from other Nazi-occupied parts of Europe, too. Before the Nazi occupation the city housed 7,000 people including soldiers, while the Nazis planned to cram 50,000 to 60,000 Jews into the city. The original inhabitants of Theresienstadt were forced to leave. On 18 September 1942 the highest number of people imprisoned there was registered as 58,497, but due to the mass transports from KZ Theresienstadt to extermination camps, such as Auschwitz, the fluctuation of numbers was huge. All in all, from the so-called “Protektorat” (the Nazi-occupied parts of Bohemia and Moravia) 74,000 Jews were deported to the KZ Theresienstadt, 43,000 from Germany, more than 15,000 from Austria, 5,000 from the Netherlands, 466 from Denmark, 1,500 from Slovakia and around 1,000 from Hungary. Towards the end of the war 15,000 prisoners from liquidated concentration camps in the east were transported to Theresienstadt, as well. Overall, 150,000 were imprisoned in the KZ Theresienstadt.

The KZ Theresienstadt is characterised by shameless cynicism, diabolic deception, and hypocrisy of the Nazi perpetrators even more than any other Nazi centres of internment and extermination. The world public was systematically and cunningly deceived about the true purpose of this “Ghetto Theresienstadt” and consequently did not see through the genocidal intentions of the NS race policies. On top of that, the victims of NS terror were forced to participate in the charade, as for example the “beautification programme” which was staged in preparation for the visit of an international Red Cross delegation and the production of a propaganda film. The prisoners were furthermore coerced to serve the Nazis by organising the administration of the KZ themselves on orders from the SS commanders. The NS cheat and deceptive manoeuvre has unfortunately been successful until today. Even in serious research literature it is still mentioned that the living conditions in Theresienstadt were supposedly much better than in other concentration camps, that children and young people were offered formal education and nowhere hints to the “rich cultural life in the ghetto” are missing. The fascination with the artistic, literary, and intellectual productivity there must be uncoupled from the abysmal conditions under which the activities took place. Otherwise, such analyses present a distorted and unrealistic image of life in the KZ Theresienstadt. It is a shame that more than 70 years after its liberation the NS propaganda still nourishes this illusion of Theresienstadt as “the better KZ”. Nowadays it is very difficult to say how much the world knew about the conditions there and in how far the global public closed their eyes and did not want to see the genocide. It is still impossible to imagine what life was like in the KZ Theresienstadt; a life between hope and terror, between deception and extinction.

VIENNESE FAMISHED AND WAR-TRAUMATISED CHILDREN AFTER WORLD WAR I & WORLD WAR II & THEIR POST-WAR RECREATIONAL HOLIDAYS IN AUSTRIA AND ABROAD: e.g. THE CHILDREN RELIEF PROGRAMMES “I BAMBINI DI VIENNA”, “RÄDDA BARNEN”, “PORTUGAL CHILDREN”, “SWISS CHILDREN”.

Introduction

During and after the First and Second World War the food supply was severely hampered in Vienna, which resulted in famine, undernourishment and malnutrition-related diseases, especially among the Viennese young. Children and young people of impoverished and not so well-off families were most affected and consequently suffered from rachitis, tuberculosis and osseous tuberculosis. After the First World War measurements of Viennese apprentices of every age group showed that they weighed 10 kg less than the same age group before the war and their hight was 10 cm less as well. Already during the war poor undernourished Viennese children were sent on recreational holidays to the country and in 1917 the Viennese municipal councillor Heinrich Löwenstein organised a recreational stay in Switzerland for a few children. In May and July 1918 72,000 Viennese children were sent to farmers in western Hungary – then part of the Habsburg Empire – via the “Kaiser Karl Wohlfahrtswerk”, an imperial charity. 90 per cent of the children were more or less malnourished. Unfortunately, the positive effect of this summer holiday dwindled away within a few weeks. After the end of World War I and the break-down of the Habsburg Empire, its capital city Vienna was cut off from its traditional food supply chains and the newly established small Republic of Austria was destitute. During the disastrous winter of 1918/1919 the population of Vienna and other big cities in Austria was starving, most of all the young. The international press reported about the atrocious conditions under which the poor Viennese children had to live. Men like Max Winter with “Expeditions into the Darkest Vienna” and Emil Kläger with “Across the Viennese Quarters of Destitution and Crime” had already earlier in the new century pointed to the excruciating conditions under which the Viennese poor were scraping by. The international community was so shocked that in 1919 the first children relief programmes were launched, which not only provided the Viennese children with urgently needed food, clothing and medication, but organised recreational stays abroad as well. In 1919 13,366 Viennese children were invited to Switzerland, Italy and Southern Germany for a few weeks. From 1920 on more countries joined in the effort and financed longer recreational stays abroad from several months up to a year or more. These recreational holidays at foster families’ or in children’s homes abroad were organised by non-governmental charities, such as the Red Cross or the Caritas. Between 1918 and 1924 312,255 Viennese children were sent to the Netherlands, Hungary, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Yugoslavia, Romania and other European countries. The children were registered for such a stay abroad at school, at the local parish or the youth welfare office and then medically examined. They were assembled at the train stations in Vienna, where they were equipped with a little cardboard sign around their neck, which stated their names and the names and addresses of their future foster parents. Already during the long train rides, they received provisions because they only had a small backpack with a change of underwear and a second pair of trousers or a second dress or coat with them. Sometimes the foster parents invited the children a second or more times to come back and stay with them, which resulted in life-long friendships. When the children arrived in their country of destination, they did not understand a word of the language spoken there (except when they came to a German-speaking canton in Switzerland or to Southern Tyrol or Southern Germany), but when they returned, they had mostly forgotten their mother tongue. It is amazing that rather poor countries such as Italy and Sweden offered generous humanitarian help to the destitute Viennese children and that is the reason why one focus of this article is on the post-World War I children emergency programmes “I bambini di Vienna” of Italy and “Rädda Barnen” of Sweden.

The so-called “children’s trains” initiatives were terminated in 1924 and only 20 years later the Viennese children were suffering under the same devastating conditions again, aggravated by the trauma of bomb attacks and Nazi persecution, until finally in April 1945 the Second World War was ended, the Nazi regime defeated and the city of Vienna liberated by the Allied Forces. Yet in 1945 the food supply of Vienna collapsed completely once more and the especially harsh winter of 1946/47 further aggravated the situation for the children in the city. The Viennese writer who had to emigrate to England when the Nazis took over, Robert Neumann, published his novel “The Children of Vienna” in his English exile in 1946. The book was translated into 25 languages and Neumann himself later published it in German. This novel portrays the destiny of poor children in Vienna in the days and weeks after the end of the war. In a humorous, bitter-sarcastic style he tells the story of six children living in the cellar of a bombed-out house in Vienna, trying to scrape by a living. He describes their special art of survival from the children’s point of view and tells of adults who try to interfere with them, such as a black US army pastor, who wants to send them to Switzerland, but whose plans fail, when the Russians take over the administration of their quarter. This novel raised international awareness for the plight of the Viennese impoverished children after World War II.

Post-World War I

During the First World War Viennese children whose health was affected by the consequences of the war were sent on recreational holidays, as already mentioned in the introduction. The priests in the country were asked to appeal to rural parishes to accept poor and sick urban children and care for them, cosset them and nurse them back to health for some weeks. The organisations who tried to set up a structure for recreational holidays for Viennese children in need who came from poor families or lived in slums were underfunded and inefficient. Only very few children profited from such recreational stays. In 1917 it was decided to set up a youth welfare office in Vienna, which initially included Lower Austria. 14 branch offices were opened in Vienna and its surroundings; the organisation of recreational holidays was one of their tasks, but little was done because of a drastic lack of funds after the war had ended in 1918. That’s when foreign countries stepped in. Tens of thousands of Viennese children were saved from hunger, sickness and death by these recreational stays abroad. In 1919 the youth welfare office sent 13,366 Viennese children to Switzerland, Southern Tyrol, Italy and Southern Germany for several weeks. Until 1924 the Netherlands welcomed 28,523 Austrian children, for example. The aim was, of course, to nurse the Viennese children in Austria, but the extremely poor new republic lacked the resources. So, in 1920 the American food aid programme was used to send 25,000 children to holiday homes and farmers in Austria. When in 1922 Vienna was separated from Lower Austria and was turned into an independent federal state, the city of Vienna launched its own youth welfare office. Due to the desperate financial situation of the city, municipal funds for recreational holidays for Viennese children only made up one eight of the arising costs per year. The City of Vienna reacted with donations campaigns, “Child Rescue Week” (Kinderrettungswoche), and a lottery. What’s more, parents who could afford it, were asked to make a contribution. In this way annually 30,000 to 35,000 Viennese children spent the summer holidays in the country. On top of that, 20 recreational day-care centres were opened on the outskirts of Vienna, where the children arrived in the morning, spent the day there in the natural surroundings of the Vienna Wood, were fed, participated in games and sports and in the evening, they returned to their homes. Furthermore, the city of Vienna acquired a few recreational children’s homes, which were operational the whole year round. Already in April 1916 the Vienna City Council had passed a law on “recreational care” due to the food shortage in the city, which stipulated that famished children should be cared for during the day  in four leafy areas in the green belt around Vienna, which were bought by the city: Laaerberg, Girzenberg, Schafberg, and Kobenzl, between 1916 and 1919. In August 1916 the first recreational day-care centre for children was opened on Laaerberg, where some wooden military shacks were set up for the children. In 1918 1,200 children were cared for there on a daily basis. In the summer of 1918, the children’s day-care centres on Kobenzl and Girzenberg were opened and welcomed, respectively 400 and 100 children. In 1918 the Bellevue castle was acquired by the city on Kobenzl and was restructured as a day-care centre and in 1919 the centre on Schafberg followed. Undernourished Viennese children in need of recreation were fed and cared for in these day-care centres for four weeks. The 6- to 12-year-old children were examined by schools’ doctors before and at the end of their stay. All in all, in 1928 the city of Vienna owned five such day-care centres and it had set up another one on the banks of the Danube, the “Gänsehäufl”. They were run either by the WIJUG (“Wiener Jugendhilfswerk” since 1922) or the “Kinderfreunde” and “Volkshilfe”, private charities linked to the Social Democratic party, which was ruling the city from the end of World War I until the Austro-Fascist take-over of Austria in 1934.  Immediately after the war around 1,200-1,500 children were sent to homes in the vicinity of Vienna, to Ober-Hollabrunn and Pottendorf, as well. Overall, 5,474 Viennese children benefitted from these domestic recreational stays in 1919. In 1923 2,575 Viennese children, who were threatened by tuberculosis and other diseases linked to malnourishment, were sent to ten children’s homes in other parts of Austria. It is obvious that this was completely insufficient in the face of starvation. An extensive famine relief programme was needed.

Let’s return to the situation in Vienna after the end of World War I in 1918. Hermine Weinreb, an eminent pedagogue and co-founder of the Social-Democratic children’s organisation “Kinderfreunde” started in 1918 an initiative for recreational stays of Viennese children in a home in Gmünd, Lower Austria, with the help of the American children relief programme, where 1,400 children were cared for during a six-week summer holiday. She was involved in the cooperation with Italy, too, “I bambini di Vienna”. The famine crisis in the city was somehow alleviated by emergency food transports from abroad. The French and the British sent “food trains” with urgently needed basic food rations to prevent starvation in the city in 1919. Denmark and Sweden set up public kitchens which tried to feed the famished masses. But what really remained in the memory of the Viennese was another international emergency programme: the recreational holidays for Viennese and other urban Austrian children abroad. Tens of thousands of poor and famished Viennese children were invited in 1919 and 1920 to stay with foster families or in children’s homes for several months in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Italy. These were private initiatives and one of the first transports left Vienna on 3 February 1919 with the destination Switzerland. The primary school teacher Oskar Kahn from Ottakring, a working-class district of Vienna, accompanied a group of Viennese children and he remembered that the children had to sleep in the train carriages and ate only cheese and bread because of the straitened circumstances. Yet as soon as they had crossed the border to Switzerland, the experience of hunger was a past memory. In the border town Buchs the children received for the first time a warm meal, chocolate and cake – and “the food was abundant and excellent”. At the same time, they were given little presents by the locals, mostly chocolate. Unfortunately, as the small stomachs were used to fasting only, they could not digest the large amounts of sweets. The group finally reached Bern, the capital city of Switzerland, and the reception there was marvellous, too. The population awaited the children and had to be kept back by policemen, when they wanted to storm the train carriages to welcome the children who were given presents once more.

These children emergency programmes met with a wide response in the Austrian public. The press reported about the departures of “children’s trains” carrying children to their recreational holidays abroad. Apart from rare memoirs this is now the most important historical source for the aid programmes of 1919/1920. The famous Austrian writer and journalist Joseph Roth wrote for the Viennese paper “Der Neue Tag” and described the parents who were taking their children to the train station. They were poor working-class parents who stood tightly packed on the platform, thin and emaciated, “resembling squeezed-out lemons”. “Wiener Bilder”, a Viennese weekly magazine, reported about the cheery warmth with which Viennese children were welcomed in England in October 1920. In March 1920 “Das interessante Blatt” published an article about the departure of Viennese children to the Netherlands from the North Station. Furthermore, the Viennese journalist Max Winter who for years had been publishing very well-researched articles on the plight of the Viennese poor in the “Arbeiterzeitung”, the Social-Democratic paper, launched an international media appeal for the rescue of the famished Viennese children of the underprivileged. He is today seen as the innovator of social reporting, the inventor of which is considered Egon Erwin Kisch. Max Winter went much further, though, and painted devastating pictures of the underground of the glamorous capital city of the Habsburg Empire. He raised awareness for the destitution of the homeless who lived in the canal system of Vienna. He dressed up as a homeless person and spent time in the canal system, in shelters and the slums of the city. By that he reduced the distance between the journalist and the subjects of his research. He was trying to be close to the poor, to understand their living conditions, their language and he sympathised with them. His meticulous research and analysis under which the children of the poor lived in Vienna after World War I provoked a public outcry and triggered widespread international concern, which contributed to the start of various private aid initiatives.

Neglect and abuse of children had spread before and during the First World War in Vienna among the poor, which the first Children’s Congress of 1907 confirmed. At that time neglect of children was linked to criminal activity, juvenile delinquency and anormal behaviour of the young. When the war broke out, fathers were drafted and working-class mothers were called to fatigue duty, so the situation worsened as the children were left to themselves. When the food supply was drastically cut in Vienna, working-class mothers were preoccupied with the daily fight for scraps of food to feed their children and no time was left for caring for these children. Teachers documented the bad health of the pupils und described under which disastrous conditions the children lived at home; in one dirty, mouldy room where several people had to eat, sleep and live. In September 1917 the “Arbeiterinnenzeitung” wrote that a teacher reported that she did not know where to store the pupils’ hats and coats because they were full of lice. A doctor who had examined these pupils found that 90 per cent were ridden with lice. Everywhere on the walls and benches of the school rooms vermin crawled; they were even stuck to the teaching aids and bugs were swimming in the ink pots. Scabies was so widespread that even the teacher was affected by it. Due to the war the school hours were reduced and these children then spent most of their time in the streets of Vienna. Several were orphaned due to the war or had lost contact to their families. The Viennese police tried to find their parents via appeals to the public, mostly in vain. This phenomenon is documented in contemporary police statistics which categorise the roaming children as young criminals. Complaints of juvenile delinquency up to 14 years of age rose from 1,848 cases in 1913 to 5,926 in 1917 and 4,972 in 1919 and those between 14 and 18 years of age increased from 4,314 to 8,995 in 1918 and 8,059 in 1919. Stealing in order to procure some food was rampant and the children sold everything possible on the black market to be bartered for food, even the family’s own scarce furniture. Max Winter appealed to the government in 1915 that it was unsupportable that children in Viennese working class districts started to queue in front of shops at 10 pm to receive some flour when the shop opened at 7 am. Many women and children had seriously fallen ill due to the night-long queuing in the freezing cold. The Viennese paediatrician Clemens von Piquet documented the effect of the social and moral neglect and the widespread famine on the health of Viennese children at the “Wiener Kinderklinik” in 1918. Of the 498 children treated there 90 per cent were severely undernourished. Boys had 20 per cent less weight than normal and girls 18 per cent, which meant on average 6 kg less for boys and 5 kg less for girls in the age groups of 6 to 14. Yet during adolescence the weight loss was even more drastic: 14-year-old girls weighed 8 kg less and 14-year-old boys 10.7 kg less than normal. Due to these deficiency symptoms their bodies were drastically underdeveloped and the process of growth was retarded. Unfortunately, this affected their brains and their psyche, too. The children showed apathy, were exhausted and feeble, which sometimes resulted in an inability to walk and those children were then bed-ridden. Their fecklessness made them susceptible to infectious diseases; famine oedema, rachitis and tuberculosis were rampant among them. The increase in tuberculosis cases was most drastic in the age group of 5 to 20, Piquet found. His hospital recorded a doubling of related deaths during the war years. The Viennese statistic of death rates of children of school age showed 1068 in the year 1914 and 1995 in 1918. Max Winter documented in 1916 in “Der Kinderfreund” that the destitution of Viennese children was now incomparable to the destitution before the war; so many lost, neglected and famished children in Viennese streets as never before, so many soldiers’ children whose mothers could not procure enough food and so many working-class children whose parents had to work in ammunitions factories and still could not feed their families due to the catastrophic inflation. Heinrich Löwenstein stressed that it was necessary to reduce the mortality rate among children, which was 43 per cent in the age group of 5 to 10 and 26 per cent in the age group of 10 to 15 and he pleaded for recreational holidays of Viennese children in the Vienna city council. Löwenstein had already organised recreational holidays in Switzerland in 1917 and then coordinated the Danish relief effort in 1920. The Spanish flue in 1918 further exacerbated the situation in Vienna and pushed up the mortality rate in all age groups because due to their weakened health conditions the children quickly succumbed to the Spanish flu and had no defences.

VIENNESE LANDSCAPES: NATURAL RECREATION AREAS FOR THE VIENNESE NON-ÉLITE IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 20th CENTURY: THE VIENNA WOOD AND THE DANUBE


Picknick in the Vienna Wood, June 1931


A stroll in the “Prater” alluvial forest, autumn 1931

Photography was a popular and even if expensive, nevertheless an affordable hobby of the Viennese workers and the petite bourgeoisie in the first half of the 20th century. My grandfather Toni Kainz, a trained cook and waiter, innkeeper, tenant of a coffee house and fish monger, my great-uncle Karl Elzholz, a mechanic at the Viennese tramways, and my father Werner Tautz, an electrician, took many photos in and around Vienna documenting the leisure time activities of family and friends in the nature areas in the vicinity of Vienna. These photographic documents form the basis of this article which focuses on how the Viennese working class and lower middle class spent their leisure time in the extensive natural landscapes of the city in the first half of the 20th century with a special focus on the Vienna Wood and the Danube.

In the course of the 19th century social norms changed in Vienna whereby some social restrictions were eased, which meant that even low-income social groups could decide on their own how they would like to spend their rare free time. Some of the obligatory religious rituals were abolished due to the influence of the ideas of Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century. The large number of religious holidays which obliged people to participate in the respective Roman Catholic ceremonies were drastically reduced and some of the rigid controls of brotherhoods, guilds and professional trade associations, which had had a tight grip on the leisure time activities of their members and their whole households, were lifted. Festivities, even religious ones, were now more often celebrated with family and friends.

Until the 19th century the poorer classes often had to overcome nearly unsurmountable hurdles in setting up a family of their own. They needed a marriage permission from their master, landlord or employer, yet they usually lacked the means for supporting a family anyway. With the onset of industrialisations servants, maids, apprentices and guild members were no longer part of a household or tightly involved in professional organisations and could decide independently how to spend their leisure time. That’s why in the first half of the 19th century a large number of new places of amusement for the lower classes were established in Vienna; especially in the Viennese suburbs, where inns offered food and drinks in beer gardens and invited dance orchestras to play on Sundays (see article: “Viennese Suburban Inns”). These musical groups and small orchestras made the “Viennese Walz“ popular, so that a veritable “dance fever“ seized all social classes in Vienna in the 19th century. Traditional suburban inns erected large dance halls and some pubs on the outskirts of Vienna were turned into entertainment parks with swings, slides, carrousels, boats on artificial lakes and „chambres séparées“; for example in the „Kolosseum“ in Jägerstrasse (Brigittenau) “chambres séparées” were installed inside a wooden elephant. Indoor swimming pools were constructed, which could be covered and turned into ball rooms in winter, for example the “Sophienbad” in Marxergasse (Landstrasse) and the old “Dianabad” in Obere Donaustrasse (Leopoldstadt). The biggest dance hall of the time was the “Odeon” in Leopoldstadt, which could welcome 8,000 dancers. Especially during the Carnival season, the dance halls were crowded with people of the middle and lower classes.

Emperor Joseph II opened the Imperial hunting grounds in the “Prater” to the public at the end of the 18th century and soon on the grounds of this alluvial forest at the Danube pubs, coffee houses, “Pulcinella” (“Kasperl”) theatres opened and the family Stuwer staged elaborate fireworks. At the onset of industrialisation and its polluting consequences not just the well-to-do, but also the poorer classes discovered a yearning for natural landscapes and tried to flee the stifling city with its tightness, stench, noise and dust. An excursion into nature, the “Landpartie”, was the most favourite spare time activity of the lower classes on Sunday. In the first half of the 19th century the suburbs to the north and west, the Vienna Wood, could easily be reached via regular public coach services, the “Zeiserlwagen” and from there the people hiked up Leopoldsberg or Kahlenberg, for example. The well-to-do Viennese bought or rented small summer houses for spending the hot summer months in a natural surrounding in the vicinity of Vienna. As soon as tramways and railways were available, they transported the Viennese to their favourite natural landscapes for outings or the richer classes to their summer retreats (“Sommerfrische”).

Before the regulation of the Danube, the river separated into four river branches after the narrow section between Leopoldsberg and Bisamberg, west of the city. The southernmost arm, the Danube Canal (“Donaukanal”), was used for shipping goods to the city centre and was in some way regulated since the 16th century in order to keep it close to the city. The other three arms formed the alluvial landscape, which created islands that continually changed their form after every inundation. This part of the Danube could not be used for transport. The areas of Leopoldstadt (today’s 2nd district), Roßau (today’s 9th district) or Weißgerbervorstadt (today’s 3rd district) were continually threatened by catastrophic floods and the much-feared ice jam in winter. After one of the biggest ice jams in 1862 it was decided to undertake a complete regulation of the Danube in Vienna.

LIFESTYLE OF THE „LONG 1950s“(1947-1965) IN VIENNA

The social and economic period of the “long 1950s” started around 1947 and finished in the middle of the 1960s. The historian Eric Hobsbawn called it one of the most revolutionary periods in European history despite its general image of boring conservatism. He explained his surprising analysis with the unprecedented economic growth rates, the unrestrained adulation of technology and productivity and the breakthrough of Americanised industrialised mass culture. In Austria this period started with the currency reform of 1947 and the establishment of the post-war “Social Partnership” between employers and employees with the first wage and price control agreement. American aid via the Marshall plan (1948-1952) triggered the Austrian economic “miracle years” and in 1948/49 the former Nazis were again integrated into Austrian society with the virtual end of the denazification process. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union characterised the whole period with Austria positioned in the middle; geographically the most eastern point of the Western World, situated directly at the Iron Curtain. Culturally the aftershocks of the Nazi era and the Second World War were felt during the whole period, but gradually abated. The consequences of the lost war, the Allied liberation and occupation and the excessive veneration of virility by the Nazis gave way to a revival of the traditional conservative roles of men and women. The early 1960s were the years of marriage and childbearing, the “baby-boomer years” in Austria. After a very short period of cultural awakening right after the war, in the 1950s Austrian art and culture experienced a kind of “counter-enlightenment”, a return to very conservative art concepts. The student movement of 1968 ended this period and hailed a new era of sexual and artistic revolution which ended the post-war conservative Austrian concept of “the unity of the good, the true and the beautiful”.

If the Austrian standard of living was measured against the Western European standard at the beginning of this period, Austria was 40% below that, but the gap shrank to 20% in 1961. The gross national product of Austria grew from 49.6 billion AS (Austrian shillings) in 1950 to 134.6 billion AS in 1959. The economic structure developed towards the “American model” via increasing productivity, growing real incomes, an expansion of the labour force, a rising supply of goods and linked to that a dynamic consumerism. The introduction of the “American ideal of beauty” led to a dramatic increase in spending on cosmetics products in the same way as the craving for a motorised vehicle, a modern technical “American-style” kitchen and modern easy-clean furniture resulted in a dramatic increase in purchases in these sectors. Yet an average Austrian family could not afford a car or a fridge; the solution was presented in the form of hire purchase agreements. The new needs and wants of consumerism could be satisfied in this way. The higher living standard in Austria was paid for dearly with the health of the workers via piece work and overtime work. Despite the fact that the workers experienced pay rises to compensate the high inflation rates, the wealth gap between working class and middle class incomes was still widening and the new wealth was distributed unevenly. Even if a Viennese worker’s family had acquired a fridge via hire-purchase, they probably did not have a bathroom in their flat. This fact was covered up by the ruling “Social Partnership” of ÖVP (People’s Party) and SPÖ (Social Democrats), of trade associations and trade unions. The battle for a share of the new wealth was fought on the negotiating table between the government and representatives of employers and employees. Yet Austrian young workers tended to acquire the tastes of the middle class during this period. They bought the same clothes, saw the same films, bought the same technical gadgets, enjoyed the same leisure time activities and went on holiday to the same destinations, which in the long run diminished the differences in class consciousness in Austria.

All in all, every politically relevant group profited in the 1950s from the economic boom and the household expenses for food and clothing decreased, while the expenses for furniture, transport and leisure increased. Between 1950 and 1960 net private consumption rose by 71%. Expenses for education, training and entertainment increased by 81% during this period, for transport by 169% and expenses for furniture and household wares even by amazing 228%. Immediately after the war the prices for non-rationed goods skyrocketed and that’s why their share of expenses was extremely high, but 1950/51 was the first post-war year with free choice of consumer goods and no more rationing and by 1953 the ration coupons had completely vanished in Austria. Gradually the population bought more expensive, low-calorie and qualitatively higher food products and more ready-made products and that is partly the reason why the consumers spent 52% more on food stuffs in 1960/61 than in 1950/51. Many enterprises now offered canteen lunches, which phased out the Austrian habit of taking lunch boxes to work. Smoking and drinking was socially acceptable and much appreciated in those years, which can be seen in the photos of the time below. Alcohol consumption rose 88% per capita from 1950 to 1963, which meant an increase of 5.4% per annum. Cigarettes were a means of payment after the war and a status symbol. US cigarettes represented the new American way of life. In the 1920s and 1930s the light oriental tobacco dominated the Austrian market; it constituted 70% in 1937, but sank to below 10% after World War II. US Virginia tobacco was introduced in Austria during the years of the black market with US cigarette brands such as Camel, Lucky Strike and Chesterfield. Immediately after the war the cigarettes produced in Austria were the notorious “extra mixtures” (“Mischung A & B” and “Austria 1, 2 & 3”), but from 1948 on also more expensive brands with Virginia tobacco were produced such as “Jonny” and “Austria D”. Apart from the black market the Soviet USIA (Soviet property in Austria) cigarettes undercut the Austrian tobacco monopoly until 1955, when the Soviet army withdrew from Austria. In 1950 the Russian army administration established around 80 so-called USIA shops in the Soviet zones which offered a wide range of Soviet products from cigarettes and alcohol to food, textiles, sweets and even typewriters. The quality of these products did not necessarily meet the consumers’ standards, but the products were offered at dumping prices. The Communists advertised these shops as the Soviet form of aid for Austria, the Soviet “Marshall Plan”. But for some Viennese purchasing in USIA shops was considered a “betrayal of public morals”, others saved around 200 AS per month when shopping there. The demand for new clothing also underwent big changes as the Austrians moved towards ready-made clothing, which had a huge impact on the dressmaking sector, in which Herta worked; more and more dressmakers and tailors were dismissed facing long periods of unemployment and the small and medium-sized workshops had to close down.

A burning problem was the lack of housing. Vienna was short of at least 200,000 flats in 1951 and of those that existed only 14% had their own bathroom, 56% had no running water in the flat and 60% no toilet inside. Toni and Lola’s flat at Lerchenfeldergürtel 45/35 in Ottakring (16th district) was a “luxury” flat by those standards because it was large (four large and one small room) and had running water and a toilet inside, but no bathroom. Before they had a shower installed in the kitchen, the whole family had to go to a public bath house. In 1950 the Viennese public bath houses still counted 5 million visitors annually and the city of Vienna ran around 20 such bath houses. Herta’s family frequented the one in Ottakring, Friedrich-Kaisergasse 11.


The public bath house in Ottakring, Friedrich-Kaisergasse 11, is probably the last remaining “Tröpferlbad” (Viennese term meaning a trickle of water because the water flow was sometimes less than abundant)

This explains how proud the young couple Herta and Werner were, when they could pay the deposit for their newly built cooperative flat in Ottakring, Friedrich-Kaisergasse 26/28 on the fourth floor: 48 square metres with bathroom, toilet, kitchen, hall, two rooms and a balcony, in 1954. The deposit was 20,000 AS and the rent was 450 AS per month. Werner had earned well when working at the hydroelectric power plant Kaprun until 1955 (see article “Workers at the construction of the hydro-electric storage power plant Kaprun”) and they had both saved further 45,000 AS, which they used to furnish the new flat, when they moved in in 1956. When I was born in 1957, Herta stayed at home and Werner started to work at the Vienna Electricity Works, where he earned 1,300 AS per month, which meant that after paying the rent of 450 AS, gas, electricity and heating, not much was left for food, clothing or leisure activities. At that time Werner stopped smoking and Toni and Lola, my grandparents, paid for holidays together or outings.

After the war the pent-up demand for consumer goods resulted in a spending spree in three surges in the 1950s: first the “food surge” 1947/48, then the “clothing and furniture surge” 1949-51 and since 1953/54 the “fridge and car surge”. In 1964 the amount spent on furniture and household wares had doubled as compared to 1954. Social housing and tenant protection in Vienna prepared the ground for higher standards of home décor: American-style kitchens, fitted wardrobes, fridges, hoovers, washing machines turned out to be status symbols of middle-class lifestyle, most of it bought via hire-purchase. In 1956/57 the last surge started, the “travel and TV surge”. Only since then TV sets could be bought in Austria: in 1957 12,500 sets were registered and in 1958 33,000. In Vienna most inns and coffee houses had a TV set for public viewing. Werner and Herta did not buy a TV set, they preferred listening to classical music records, but when ice-skating competitions were broadcast I sometimes went with my grandmother Lola to the “Café Hummel” in Josefstädterstrasse to watch TV or when the children’s programme “Kasperl” was on all the children of the house met in front of the TV-set of my friend Sissy’s parents. During the whole period of the “long 1950s” cinemas, theatres and concerts experienced a boom in Vienna, but from 1960 on the cinemas started to feel the impact of television and the number of cinema goers slumped.

WORKERS AT THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE ALPINE HYDROELECTIC POWER PLANT KAPRUN: FROM NAZI SLAVE LABOUR TO THE „HEROES“ OF POST-WAR AUSTRIA

Before the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire single entrepreneurs built and ran power stations, most of which were fired with coal as this was a cheap resource in the empire. But after the end of World War I and the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 the Austrian First Republic suffered a serious economic set back and a shortage of energy. While the consumption of electricity was rising, coal had to be imported for running the coal-fired power stations. That’s why the construction of hydroelectric power plants was boosted in order to avoid the import of expensive coal from Silesia and Bohemia. Between 1924 and 1930 the newly founded federal state corporations realised the first water power projects despite the resistance of large Austrian banks which refused to finance these projects because they held shares in the huge Czech and Polish coal mines. At the same time the establishment of an interconnected distribution system of the independent federal states’ electric corporations was attempted. So in the 1920s and 1930s a shift from coal to water power was visible. Yet due to the separate interests of the nine different federal states a functioning Austria-wide interconnected electrical grid could not be established.

Even before the “Anschluss” in March 1938 (the incorporation of Austria into Hitler’s “Third Reich”) Germany was trying to get access to the largely unexploited water power resources in Austria. Hydroelectric power stations in the west of Austria already delivered electricity to Germany before 1938. In preparing for the next war Germany made the decision to expand water power production considerably and to centralise the whole electricity production. The “Energiewirtschaftsgesetz” (energy production law) of 1935 made all energy production subject to state planning. Due to the substantial increase in arms production the demand for energy dramatically rose in Germany. There most power stations were coal-fired. That’s why the economic arguments for integrating Austria into the German territory did not just include the extensive Austrian gold and currency reserves, metallurgical resources and production and the skilled human capital, but most of all the opportunities for the exploitation of hydroelectricity. In April 1938 Hermann Göring stressed that the development of the Austrian hydroelectric capacities was not in the interest of the Austrian population or economy, it served the purpose of the German preparation for war. Due to the decisive lack of energy in Germany, the National Socialist (NS) economic planning saw to it that immediately after the “Anschluss” all plans for hydroelectric power plants which had been designed before 1938 were put into practice. This constituted part of the NS “Four-Year Plan” in order to compensate the scarcity of energy in Bavaria and prepare for the establishment of a chemical and metallurgical industry there. Another project was the creation of an interconnected electricity grid which linked Austria to Germany, whereby the west of Austria was completely subjected to the needs of the German weapons production. That’s why 62 per cent of the newly established hydroelectric power plants were situated in Salzburg, the Tyrol and Vorarlberg. All energy production in Austria was centrally planned in Berlin and became part of the state-owned VIAG (“Vereinigte Industrieunternehmungen AG”). This organisation founded a subsidiary, the AEW (“Alpenelektrowerke AG”), which was responsible for the construction of hydroelectric power stations in the Alps and for building up an interconnected and coherent electricity grid. Local energy producers tried to resist, especially in the Tyrol, but to no avail. Yet all attempts at increasing production and capacity during the Second World War could not alleviate the energy shortage in Germany. Already before the war the industry was by far the largest consumer of energy and this trend was further intensified during the war. Until the beginning of 1942 the German energy production somehow managed to meet demand, but afterwards drastic restrictions were imposed on private energy consumption. Nevertheless, the German supply of electricity remained permanently insufficient and could no longer even meet the demands of the weapons production.


Kaprun construction site: one of the many photos Werner Tautz took when working there between 1949 and 1955

Another economic aspect of the “Anschluss” was the integration of half a million unemployed Austrian workers in German infrastructure projects and arms production, which had suffered under a lack of labour force since 1936. In the first period from the “Anschluss” in 1938 until the outbreak of the war in 1939 not only the unemployed were integrated in the German labour market, but slave labour was already introduced by applying the Nazi racist ideology and compelling the now marginalised population groups, most of all the Jews, Roma and Sinti to forced labour. During the second phase from 1939 until the military disaster of 1941/42 in the Soviet Union the employment of foreign forced labour started with foreign civilians who were forced to work in the German arms production and with prisoners-of-war. At the end of this period the German industry was so dependent on foreign forced labour that without it the war could not have been carried on. The third period from 1941/42 until 1945 was characterised by massive exploitation of Jewish and foreign slave labour. Slave labour in the Nazi period must not be confused with fatigue duty of citizens of the “Third Reich”, for instance of young women who had to work in agriculture for a year or for youngsters under the conscription age to construct motorways or defences (see article on “Nazi Children Evacuation Programme”). All forced labourers were racially or politically persecuted and subject to maltreatment after their home country had been conquered by the Nazis.

The various groups of forced labourers were treated differently by the Nazis. In Austria around 20,000 Jews were constringed to do slave labour after they had been excluded from the normal job market and the “Ostmark” (Nazi name for Austria) acted without a legal basis and as model for the rest of Germany with respect to brutal exploitation and expropriation of the Jewish population before their extermination in concentration camps (“KZ”). My great-grandfather, Ignaz Sobotka, was forced to do slave labour at the road construction firm “Teerag” and my grandmother, Lola Kainz, worked in the war-related industry in Vienna (see article “Nazi Collection Camps in Vienna”). Roma and Sinti were taken from their work places and locked up in forced labour camps in Austria before being murdered in the KZ Kulmhof and Auschwitz. The GESTAPO further ordered “unruly” German nationals and foreigners to be interned in so-called “labour education camps” (“Arbeitserziehungslager”) for some weeks or months before they were allowed to return to their work places. Another group of slave labour were around 50,000 Hungarian Jews who were chased to Austria from Budapest on foot after an agreement between the SS and the Hungarian Fascist representative Rezsö Kasztner in June 1944. They were interned in camps and compelled to work as slave labourers. The conditions in these camps in Austria were so terrible that a majority of the prisoners died within a very short time. Just to give two examples: in the camp in Felixdorf of 2,087 prisoners 1,865 died within a few weeks; in Lichtenwörth 1,600 out of 2,500 and in Gmünd 486 out of 1,700. When the Soviet army was approaching, those who were still alive were chased in “death marches” towards the KZ Mauthausen and Gunskirchen in the west, whereby 15,000 to 18,000 died.

Already at the end of 1939 the first prisoners-of-war arrived in Austria and they formed the second largest group of forced labour. According to military rank and nationality they were treated differently, whereby the Soviet prisoners-of-war were always treated worst; they were even systematically murdered. Most of the prisoners-of-war were used in agriculture, but also in factories and for the construction of dams and power plants. How many people died in POW camps and forced labour camps in Austria is unknown but the lowest estimate is 23,039; 96 per cent of which were Soviet prisoners-of-war. This number does not include those prisoners-of-war who died in the KZ network of Mauthausen, where more than 10,000 Soviet prisoners-of-war were murdered. Furthermore this number does not include the prisoners-of-war who died on death marches at the end of the war, when POW camps in the east of Austria, for example in Kaisersteinbruch, Gneixendorf and Edelbach, were evacuated and the prisoners chased west towards Braunau.

The KZ Mauthausen / Gusen near Linz was established in 1938 and starting as an extermination camp with a huge quarry developed in the course of its existence to a large network of concentration and extermination camps with an intricate system of division of labour, which ended fatally for tens of thousands of prisoners until the Allied liberation in 1945. Like many concentration camps the function of the KZ complex of Mauthausen / Gusen was extended from a death camp, whose only function was the killing of those interned there, to a forced labour camp in 1943 due to the drastic labour shortage in the German productive war industry. This meant that the number of KZ prisoners rose from 14,000 at the beginning of 1943 to around 73,000 in October 1944. The focus of employment of these KZ prisoners was the arms production in Linz, Steyr and Wels, for example the companies “Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG” and the “Reichswerke Hermann Göring” in Linz, and the industrial area around Vienna, for example “Henkel Schwechat”, “Flugmotorenwerke Ostmark” (aero engine maker) in Wiener Neudorf or “Rax-Werke” in Wiener Neustadt. The KZ complex Mauthausen /Gusen comprised more than 40 forced labour camps and the prisoners did not only work in the war-related industry, but also in the construction industry for the infrastructure development, such as tunnels and power stations, and finally since autumn 1943 in the construction of a huge network of tunnels to transfer the arms production underground. KZ prisoners had to dig tunnels for example near Melk for “Steyr-Daimler-Buch AG” and the “Flugmotorenwerke Ostmark”, in Ebensee for the development and production of rockets and in Gusen for “Messerschmitt” planes. At least 102,000 prisoners died in the KZ complex Mauthausen.

THE NAZI CHILDREN EVACUATION PROGRAMME „ERWEITERTE KINDERLANDVERSCHICKUNG“ IN THE VICINITY OF VIENNA 1940-1945 AND THE IDEOLOGICAL INDOCTRINATION OF THE YOUNG


The certificate of registration of the pupil Werner Tautz, my father, who was sent from Troitschendorf near Görlitz in Silesia to host parents in Obersiebenbrunn near Vienna via the Nazi children evacuation programme “Kinderlandverschickung”. He stayed from 22 August 1940 until 1 October 1940 with the family of Franz and Anna Rupp

On 4 January 1941 Werner returned on his own to Franz and Anna Rupp, who had agreed to take him in as a foster child. The photo of Werner of 1942 was later added to the certificate of registration

As in most Viennese families of the first half of the 20th century family members came from a variety of geographical, cultural and ideological backgrounds. My mother Herta’s family were on the one hand indigenous Viennese bourgeoisie from Währing and on the other hand urban assimilated Jews born in Vienna and southern Moravia. On the other hand, my father Werner’s background was rural from farming communities near Görlitz in Silesia, formerly German and now Polish territory. He was selected as one of two children by the headmaster of his school to be sent to Lower Austria near Vienna in August 1940 via the Nazi “Kinderlandverschickung” to a host family in Obersiebenbrunn, where the host father, Franz Rupp, had been a NSDAP member since 1931 with an interruption and was later stationed in Norway as a “Wehrmacht” soldier. In his memoirs Werner wrote, “I enjoyed my time at the Rupp family so much that I definitely wanted to return to them after my KLV stay there (which ended on 1 October 1940). Back home I urged my grandparents to help me and I told them that I would be able to learn a profession in Lower Austria (at that time “Gau Niederdonau”) and would not have to work for the farmers after school any more. My grandmother supported me and threatened my mother that she would not inherit their house if she did not allow me to move to foster parents in Obersiebenbrunn. As my mother did not want to forego the house, she agreed. But she took revenge. She saw to it that my foster family did not receive the 20 RM (Reichsmark) monthly alimony, which my (biological) father paid my mother…. I was the “illegitimate” child of the owner of a large-scale farm, where my mother had worked….. So on 4 January 1941 I moved to my new foster family Rupp and the alimony of around 600 RM over the years was deposited at the Dresdner Bank. I never received the money because after the war this region came to be situated behind the Iron Curtain and after 1989 I had no written proof that this money belonged to me. So it is still there.”

Anna Rupp, Werner’s foster mother, was a strong and warm-hearted woman and a devout Roman Catholic. She ran the family single-handedly during the war in a confident and efficient way. There was always enough food on the table, pigs, hens, geese, small fields to grow potatoes and maize, the bees for honey and a vegetable garden and orchard- and above all, all children were treated equally. She made a cosy home for Werner, who had never known anything like that before. His biological mother rejected him and especially after the birth of his half-sister Elsbeth, her marriage to Karl Perschke and the birth of his half-brother Günter, his mother discriminated against Werner to the extent that his grandparents wanted a better life for him with the foster family Rupp. Anna Rupp had no time or understanding for NSDAP party policy like her husband and ruled the family with a strong hand, which meant that after the war and the return of Franz from Norway there were many rows between the two spouses because she resisted the dominance of her rather authoritarian husband. This was the only aspect of life with the Rupps that bothered Werner. Anna was of a family with Slovak roots in the region, named Zimak, and she spoke Slovak well, which helped a lot when dealing with the Russian soldiers who were staying in her house for some months from April 1945 on. Anna’s father had left the family and had emigrated to the United States, when the three sisters, Marie, Anna and Mali and their little brother Pepi were still small children. He supposedly went bankrupt over there; he never returned and did not support his family either. So the girls had to work for the farmers in the region at an early age to earn a living. There were big farmers in the “Marchfeld” region who treated the girls fairly, paid them small wages and offered them food to take home for the family, but there were others, too, who exploited them shamelessly. This was so exhausting that Anna suffered from serious lung problems at the age of 18, but fortunately fully recovered. Her sister, Mali, never married and supported and cared for their mother. She worked in the sugar refinery in Leopoldsdorf like nearly everyone in the family. Franz Rupp was an unskilled worker there, his son Franzi learned the trade of fitter in the factory before he was drafted and Werner was apprenticed as an electrician in the same refinery. After the war Anna also worked in the sugar refinery every year during the time of the sugar beet harvest.

Werner soon felt completely at home with the Rupps and he later stressed that he was treated like their own child. No difference was made between him and the other three children of the family; he even received the same outfit as his foster brother Franzi; a kindness he had never experienced at home with his biological mother, Frieda. Werner adapted quickly to his new surroundings, spoke the local dialect and converted to Roman Catholicism, which was Anna’s wish. His whole life Werner was considered the model of a “true Viennese”, although he was born in Silesia and spent the first twelve years of his childhood there. Just like the grandfather of his later wife, Ignaz Sobotka, who was by birth right, looks and poise a “true Viennese”, but the Nazis denied him this status and persecuted him because he was born a Jew (see article on “Viennese Beer Brewers”). This example proves what a mixed people the so-called “true Viennese” were and still are and how stereotypes govern people’s perceptions.


The house of the Rupp family in Obersiebenbrunn, near Vienna, and Werner in the yard below

So how did this children evacuation programme “Erweiterte Kinderlandverschickung” (KLV) work in Hitler’s so-called “Third Reich” between 1940 and 1945? It was a huge transfer of children during the war to move them from cities under threat of bomb attacks to areas which were supposedly safe from Allied bombings. The Nazis insisted on not calling this programme “evacuation movement” because they feared the population would get worried when hearing this term and would no longer believe in the Nazi “Endsieg” (final victory). Most of all, this programme was a social and ideological experiment, namely to tear children from their families for months and educate them in a National Socialist surrounding and to indoctrinate them with Nazi ideology. This worked more or less well in the KLV camps which were set up, but not necessarily so with the children who lived in host families, although those were selected by the local NS party organisations and considered “reliable”. Overall, the impact of NSDAP party ideology and the pressure from NSDAP camp leaders resulted in the fact that a high percentage of boys who had gone through the KLV programme volunteered for the NS special troops SA (“Sturmabteilung”) and SS (“Schutzstaffel”) and especially towards the end of the war, the “Waffen-SS”. Contemporary witnesses who had stayed in KLV camps reported that the boys who did not volunteer for the special units SA or SS were ridiculed and discriminated against. This might not necessarily have been the case for boys in host families. Werner did not volunteer for the SS, but his foster brother Franzi did. He was drafted in 1943 at the age of 17, joined the “Waffen-SS” and was killed in the war. Werner was drafted in 1944 and opted for the marines. In fact, Franzi was a shy and melancholic boy who seemed to have enjoyed the presence of Werner in their home because until then he had suffered under the dominance of his elder sister Anni. His authoritarian father Franz forced him to join the “Waffen-SS “to make a man out of him”, because Franz Rupp himself was an SS-man and Franzi always did as he was told. Together with two other boys from the same village they were sent to France. In Marseille the other two decided to desert from the “Wehrmacht” towards the end of the war and urged Franzi to escape with them, but Franzi did not dare to join them. The other two returned home safely, whereas no trace of Franzi was ever found. He was declared missing in France. On 15 August 1944 the US troops had landed at the Cote d’Azur near St. Tropez with 60,000 men and were supported by the “Free French Army” of Charles de Gaulle. This landing is known as the “Operation Dragoon”. In the following days another 120,000 Allied soldiers landed on the southern French coast involving 880 war ships. The operation was half the size of the “Operation Overlord” on the coast of Normandy on 6 June 1944. Nevertheless it is nearly forgotten except in France. Hitler decided on 17 August 1944 to withdraw his troops from southern France except from the fortified strongholds in Toulon and Marseille. Around 250,000 to 300,000 “Wehrmacht” soldiers had to march north in the direction of Alsace. Either in Marseille or on the march north Franzi was killed. Fortunately Werner was sent to Freilassing, Bavaria, for army training in March 1945, where he decided to flee from the “Wehrmacht” returning to Obersiebenbrunn on foot at the end of the war.

The KLV was decidedly a NSDAP programme, organised and financed by the party, whereby hundreds of thousands of children were taken from their families and transferred to other parts of the “Third Reich”. The exact number of transferred children cannot be defined because at the end of the war all KLV files were destroyed at Hitler’s command. Some German historians estimate that around 2.8 million children took part in the KLV programme, whereas others believe that around 850,000 children between 10 and 14 years of age were cared for in camps and approximately the same amount in host families. There are no reliable numbers for Austria, which formed part of the “Third Reich” in those years and also not for the “Gau Niederdonau” (this included not just Lower Austria, but also parts of Burgenland, southern Moravia and southern Bohemia), but in around 200 KLV camps in “Niederdonau” approximately 10,000 – 20,000 children might have been lodged annually, not counting the children in the host families. A study in the Czech Republic found out that in nearby Bohemia and Moravia around 350,000 children were accommodated in 400 KLV camps.


Werner on the left with his much loved foster brother Franzi on the right and below with his new born foster sister Christine, who he remained very close to all his life

Werner felt welcome and at home at his host family and wanted to live with them for good, but the majority of KLV children suffered a lot under the separation from their families. Also in England evacuation programmes for children were organised to protect them from German bombers. Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, who had fled with his family from Vienna to England, established psychoanalysis in England and together with Dorothy Burlingham ran the Hampstead War Nurseries, where they treated traumatised evacuated children during the 1940s and after 1945 orphans from the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt, too. Anna Freud found out that the German bomb attacks were less traumatic for the English children than the evacuation and the separation from their families, especially from their mothers. No such studies were made in Nazi Germany, but the same was most probably true for the thousands of children in the KLV programme in the “Third Reich”, except for Werner, who had never had a proper family life and experienced the warmth of a home for the first time with the Rupp family.

A recreational stay of urban children in the countryside, called KLV “Kinderlandverschickung”, had been a well-established social programme in Germany since the end of the 19th century and was now organised by the NSV (“Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt” – National Socialist Welfare). In the summer of 1940 1,500 children were registered for a stay in “Niederdonau” via the original KLV programme, among them Werner. On 27 September 1940 Hitler decided that the programme should be extended to all children who lived in regions which were affected by Allied bomb attacks and the organisation of this “Erweiterte Kinderlandverschickung” (extended children evacuation programme) was to be taken over by the NSV together with the HJ (“Hitlerjugend”- Hitler’s youth) and the NSLB (“Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund” – the National Socialist association of teachers). Baldur von Schirach insisted on this terminology because it reminded parents of a well-known and established programme and by that avoided any war-related panic among the parents of KLV children. The local HJ was to identify suitable hotels, inns or bed & breakfast places where the children could be accommodated. In the region around Vienna the owners of such accommodations were happy to welcome KLV children because due to the war most tourist activity had ceased. The problem was only that the majority of locations were designed for summer tourism and provided no heating facilities. All the costs which arose from this “extended” KLV programme were to be covered by the party. Due to the resistance of middle-class and well-to-do parents to hand over their children, the party first concentrated on children from poorer families and dressed the programme up as a social measure. Werner was still selected on the grounds of the original KLV programme, as he did not come from an urban area which was threatened by bombs, but from the small village Troitschendorf near Görlitz in Silesia. He formed part of the group of children who were selected for the first KLV stay in “Niederdonau” from 20 August until 1 October 1940.

Baldur von Schirach had quickly drafted a programme of transferring 200,000 school children and 50,000 mothers with their babies and calculated that around 3,600 places of accommodation and appropriate means of transport were to be provided and around 2 million RM per day were to be raised for the implementation of his project. Hitler personally approved of Schirach’s “extended” KLV plans. Then an order was issued that all local NS party organisations had to recruit “reliable” host families, camp leaders and female personnel for cooking and cleaning and that’s when Franz Rupp volunteered as host father. The matter was urgent because the first “extended” KLV trains were to leave Berlin on 7 October 1940 – Werner was still part of the original KLV holiday programme of 5-6 weeks and had already left Görlitz in August 1940. From 1943 on nearly all big cities in Germany sent children away via the “extended” KLV. The programme was explicitly an NSDAP party programme, financed by the party and free of charge for the parents. The programme involved children until the age of 14 and in some cases until the age of 18. The party organisation NSV paid for the medical examination before departure, for transport, insurance and provisioning during the journey. Host families were entitled to a benefit that covered the costs of board and lodging. The parents were responsible for providing clothing, which was checked by the NSV before departure and in case of need the NSV issued shoes, coats etc. In “Niederdonau” the local HJ and BdM (“Bund deutscher Mädchen” – the NS association for girls) groups appointed HJ and BdM leaders who were looking after the 10- to 14-year old children in KLV camps and the HJ had to finance board and lodging of the children in camps. The teachers who were recruited by the NSLB were responsible for organising the teaching in the camps and the NSLB covered all the arising teaching costs. Children in host families like Werner usually attended local schools. Yet the HJ tried to extend its influence on the educational programme of all KLV children to boost the ideological indoctrination. It is difficult to estimate the number of children who were accommodated in the area of “Niederdonau” or Vienna because the NSDAP representatives tended to exaggerate the numbers for propaganda reasons. For example it is known that from 7 October until 4 November 1940 in the first “extended” KLV to Vienna 5,700 children were evacuated from Hamburg and in 1941 the NSDAP leader of “Niederdonau” boasted that his region was on the top of the list of KLV hosts with 200 camps and 20,000 KLV children, which was probably highly exaggerated because other sources calculate that there were lodgings available for 10,000 children only in “Niederdonau”. But again in 1943 at the time when more and more children who were affected by bomb attacks were sent south a NSDAP representative of the region spoke of 20,000 KLV children annually for “Niederdonau”.

The duration of this “extended” KLV programme was not explicitly mentioned in order not to upset the parents and the children, but it was much longer than the original KLV holiday programme of around 5-6 weeks via which Werner came to Obersiebenbrunn. Many parents were sceptical about the NSDAP children evacuation programme and did not want to hand over their children to the NS party. But the aggressive Nazi propaganda for the “extended” KLV, the threat of bomb attacks and the shortage of food in urban areas left many parents no choice. The children were taken from their families initially believing that they would return home after four to six, maximum eight weeks. The parents were from time to time soothed that they were allowed to have their children back whenever they wanted and to have the permission to visit them. In no case should it be mentioned that the children might only return home when the war was ended. In 1941 a stay of six to nine months was informally fixed and a return home before the expiry of this “extended” KLV date was not permitted; on the contrary, the parents might even be asked to agree to an extension of the duration of their child’s KLV stay. In the course of the war the KLV programme was progressively prolonged and from 1943 on it was no longer limited in time, it was an indefinite measure.

The organisation of “extended” KLV was centralised in Berlin under the leadership of Baldur von Schirach, Hitler’s commissioner for youth education, and a special NS party representative was appointed for every district (“Gau”) to coordinate the three party organisations NSV, HJ and NSLB on site. The headquarter for “Niederdonau” was located in the 9th district of Vienna, Wasagasse 10 and was headed by Otto Fenninger, who was appointed by “Gauleiter” (district leader) Hugo Jury. In “Niederdonau” the KLV officially employed around 1,900 people, including camp leaders, housekeepers, cooks, cleaners etc. plus 1,300 persons who were responsible for caring for and educating the children. It was the intention of the organisation to accommodate the children in isolated places and small villages mostly. The official argument for this choice of location was the boosting of cohesion within the KLV group in closed communities. This was of course not possible when children were lodged in host families like Werner.

The buildings which were selected by the HJ as appropriate locations for KLV camps were not always handed over voluntarily by the owners to the KLV for the purpose of installing a camp, but if no agreement could be reached the buildings were requisitioned. Nevertheless many hotel and boarding house owners cooperated willingly because the KLV children compensated to some extent the breakdown of tourism in the region during the war. All KLV camps were marked with a combination of letters and numbers: for example ND for “Niederdonau” and then the number of the camp and a uniform postage stamp was created. Those children who were sent to host families were assigned to a family which had applied for a KLV child or children. The local newspapers in Lower Austria announced that it was the “express wish of the Führer” that the local population welcomed as many children as possible because it was their “honour of duty towards the Führer”. In some villages the families even competed with each other and tried to outdo one another in complying with Hitler’s wishes. It can be assumed that only politically “reliable” families were selected because there are records of families which were rejected. Some pressure might have been applied by the local party to accept KLV children if it was known that there was unused space in a family home, such as a garden house or empty rooms. The newly established KLV camps were adapted and equipped by the KLV headquarter in Vienna, where a whole school building acted as a warehouse in which kitchen equipment, heaters, bunkbeds, lockers, shoes and clothing etc. were stored. In every KLV camp an infirmary had to be installed, too. The bureaucracy for the innkeepers and hotel owners who ran such camps was enormous and dozens of check lists had to be completed daily, for example food deliveries, in order to be compensated by the KLV. For some innkeepers this was good business nevertheless: around 1.95 RM was paid per bed and additionally 1.45 RM per child. The host families received 2 RM per child and day additionally to the child’s food stamps.

In the beginning of the programme children from different schools were sent to one destination. Werner noted that two children from his school were chosen to be sent on a 6-week KLV holiday in August 1940 and the headmaster selected him, although he was not undernourished, because he knew about his difficult family situation and because Werner was always “ready to assist with little chores, such as cleaning the aquarium or acting as beater at a hunt”. Initially northern German cities sent children to KLV camps in the south and later also Viennese children were evacuated to “Niederdonau”. From 1943 on whole schools were dispatched to KLV camps. Werner wrote that he was lucky at having ended up with the Rupp family, because they had opted for a girl and he should have been sent to the builder Steinbeck, but despite the confusion the Rupp family welcomed him in their home. According to contemporary witnesses such mix-ups happened quite often. The children usually arrived at the point of destination completely exhausted after long train rides of sometimes two days and often more than 1,000 km.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF A VIENNESE SOLDIER IN A SAPPERS’ DIVISION OF THE GERMAN „WEHRMACHT” DURING THE MILITARY CAMPAIGN IN & OCCUPATION OF POLAND 1940/41 (PART2)


Toni and Lola as a newly-wed couple in Preßbaum near Vienna before the war

Anton Kainz (Toni), my grandfather, was drafted to the German Wehrmacht in March 1939, a year after Hitler had incorporated Austria into the German “Third Reich”. When the 2nd World War broke out in September 1939 Toni was assigned to the “3rd Sappers’ Battalion XVII 79/B” of the German Wehrmacht as a sapper (“Bausoldat”) in February 1940 and had to complete ten weeks of training in the Vienna Arsenal. He was sent to France in June 1940 and remained there until September 1940. From September 1940 until June 1941 he was with the “2nd Sappers’ Battalion 153 /288” in Poland (the then so-called “Generalgouvernement”) until he was dismissed from the German Wehrmacht and declared “n.z.v. (“nicht zu verwenden” – not to be used) because he refused to divorce his Jewish wife, Lola, my grandmother. In this one year as a soldier he wrote 246 long letters and a few postcards to his beloved wife and daughter with detailed descriptions of the life of a common soldier, his tasks and activities, his feelings and emotions and his attempts at handling the precarious situation of his wife and daughter in Vienna from a distance. A detailed analysis of his documented experiences forms the core of this article. The historical analysis of the 246 letters which Toni wrote to his wife in this period is divided into three categories: first, information about the military campaign, where he was stationed, the military tasks and operations, and the conditions of the military service; second, in which way he tried to support his family in Vienna and how he organised important tasks at home from a distance and third, his emotional conditions on the military front line.


A public announcement in Krakow on 19 September 1939: Alcohol can only be offered in inns, cafés and bars to Wehrmacht soldiers and no longer to Polish civilians

A public announcement in Krakow on 24 September 1942 informing Polish civilians about the drastic punishment they have to face if they assist Jews

On 1 September 1939 the German armed forces under Adolf Hitler attacked Poland, which was the start of World War II. Germany’s invasion of Poland was characterised by the so-called “blitzkrieg” strategy; a surprise attack of extensive bombing to destroy the enemy’s air capacity, infrastructure and communication lines, followed by a massive land invasion with large numbers of troops, tanks and artillery. As soon as the Germans had set up bases of operation in Poland, they started to annihilate any opposition to their Nazi regime. Although the Polish army counted 1 million soldiers, it was badly equipped and severe strategic miscalculations contributed to the fact that the Polish forces could not be a match for the technologically much more advanced German forces. The Poles had hoped for a Soviet intervention, but Stalin had signed with Hitler the Ribbentrop-Molotov Non-Aggression Pact already in August 1939, which secretly stated that Poland would be divided up between Hitler and Stalin. Great Britain and France declared war on Germany and Great Britain responded by bombing German territory three days later. Earlier on Britain and France had acquiesced to German rearmament and the annexation of Austria, the “Anschluss” in March 1938, because they were not prepared to fight another war against Germany so soon after the end of World War I. In September 1938 they even pressured Czechoslovakia to yield to Hitler’s demand for the incorporation of the Czech border region to Germany known as the “Sudetenland” with its large German-speaking population. Although Britain and France had guaranteed the integrity of the remaining Czechoslovakia, Hitler incorporated the Czechoslovak territory in March 1939, by that violating the Munich Agreement of September 1938.

In order to justify their attack on Poland the German military together with the SS staged a phony Polish attack on a German radio station and used this action to resort to “retaliation” against Poland. German troops reached Warsaw eight days later and started a siege of the city, which suffered severe damage and had to surrender on 28 September. The Polish forces were heavily outnumbered and despite tough resistance they were defeated within a few weeks. The Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland on 17 September 1939 and Poland was divided along the Bug River into a German- and a Soviet-occupied territory. Some Polish soldiers managed to flee across the border to Romania and the West to join the Free Polish Forces. Several of them joined the British Royal Air Force and took part in the “Battle of Britain”. On October 1939 Hitler annexed the Polish territories along the Eastern German border, such as Western Prussia, Upper Silesia and the city of Danzig (Gdansk). The rest of the German-occupied Polish territory was subjugated under a Governor General, the Nazi Hans Frank, as the “Generalgouvernement” (General Government). Toni was stationed there as a Wehrmacht soldier from September 1940 until June 1941 after having served in France (see article part 1).

The British and French commanders were still stuck in World War I strategies and were totally unprepared for the “blitzkrieg” in Poland. War was only declared three days after the invasion on 3 September 1939 because the Western Allies had hoped that Hitler would respond to their demands and end the invasion. The hoped-for French and British offensive in the west did not take place. On the contrary, on 13 September French troops were ordered to fall back behind the defensive “Maginot Line”. Germany had gained a swift victory but that was only the start of World War II because Britain and France refused Germany’s offer for peace and so Hitler’s gamble had failed. He had been confident that the invasion of Poland would be brief and victorious because the Polish army was unprepared and that Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime minister, and Edouard Daladier, the French President, would rather opt for a peace settlement than wage another war. Hitler had won a substantial revision of the Peace Treaty of Versailles of 1919, ending World War I, which was by than widely regarded as an unfair penal peace even in the West, not just in Germany. Unfortunately many believed that communism posed the greater threat to Western democracies than fascism and welcomed a strong Germany as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. That is why Hitler had enjoyed astonishingly positive press coverage in Western democracies until 1938. Germany had even been allowed to host the Olympic Games of 1936, which were turned into a propaganda event for the Nazis. The positive climate ended after the “Munich Agreement” in March 1939, but Hitler was emboldened by his earlier successes and dismissed the concerns of his generals, but demanded total loyalty instead.

The German tanks quickly devastated the Polish defence, encircled the Polish troops and annihilated them as the German attackers far outnumbered the Polish army in manpower and equipment: 3,234 German fighter planes attacked 842 Polish ones. In this attack on Poland the German Wehrmacht lost 3,234 soldiers and 30,222 were wounded, whereas 123,000 Polish soldiers died and 133,700 were wounded and 694,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans. Now the terrible walk through hell started for Poland: the nearly complete extinction of the Polish Jews, the terrible suppression of the Polish people by the NS regime and the mass internment of Poles in slave labour camps. The Polish soldiers who had fought bravely to defend their country had had no chance in this unequal battle and many ended up in German and Soviet labour camps. Hate begot hate, which resulted in aggression against the German-speaking minority in Poland and in excessive anti-Semitic attacks against Jews by Poles. The Jews had to flee the German Nazis and their Polish compatriots. Nevertheless, those Poles who helped the Jewish population despite death threats by the Nazis should never be forgotten.

In August 1939 a secret additional protocol to the so-called “Hitler-Stalin-Pact” already stipulated the separation of north-eastern and south-eastern Europe into “spheres of interest” of Germany and the Soviet Union and by that the partition of Poland along the rivers Narew, Weichsel and San. From the 17 September on Soviet troops occupied the eastern part of Poland. But Hitler’s plan had just been to incorporate Poland without any disturbance of the Soviets and to gain an ideal starting position for his already planned attack on the Soviet Union. The rest of the world assumed that this pact would secure peace in Europe because they were unaware of the secret supplementary protocol. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 he incorporated the Soviet-occupied Polish territories, too. The NS propaganda machine indoctrinated the German soldiers and the German public creating the image of “slawischer Untermensch” (Slavic subhuman being) and many of the German soldiers succumbed to this prejudice and believed they dealt with a “primitive people” when they were on Polish territory in the so-called “Generalgouvernement”. Yet most German soldiers acknowledged the bravery of the Polish soldiers, but had virtually no contact to the Polish population. What can be seen from the original documents is that Toni and his friends were different; they did build up friendly relationships with the local population.

The command of field marshal von Reichenau, commander of the 6th German Army, on 6 October 1941 constituted a defiance of the international law of war and put the Wehrmacht per definitionem at the same level as the SS, which was then responsible for genocide behind the front lines just as the SS and other NS organisations z.b.V. (“zur besonderen Verwendung”= for special use). Unfortunately, anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in the Polish population, too, and attacks against Jews were largely supported by the local population. In war diaries of German officers one can find many hints to their aggressive anti-Semitism, for example they wrote about “ugly and dirty Jews” and that “no one wants to be stationed in a city like Tarnow, which is a virtual Jew city”. But one can also find comments of ordinary privates who showed mercy and compassion towards the Polish Jews. The Viennese private Alfred Pietsch was shocked about the destitution of the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto and the squalor there when he had to deliver some furniture to the ghetto in 1942. The German soldiers knew about concentration camps, but the privates had no idea what was really going on there. All knew about the abuse and the mistreatment of the Jewish population, but it was virtually impossible to act against military orders. Nevertheless there was a small number of “silent heroes” who defied the holocaust and tried to rescue Jews. Helping Jews was more dangerous than allowing partisans to escape because it was always punished by immediate execution. In the memorial of Yad Vashem in Israel 83 Austrians are listed among the “Righteous among the Nations“, 45 of them were members of the German Wehrmacht.

How was the Austrian army integrated into the German Wehrmacht after the “Anschluss” in March 1938? During the First Republic the Austrian army was underfunded and little appreciated by the population. Contrary to the former k.&k. Habsburg Army, it was now a “politicised” army: from 1921 on the Austrian soldiers more or less had to be members of the Christian-Socialist “Wehrbund” and the army had to act as an obedient tool of the Christian-Socialist government, which became visible in the role the army took in the suppression of the Socialist protests in February 1934. After the ban of the Social Democratic Party, the Austro-Fascist regime relied in its defence on Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. Only when it became clear that Mussolini and Hitler were forging a pact, did the Austrian government decide to re-arm the Austrian Army. By introducing compulsory military service and re-introducing a general staff they violated the St. Germain peace treaty of 1919. Field marshal Alfred Jansa developed a defence plan in case of a German aggression, which was expected for the year 1939, but this “Jansa Plan” was so secret that even many divisional commanders were not informed. The Austrian High Command was anyway convinced that resistance was futile because the Austrian army was clearly inferior. Under the Austro-Fascist regime all soldiers and officers were supposed to be members of the Austro-Fascist “Vaterländische Front”, but the illegal National Socialist “NS-Soldatenring” was highly active inside the Austrian army and the climate therefore was characterised by mistrust and anonymous denunciation. On 11 March 1938 the partial mobilisation was announced and a marching order was issued to protect the border to Germany. Yet the officers were not informed by the government and the abdication speech of the Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg caught them by surprise while they were having dinner. In the morning of 12 March they learned about the invasion of the German Wehrmacht and received the order to retreat into the barracks at 9.30. The enthusiasm of the Austrian population which welcomed Hitler and had already decorated official buildings, barracks and public transport with swastika flags surprised even many soldiers and overwhelmed them. Yet some officers were annoyed about the government’s decision not to show any resistance. Already on 14 March all Austrian officers and soldiers were sworn in to Adolf Hitler; only few dodged the ceremony which was not noticed in the existing turmoil, but those who officially refused to take the oath, were immediately dismissed and persecuted. Around 30 Austrian officers were imprisoned or deported into concentration camps, six of which died there. Furthermore, 123 “non-Aryans” (officers of Jewish descent) were dismissed from the army on the spot. The orders of the German High Command (von Bock and von Brauchitsch) of 14 March 1938 already marked the end of the Austrian army and the complete absorption into the German Wehrmacht, although the Austrian soldiers and officers were not aware of this fact at that point in time. The pompous military parade along the Viennese Ringstrasse on 15 March covered up the tragic side of the end of the Austrian army: 67 Austrian officers were dismissed and 50 officers who had had to leave the Austrian army before because of illegal membership in the NSDAP were reinstated. Just to mention two of the tragic destinies: the student at the military academy and son of the Austrian vice-chancellor, Herbert Fey, committed suicide after learning that his parents had taken their lives and the field marshal Johann Friedländer was dismissed as a Jew, lost his flat and was deported to the KZs Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, where he was murdered in 1945.

Most Austrian officers and soldiers were originally no National Socialists, but many were attracted by the prospect of a career in the Wehrmacht and the National Socialists in the Austrian army even dreamed of an Austrian independence within the German “Third Reich”. Yet Hitler did not accept any special status of the Austrians and was only interested in an increase in the number of soldiers for the Wehrmacht. Immediately compulsory military service was extended from one to two years and the Austrian soldiers were completely integrated in the German Wehrmacht. In a second wave of “cleansing” further 440 officers were dismissed, mostly on the basis of political attitude or because they had Jewish wives, like my grandfather Toni. The hopes for rewards and promotions of members of the formerly illegal “NS Soldatenring” were quickly dashed because the German Wehrmacht was basically apolitical and not too many close ties existed at that time between the NSDAP and the Wehrmacht.

On the other side of the front line around 10,000 Austrians fought together with the Allied Forces against Hitler. They were emigrants, persecuted Jews, Habsburg monarchists, Communists or Socialists who volunteered to fight in the alliance against Fascism; others deserted from the Wehrmacht and joined foreign armies. A family relative who was renamed John Collins in the UK, had fled from Vienna to Great Britain and joined the British Forces against Hitler. I got to know him as a child when visiting my great-aunt and great-uncle, Agi and Norbert Katz, in London and he was presented to me as a war hero – behind his back, of course. These Austrian soldiers were not always warmly welcomed, but treated with utmost mistrust. The President of the United States Roosevelt was in favour of establishing an “Austrian battalion” because that would support the idea of a future independent state of Austria. Yet many of the Austrian volunteers rejected the attempt of Otto von Habsburg, son of the last Habsburg emperor, of leading the Austrian battalion. In 1943 the “Infantry battalion 101” was dissolved without ever having reached the required manpower. Nevertheless thousands of Austrian and German volunteers were integrated in the US Army with the prospect of receiving US citizenship. Famous Austrians in the US Army who after the war played an important role in the cultural reconstruction of Austria were Ernst Haeussermann, director of the Vienna Burgtheater, Marcel Prawy, opera expert, Georg Kreisler, cabaret artist and Hans Habe, journalist. The Austrians and Germans were trained in the camps Ritchie and Sharp since the summer of 1942. Around 20,000 soldiers were trained in map reading, interrogation techniques, creating flyers and radio reports and most of all, in the set-up and working of the German Wehrmacht. Later in Europe they were called the “Ritchi and Sharp boys”. Approximately 10 per cent of the 7,000 Austrians who fought in the US army were trained there. They were used to procure secret information from the enemy, help interrogate German prisoners-of-war and destroy German morale by distributing millions of flyers over enemy territory and creating radio reports in Allied radio stations. In this way they tried to induce the civilian population and soldiers in Germany to surrender. After the war they assisted the Allies in identifying Nazis in occupied Austria, published the first newspapers and acted as cultural messengers. They were also among the first to set foot in the liberated Nazi concentration camps, they talked to the survivors and documented the holocaust.

1,500 Austrians served in the French “Légion étrangère”. After the “Fall of France” 1940 most of them fled abroad and some joined the British troops in North Africa. In this way five British sappers’ companies were formed consisting of Austrian and German emigrants. In 1944 an Austrian battalion of more than 500 men was established under French command and was sent in September 1945 to assist the French troops in the occupation of Austria. All in all approximately 4,000 Austrians served in the French army.

The only army where Austrians set up a separate fighting unit was in the Yugoslav army. In 1944 Austrians, mostly former fighters in the Spanish civil war, Communist emigrants and prisoners-of-war who wanted to escape interment in Soviet POW camps formed five Austrian battalions which were trained by the Soviets. All of them arrived in Vienna in the spring of 1945 and took over defence and security tasks in the eastern part of Austria.

Last but not least, 3,000 to 5,000 Austrians served in the British Army during World War II. At the beginning of the war they were integrated in the “Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps” (AMPC), which was not armed. Until March 1940 five divisions were formed, which consisted exclusively of Austrian and German Jews; the Austrians constituted 26 per cent (628 soldiers). These volunteers were not automatically awarded British citizenship and were usually not armed, but used for construction works and the clearing of bomb debris. In 1940 four corps were despatched to France. All of them were evacuated from France across the British Channel. Between October 1940 and January 1941 ten more sappers’ corps were formed with 458 Austrian volunteers from British internment camps. So, all in all around 4,500 Austrian and German soldiers were active in 15 sappers’ divisions on the side of the British. In 1942 emigrants had access to officers’ training courses for the first time and in the spring of 1943 they were allowed to volunteer in all military services of the British forces. Many sappers now left these least appreciated corps and entered other British military services. This meant that additionally to the 1,400 Austrian sappers, further 1,600 Austrian soldiers actively fought in the British forces at nearly all front-lines. For their personal security in case of imprisonment by the German Wehrmacht they were given new names and a new identity. Few underwent special training and then acted as agents behind the enemy front lines. 60 of these Austrian agents in the service of the British were uncovered and executed. Several Austrians in British uniform were stationed in Austria after 1945 and helped with administering the occupied territories and acted as interpreters. A special Austrian battalion was never set up in the British forces, as its establishment had failed in the USA, although this was mentioned in the Moscow Declaration of 1943 as a condition and symbolic contribution to the liberation of Austria as an independent state. All attempts were unsuccessful due to the discord among the organisations of Austrians in exile. What was the destiny of German and Austrian Jews who ended up as prisoners-of-war of the German Wehrmacht? The German army soon found out who they were, especially if they were caught in an all emigrants sappers’ corps, but they constituted a problem for the Wehrmacht, which would not treat them as they handled all other Jews. So mostly they ended up in prisoner-of-war camps and were condemned to hard labour.


A post card from Poland which Toni kept

On 5 September the train transporting Toni and the other Wehrmacht soldiers of the “2nd Sappers’ Battalion” from France to Poland stopped in Tarnow, the weather was good and the journey wonderful, Toni wrote. On 6 September 1940 Toni arrived at Sanok, the first destination of his battalion in Poland.


Map of the region as part of the Habsburg Empire’s crown land Galicia, showing Tarnow and Sanok

The Polish cities Sanok and Tarnow had been part of the Habsburg Empire’s province of Galicia after the first partition of Poland in 1772 until the end of World War I. In the course of the German assault on Poland Sanok was occupied by the Germans and was integrated into the so-called “Generalgouvernement”, just as Tarnow. Sanok was a frontier town between the German-occupied and the Soviet-occupied parts of Poland until the German attack on the Soviet Union and in 1940 the Polish underground movement established itself there. The population structure of the whole region was characterised be a large number of different minorities, such as Jews, Ukrainians, Lemkins, Boykins and Germans, several of which were forced to collaborate with the Nazis or did so voluntarily in the “Waffen-SS-Division Galicia”.

Tarnow had been one of the most important merchant towns in the Habsburg Empire. When the German Wehrmacht occupied Tarnow on 8 September 1939, many of the 25,000 Jewish inhabitants tried to flee eastwards, but on the other hand many Jewish refugees ended up in Tarnow who had been trying to escape the Nazis from occupied territories further west. It can be assumed that in 1942 30,000 Jews lived in Tarnow. But the German occupiers also harassed the Christian Poles. In June 1940 the first transport of Christian Polish prisoners to the KZ Auschwitz was organised by the GESTAPO; of these 728 prisoners only 200 survived. For the Jews the Nazis established a ghetto in Tarnow where they interned between 20,000 and 40,000 Polish Jews, who were exploited as slave labourers, most of which were finally deported to the extermination camps Belzec or Auschwitz –Birkenau and murdered there. The establishment of the Tarnow Ghetto was formally announced in March 1941. The final liquidation by the Nazis took place in August and September 1943 and in January 1945 the Soviets ended the Nazi occupation of Tarnow.


A photo Toni took of a sunset in Zamosc, Poland, in February 1941. In this town more than 10,000 Jews lived and the German occupiers set up a ghetto there as well and started deporting the Jews to Belzek in April 1942 until the final liquidation of the ghetto in October 1942

THE MILITARY CAMPAIGN


Toni took a photo of a German PAK (Panzerabwehrkanone)

Sanok

On 6 September 1940 Toni wrote to his beloved wife Lola that they were stuck in Sanok and waiting for the next transport. They were supposed to end up somewhere 40 km from Sanok in a godforsaken village. He was really desperate because this was a totally deserted area. They had just been on the banks of the river San and had looked towards Russia, which was approximately 300 km away. He thought it would be possible to purchase some things in Sanok, but everything was five to ten times more expensive than in France: 0.5 l of beer or 100 g sausage 50 Pf (Pfenninge) and a small piece of cake 30-40 Pf. Then Toni described in his letter the journey from France to Sanok, which he had enjoyed very much as there was good weather all the time: On 2 September they left Remiremont at 10.30 am and went via Luneville  to Saarburg  and Saargemünd, where they stayed overnight. There was an air raid at night and they could hear and see the attacks of the enemy airplanes and the responding German defence, but he had slept well in the hay on the open train carriage nevertheless. Then they were transported to Homburg – Ludwigshafen – Worms – Frankfurt – Hanau – Fulda – Hersfeld – Ronshausen – Eisenach, where he admired the many flowers, – Gotha – Erfurt – Leipzig, where they arrived on 3 September at 9 am, then to Dahlen – Riesa – Dresden – Bautzen – Greiffenberg – Hirschberg, where they crossed the “Riesengebirge”, a wonderful mountain landscape, – Gottesberg – Dittersbach, where ten furnaces were working at full capacity which turned the sky red from the glowing coal. The train then carried them to Königszelt – Breslau – Oppeln – Ratibor – Oderberg – Chybie – Auschwitz – Skawina- Krakau – Bochnia – Tarnow – Stroze  Biecz – Jaslo – Sanok, where they arrived on 5 September at midnight. “You can see it was a journey across half of Europe. I would rather do without it and go home. Our kitchen was on an open carriage. So we had a good view, but also lots of wind, dirt and sun. We are dark as Negroes and dirty as pigs. Just imagine five days in the uniform without the possibility to wash properly or change clothes and very little sleep. We look like gipsies ….Today I don’t care at all: no money, nothing to smoke, nothing to drink, in one word a complete f….. I don’t need anything, just please send me writing paper, a pencil and razor blades.” The only certainty for Toni at that moment was that he would stay in the kitchen, which for him was the best option for the time being.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF A VIENNESE SOLDIER IN A SAPPERS’ DIVISION OF THE GERMAN „WEHRMACHT” DURING THE MILITARY CAMPAIGN IN FRANCE 1940 (PART1)

Anton Kainz (Toni), my grandfather, was drafted to the German “Wehrmacht” in March 1939 a year after Hitler had incorporated Austria into the German “Reich”. When the 2nd World War had broken out in Septmeber1939 Toni was assigned to the “3rd Sappers’ Battalion XVII 79/B” of the German “Wehrmacht” as sapper (“Bausoldat”) in February 1940 and had to complete ten weeks of training. He was sent to France in June 1940 and remained there until September 1940. From September 1940 until June 1941 he was with the “2nd Sappers’ Battalion 153 /288” in Poland (the then so-called “Generalgouvernement”) until he was dismissed from the German “Wehrmacht” and declared “not to be used” (“nicht zu verwenden: nzv”) because he refused to divorce his Jewish wife, Lola, my grandmother. In this one year as a soldier he wrote 246 long letters and a few postcards to his beloved wife and daughter with detailed descriptions of the life of a common soldier, his tasks and activities, his feelings and emotions and his attempts at handling the precarious situation of his wife and daughter in Vienna from a distance. He was 34 years old when he was drafted and had been trained as cook and waiter in his father’s inn in Vienna in the 18th district Währing. He had travelled to Switzerland and France during his years of professional formation and after quitting the “Anton Kainz Inn” he ran a coffee house in Vienna in the 8th district  Josefstadt from 1935 until 1937 together with Lola (see article on “Viennese suburban coffee houses”).


Toni (on the left) in St. Moritz, Switzerland, New Year’s Eve 1925/26 with three young colleagues working there, too.

From May 1939 on he worked in the restaurant service of “Mitropa”, the “Central European Restaurant and Sleeping Car Company” with destinations in many European cities and later at a fish monger’s in the 1st district of Vienna “Hofbauer & Hammerschmidt”.


A postcard Toni wrote, picturing a “Mitropa” railway company’s dining car, on 22 July 1939 on the track Vienna- Villach
Silver cutlery for fish with the inscription “Mitropa 1939”

Toni spoke a little French and loved the French way of life, art and culture and the cuisine. He himself was an amateur painter, photographer and enjoyed playing the piano, especially four-handed together with his wife Lola. Toni was a keen sportsman, too; he loved tennis, football, skiing, hiking, climbing and sailing. To his great regret he came back to France as a member of a conquering army and he reported how ashamed he was of the behaviour of some of his comrades, in France as well as later in Poland. A detailed analysis of his documented experiences forms the core of this article.


Toni in the “Wehrmacht” uniform

The integration of Austrian soldiers in the German “Wehrmacht” revealed prejudices on both sides from the beginning of the war on. Some reports characterise the relationship between Austrian and German soldiers as friendly, but most contemporary witnesses stress the condescending and contemptuous attitude of the Germans towards the Austrian soldiers, which might have been rooted in the Prussian disdain for the former Austro-Hungarian army. The Austrians called all men with origins north of Bavaria “Prussians”, disparagingly “Marmeladinger” or “Piefkes”, whereas the Austrians were called “Ostmärker” (The NS name for people from former Austria), pejoratively “Kamerad Schnürschuh” (Comrade Lace-up), by the Germans, signifying the supposed lack of soldierly qualities. Consequently the Austrian soldiers had to succumb to degrading treatment by German military instructors. This derogatory attitude of German sergeants was often copied by ordinary German soldiers. The classical prejudice persisted, namely that Austrian soldiers were “inferior material”. In the melting pot of the German “Wehrmacht” the Austrians as “Ostmärker” (after the annexation of Austria by the German Nazis) were classified together with the soldiers from the German “Altreich” as “Volksgruppe 1” (“Ethnic Group 1”), the German ethnic soldiers from Silesia and Czechoslovakia “Ethnic Group 2 or 3” and those from Poland “Ethnic Group 4”. Despite being in group 1 the Austrians were treated with arrogance and condescension, just as the other German-speakers from Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Sometimes even Bavarians had to succumb to degrading treatment. Some German officers resorted to fierce threats, especially towards the end of the war, stating that Austrians were unreliable, cowardly and only to be used as cannon fodder. Austrian privates also tended to be assigned the worst accommodations. Yet some Austrian soldiers reported that a friendly and comradely relationship with German soldiers was possible, but that they were usually careful, most of all when discussing political issues, because an imprudent or rash comment could have very serious consequences.

The important connection to the home country was guaranteed by the forces’ postal service of the “Wehrmacht”, which was astonishingly efficient. The ordinary soldier was forbidden to keep a diary. Several soldiers circumvented this ban, but these diaries usually only survived if the soldiers managed to hide them at home in the form of loose sheets. Taking photos, nevertheless, was permitted as long as the soldiers did not take photos of military installations or actions. Photography had become a popular hobby since the early 1930s and the soldiers photographed more or less everything without facing any sanctions. Most soldiers sent the photos home in letters and this is the way how just a few of Toni’s photos survived. Another important channel of information was the exchange of letters. The daily mail call was one of the most important distractions from military routine and a very important moral support for the soldiers. This was the reason why the High Command put emphasis on the smooth functioning of the army’s postal service. Several thousand people were responsible for a frictionless postal connection between the home territories and the military front-line. The service was hierarchically organised, just like the army. Due to secrecy reasons neither the military unit nor the geographical position of the soldier were to be mentioned in the address, but only the name, rank and the forces’ five-digit postal service number. Parcels up to 250g could be sent free of charge and up to 1kg 0.20 RM (Reichsmark) had to be paid (the daily pay of a private was 1 RM). The soldiers “lived” from one mail call to the next – so important was the connection to their families. Usually the service was regular and took two to three weeks from home to the front-line or vice versa. Except for special cases, the letters were not censured because that would have delayed delivery endlessly considering the amount of letters dispatched every day. But if the army command had letters censured they tried to make it look as if the writer himself had crossed out some words. Yet the army made the soldiers believe that their mail was checked regularly, so that no military information or bad news was disclosed. Most soldiers did not report negative or disastrous news home anyway because they did not want to upset their families. Some sent coded messages to and fro, one of which is also mentioned in the letters below. The postal service was only interrupted during a transfer of troops and before and during an attack.

The other important distraction the soldiers were looking forward to was furlough or home leave. It was stipulated that “Wehrmacht” soldiers were entitled to two weeks’ home leave in their second year of service, three from their third year on and four from their ninth year on. Additionally special furlough could be granted in case of serious family matters, as in the case of Toni, the death of his mother, or for health reasons or university studies. Before or during a campaign all furloughs were cancelled and those on home leave had to return to the front-line. In the course of the war some soldiers could not go home for two or more years, which had disastrous effects on their psyche. Some even committed suicide, although there are no official records of these suicides, only reports of contemporary witnesses. For the journey home and back the army paid for the train tickets and the soldiers could travel on any train available, but it usually took them a long time to get home and many changes of trains, which is documented in Toni’s letters. Yet the days of the journey were not included in the duration of their furlough. If the soldier wanted to travel somewhere during his home leave he had to apply for a permit and the train tickets, otherwise he had to face serious sanctions. He had to wear his uniform and only with a special permission was he allowed to put on civilian clothes. If a soldier did not return to his division after his home leave or tried to hide or disappear, this meant certain death. It was known that the chances of survival were higher as a front-line soldier than as a deserter. The army bureaucracy at home and its “substitute army” worked as smoothly as the front-line army with an intricate web of supervision and control. The military police was everywhere, in the cities, in the country, in bars and restaurants, on trains and buses, at traffic junctions and they were manned by fanatical NSDAP party members. Without his marching orders, a soldier was lost. But with his marching orders he just had to report to the military authorities in every town he passed through. In larger cities the authorities sometimes even organised accommodation and sightseeing. Toni wrote to Lola how much he enjoyed those journeys because there was so much to see. He would have been a globetrotter, he only lacked money, time and opportunity. Some soldiers were granted extra furlough for special bravery or “to sort out unpleasant occurrences at home”, such as “unfaithfulness of the wife”, “foreigners who were accommodated in their homes” or homes which were destroyed by bombs. A furlough ban was the worst punishment for any soldier.

Receiving unbiased and objective information was a challenging task for ordinary soldiers as all media were under the NS party control in the “Third Reich”. At the front-line newspapers arrived by mail weeks later and not all barracks provided radios. The army command had set up an army radio station which briefly reported the latest news daily, but as soon as the “Wehrmacht” was no longer winning battles, but losing them, the news reports were increasingly distorted and used for propaganda purposes. Privates had nearly no knowledge of what was going on, as can be seen from Toni’s letters. When they were transferred they were not told where to, even when they were already on the trains or trucks. They had to rely on rumours. Every piece of information was checked and censured by the army and the party.

Hygiene in the army was of the highest priority, especially when with the outbreak of the war the infection rates of venereal diseases rose dramatically. Taking a bath or doing the laundry at the front-line was often a real problem for ordinary soldiers, and what’s more the ubiquitous plague of lice. So soldiers took to swimming in rivers and lakes whenever possible. Furthermore the soldiers were regularly vaccinated – Toni mentioned the inoculations against typhoid fever. When Toni was working in the kitchen urine and stool samples of all cooks were tested for hygienic reasons, as is known from his letters.

Hitler’s next target after attacking Poland in September 1939 was France and this was the sequence of events of the invasion of France by Nazi Germany: Since September 1939 France and Britain had been at war with Nazi Germany, but in the first months there had been nearly no fighting. The Allies wanted to strangle the Nazi war economy by imposing a blockade while at the same time building up their own military potential. Their plan was to mount an offensive in 1941 or even 1942 as soon as their armies were fully prepared. They hoped to hold the Germans off, if they attacked in the meantime. The old fortifications of the “Maginot Line” protected the French-German border, but the frontier with Belgium and Luxemburg was unprotected. To the Allies’ surprise the Germans launched an offensive on 10 May 1940 invading Holland, Belgium and France. Already three days later the Germans crossed the river Meuse and moved towards the British Channel. This military move threatened to cut off the British, French and Belgian armies in Belgium. After the capitulation of Holland and Belgium a large part of the British forces was evacuated across the Channel between 26 May and 4 June from the port of Dunkirk. At that point in time there was almost no more British military presence on Continental Europe. That was the chance for the German Nazis to turn south towards the centre of France. The French government decided to evacuate Paris on 10 June 1940 and the Germans arrived there four days later. On 22 June the French government had to sign an armistice with Germany, which meant that in only six weeks the French had been defeated by the German Nazis. A huge wave of people was moving south from Paris fleeing the German troops. The immediate consequences of the defeat were disastrous for France. Half of the country was occupied by German troops and in an unoccupied area in the south an authoritarian regime with its capital at Vichy was installed by the grace of Hitler under Marshall Pétain. As a consequence that was the end of democracy in the whole of France until the liberation by British and American armies in 1944. Yet the trauma of the defeat of 1940 and the following Nazi occupation continued to mark the French people for many years to come. The “Fall of France” was an event that resonated throughout the world as the disaster of the destruction of a most civilised and cultured nation. In fact, the defeat of France in 1940 led to a massive escalation of World War II and turned a so far European conflict into a worldwide war. The totality and speed of the French collapse surprised everyone. The Fall of France was not just a military defeat, but also signified the collapse of a political system, the break-down of the alliance with Great Britain and in the end almost a disintegration of the French society.

In the interwar years France had been a pacifist nation. The memories of the 1st World War weighed heavily with 1.3 million Frenchmen dead, 1 million war invalids, 600,000 widows and 750,000 orphans. Unlike Britain and Germany, France had suffered severely because the war had been largely fought on its territory. By the end of the 1st World War many towns in the north-east had been destroyed as well as a large part of the fertile agricultural land. The rebuilding of this devastated area took ten years. As a consequence of these experiences the French were profoundly pacifist. Some of this pacifism was rooted in exhaustion and a deep pessimism, whether the country could survive another war. The pacifist mood changed after the Munich Agreement of September 1938 with Hitler when it was proven that Hitler could not be trusted. In July 1939 a poll showed that 70% of French now were prepared to resist another aggressive German move. When eventually war was declared in September 1939 it seemed that the pacifist atmosphere had subsided. The French did not show great enthusiasm for war, but they accepted the necessity to resist Hitler. Even after the declaration of war many people still hoped for peace. In the months of waiting that followed the war declaration, morale both in the French army and among civilians deteriorated. The patriotic rhetoric of 1914 did no longer work in 1940. The question was what Britain and France were fighting for after the fall of Poland. At that point in time the war was not yet seen as a fight against Fascism in France.

It is further clear that in 1940 France was a country in economic and demographic decline and was being outstripped by Germany. The confidence of France that they could win a confrontation with Germany rested on the trust in the alliance with Britain. When de Gaulle went to London in 1940, he declared that the defeat of France was only the first round in a world war. There are many myths about Germany in 1940, especially the elusive notion of “Blitzkrieg” (“lightening war”), which was supposed to have been a specially conceived strategy. In reality the “Blitzkrieg” emerged in a haphazard way from the experience of the French campaign, whose success surprised the Germans as much as the Allies. Germany’s victory in France only led to the adoption of the “Blitzkrieg” concept afterwards with the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Nonetheless, the German plan for the attack on France could just as well have gone wrong. It is well known that the Nazi administration was chaotic and inefficient, especially with respect to rearmament, although they had a head start over the British and the French. The German army in 1940 for example was more dependent on horse-drawn transport than the French. Furthermore the morale among German soldiers was rather low, too. Even the German security police reported in 1939 that the Germans were full of resignation, fear of war and longing for peace. At a governmental press conference on 1 September 1939 journalists in Germany were instructed not to use the word “war” in headlines to avoid a mass panic. Even the German High Command was worried about the “lack of fighting spirit” among the German soldiers during the Polish campaign. That’s why the German military leaders viewed the Fall of France in 1940 as a “miracle”. The greatest German weapon in the French campaign was the element of surprise.

The defeat’s immediate consequences were the collapse of the Third French Republic and the ideological crusade of the “Vichy regime” to remake France. Pétain signed the armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940 and according to its terms France was split up into an “Occupied Zone” in the North and along the Atlantic coast and an “Unoccupied Zone” in the South. The new regime in the “Unoccupied Zone” was to be authoritarian and anti-democratic, although the armistice as such did not foresee any political arrangements there. The opponents of the French Republic took over in Vichy. Yet Vichy rested on more than just political reaction and revenge. Marshal Pétain was really popular among the population, not just as war hero of the 1st World War. His speeches about authority, family and security appealed to the French and the defeat provided Vichy with its moral authority and formed the foundation of the Vichy regime. Since the defeat of France seemed to ensure a German hegemony over Europe, the Vichy regime collaborated with the German conqueror. This pro-German stance was partly driven by ideological affinity; the regime was even close to re-entering the war on the side of Germany. By the end of 1941 a European war had become a global one and the military powers of the United States and the Soviet Union dwarfed the European ones and eventually led to the bipolar world of the Cold War after 1945.


The Belgian coast

To France, which had to sign an armistice agreement on 22 June 1940, the Germans had a special relationship; they respected the French as a “cultured nation”, as opposed to their attitude towards the Russians and other Slav peoples who the German Nazis considered inferior. Not all French were hostile to “Wehrmacht” soldiers, too, as can be deducted from Toni’s reports, which came from the region of Alsace-Lorraine. They were astonished about the quick defeat and 12,000 Frenchmen joined the German “Wehrmacht” later to fight against the Soviet Union. 8,000 Frenchmen even enlisted as volunteers in the “Waffen-SS” in the SS-Division “Charlemagne”. Many of those young French volunteers wanted to fight against Communism and for a “Nouvelle Europe”. Only very few of them survived World War II. On the other hand, several Frenchmen and women fiercely fought against the German invaders in the “Résistance” and many of them lost their lives in the fight against the occupiers, too.

Anton Kainz was drafted to the German Wehrmacht on 1 February 1940 and went with the 2nd Sappers’ Battalion 153 to France on 21 June 1940 and later to Poland, which period will be discussed in part 2 of this article. He was dismissed from the army on 17 June 1941 and was transferred to the home front “Vienna 1 North” on the basis that he was declared “n.z.v.” (not to be used) because he strictly refused to divorce his Jewish wife Lola, as already mentioned above.

Toni’s military service book:


“n.z.v.” is entered into his military service book in red and once more below:

The historical analysis of the 246 letters which Toni wrote to his wife in this period is divided into three categories: first, information about the military campaign, where he was stationed, the military tasks and operations, and the conditions of the military service; second, in which way he tried to support his family in Vienna and how he organised important tasks at home from a distance and third, his emotional conditions on the military front-line.

NAZI COLLECTIVE CAMPS (“SAMMELLAGER” ) AND LIFE IN HIDING AS A SO-CALLED „U-BOOT“ (“SUBMARINE”) IN VIENNA 1938-1945 AND THE SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE PERSECUTED


Memorial for the victims of deportation 1941/1942 at the location of the former train station “Aspangbahnhof” in the 3rd district of Vienna

This map shows the ghettos and concentration camps the Nazis deported the Jewish population to from the collection camps in Vienna via the “Aspang” train station

The list with the dates and destinations of the 47 transports from the Aspang train station to ghettos and concentration camps 1939, 1941/1942. My great-grandparents Ignaz and Rudolfine Sobotka were to be deported on the 28 July 1942 to Theresienstadt, but then their transport was postponed to 13 August1942

The famous Viennese artist, the painter Arik Brauer, reported in an interview that a school mate and friend of his had come running to his flat in the 16th district of Vienna, Ottakring, when they were both around 13 years old, telling Arik that the next day he and his family had to report to the Nazi authorities in a collection camp in the 2nd district. He wanted his friend to have his collection of books by Karl May, a very popular adventure book writer of the time, because he was not allowed to take the books with him and he wanted to say good bye to Arik, too. Arik asked him why he did not run away and his friend answered, “Where shall I run to?” At that time no one believed that this transfer to the collective camps (“Sammellager”) in Vienna, also euphemistically called “collective flats” (“Sammelwohnungen”), led straight to the extermination camps of the Nazis. The former chief rabbi of Vienna, Chaim Eisenberg, told the story of his father who had survived in hiding as a “U-Boot”: he had never laughed so much in his life as during these terribly trying times. Jewish humour kept them alive and helped them not to give up hope. But many could not bear the humiliation and terror and committed suicide. More than 130,000 people could flee before the complete ban of emigration of Jews in October 1941. Yet around 17,000 of those were caught up by the Nazi terror machine in their countries of refuge, such as France, the Netherlands and Belgium. In the years 1941/1942 45,527 persons were hauled from the Viennese collective camps via the “Aspang” train station in 47 transports to ghettos and concentration camps in the “East” (as the Nazis called the occupied territories in Central and Eastern Europe), among them my great-grandparents, Ignaz and Rudolfine Sobotka. They were interned in a collective camp in Krumbaumgasse 6/14 in the 2nd district of Vienna on 9 July 1942 before they were deported to the ghetto Theresienstadt (today Terezin) on 13 August 1942. They were liberated after three years of imprisonment by the Allied Forces on 7 July 1945. Of the 1,634 people who are recorded as “U-Boote” in Vienna 1,000 survived more than one year in hiding, more than 400 attempted to survive in hiding, but were discovered before disappearing successfully and were deported. All in all 66,000 Austrian Jews were murdered in the Shoah and Vienna became a model for the organisation of Nazi terror and the extermination of the Jewish population, which was later copied in the rest of the German “Third Reich”.


The postcard my grandmother Lola Kainz sent to her parents in the collective camp from their mountaineering holidays in the Großglockner region in Salzburg
“Dearest parents, We are great. Herterl (my mother) is a sweet and good girl and looks great. The food is wonderful here. Unfortunately the weather is not too good. Herterl has just written to her teacher. Hopefully everything is ok. Many kisses Herta. Thousand kisses Lola and Toni”

The postcard my grandfather Toni sent them from the same holiday from Zell am See
“We are already far away from Zell am See. At the moment we are in Salzburg in the region where I worked three years ago; refreshing memories; most of all we are looking for warmer weather. In Krimml we already had 10 cm of snow. Otherwise we are doing fine; we are shovelling food from morning till evening. Herta has put on weight and eats a lot. Greetings and kisses Toni. Many kisses, yours Lola. Many kisses, yours, Herta.”

The content of the two postcards, which were sent to Ignaz and Ritschi in the collective camp by their daughter Lola and their son-in-law Toni, support the statement of Arik Brauer that the families were not aware of the deadly seriousness of the GESTAPO orders to report at the collective camps and that the stay there was just a transition to the deportation to ghettos and concentration camps. But the banality of the reports about holiday experiences, food and weather in Salzburg might also have been intended to boost the morale of the parents and to sound positive, optimistic and hopeful. Ignaz and Ritschi never talked about their experiences during the time of imprisonment from 9 July 19242 until 7 July 1945. That’s why it is so important to research this dark period of Viennese history now in times of rising anti-Semitism in an attempt to prevent similar disasters in future, because as the writer William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”…

VIENNA 1945: THE END OF WORLD WAR II: LIFE IN THE LIBERATED AND OCCUPIED CITY & HOW DID RESTITUTION WORK FOR THE NON-ELITE

The “Viennese Diary of 1944/1945” by Josef Schöner (1904-1978) offers a personal impression of the life in the city of Vienna during the last days of the war and the months after the liberation of the city by the Soviet Red Army. Schöner was an Austrian diplomat who had been dispatched to the United States and was forcibly retired by the Nazis in 1939 after the “Anschluss” (the Nazi takeover of Austria). During the war he worked in the restaurant business of his parents and was called back to diplomatic service after the end of the war. The experiences of my grandparents, Lola and Toni Kainz, and their daughter, Herta, my mother, are an important source of information about life in Vienna during the last months of the 2nd World War and the time after liberation. My great-grandparents, Ignaz and Rudolfine Sobotka, in the photo below with Lola, their daughter and Herta, their granddaughter, returned from the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt to Vienna in the summer of 1945, but they never talked about their experiences during their imprisonment.


Ignaz and Rudolfine Sobotka with their daughter Lola (left) and their granddaughter Herta (right) after their return from the KZ Theresienstadt in the small flat of Lola and Toni in Mariahilferstrasse 41

This article furthermore deals with the way restitution worked for the victims of Nazi persecution after the war, focussing on the non-elite who had survived Nazi concentration camps and the ordinary Viennese citizens of Jewish descent who returned from exile. The overall number of those who came back to settle in Austria again was embarrassingly small: only 6 per cent. This can be explained by the fact that they were not at all welcome in post-war Austria.

The decision of the Allied Forces in 1943 to insist on “unconditional surrender” of Germany implied that Germany would have no say at all in the new world order after the end of the 2nd World War. The Allies then started to discuss the destiny of the many small states which had been incorporated into the Nazi “Third Reich”. Austria was just one of them and certainly not the most important one. A new order in Central Europe was considered important because it had become apparent that the Western inter-war policy of the 1920s and 1930s had failed in the region. The British were the first to weigh the pros and cons of four different options for Austria after the end of the war.  First, Austria could become an independent state as between 1918 and 1938; second, it could remain in a union with Germany; third, Austria could be part of a new, not yet clearly defined “Danube Confederation” or fourth, Austria could be split up and the western part would join Germany or Switzerland and the eastern part the “Danube Confederation”. But the Soviet Union had its own interests in the Central European region and Stalin insisted on the restoration of an independent Austrian Republic. The British wanted to boost the resistance among the Austrians against the Nazis and made that a condition for a preferential treatment of Austria after the victory over Nazi Germany. They were certain that Austria had to rely on massive foreign aid to survive as an independent state and that’s why they preferred a “Danube Confederation”. But the Soviets were strictly against any form of a Central European confederation of states. At the same time there was no clear strategy visible in the USA and the British did not want to alienate either the Americans or the Soviets. In a draft of July 1943 Austria was declared the first free country which had been a victim of Nazi aggression and the decision how Austria would be treated in future would depend on the behaviour of the Austrian people, who were responsible for the war, too. The “Anschluss” was imposed on Austria and was therefore null and void. In order not to become a basis for German aggression again in future Austria was to be restored as an independent state. Already in this draft the responsibility of the Austrians for the war was deliberately expressed in an ambiguous way. At that point in time also the governments of the Commonwealth countries discussed the destiny of small European states like Austria and the South-African Prime Minister Jan Smuts vehemently opposed a promise to Austria that it could expect preferential treatment to Germany and he further rejected the idea of promising independence to small states which were economically too weak to survive. He pleaded for a South German state, which would achieve two goals, namely a breaking up of Germany and the integration of Austria in a state with Bavaria. This was a solution which did not please the British Foreign Office under Anthony Eden who preferred a Central European Confederation and refused to offer preferential treatment to Bavaria, the region of origin of National Socialism. The Soviet Union pleaded for the Austrian independence and stated that they would not expect Austria to come under the Soviet sphere of influence.  Interestingly, the Soviets did not want to stress Austria’s responsibility for the war.

Finally on 1 November 1943 the “Moscow Declaration” confirmed that Austria was the first victim of Nazi Germany and would be restored as an independent republic once Hitler was defeated. At that point in time it was not to be predicted of how great the importance of this document would be for the future of Austria in 1945. Despite its ambiguity this declaration is the most important document for Austria before the State Treaty of 1955. The “Moscow Declaration” must have been known in Austria in November 1943 because the Nazi newspaper, the “Völkischer Beobachter”, reported about it. In conclusion it can be said that the British had invested much more thought in the future of Austria than any other of the Allied partners. They now started to plan the zones of occupation after the war and were prepared to offer the whole of Austria to the United States because their projected zone of occupation in southern Germany was rather small. But the Soviets insisted on a joint occupation of Austria by the Soviets, the Americans and the British. During this time of strategic planning, the war continued and the destruction of the German and Austrian cities and infrastructure was stepped up by Allied bombardments. In the spring of 1944 the south of Austria had come under attack of Tito’s Communist Partisans from the south. In September 1944 Churchill and Roosevelt agreed on the zones of occupation for Germany and the Soviet, British and American diplomats came to an understanding that the one who reached Vienna first, would invite the other two Allies to join in. On 31 October 1944 the British stipulated what should happen in case Austria was reached by the Allied troops before the unconditional surrender of Germany. Most importantly these directives included a warning that Austria could not escape its responsibility for the participation in the war and that it would be held accountable. Yet the degree to which Austrians contributed to the liberation of their own country would be taken into account. This proclamation stated that the British considered Austria an enemy state because Austria was waging a war against the Allies and that’s why the British considered themselves as victors and not liberators. The Soviets wanted to occupy the Burgenland and the eastern parts of Lower Austria and Styria and a third of the city of Vienna. The Americans expected that their zone of occupation in Vienna included an airfield. Basically, the Americans and the French had no special interest in occupying parts of Austria. Their focus was on Germany, but they accepted the British invitation to participate in the occupation of Austria.