SUCCESS STORIES OF RECENT MIGRATORY MOVEMENTS TO VIENNA

“Brunnenmarkt”, street market in Vienna’s 16th district

After the disasters of the first half of the 20th century, First World War, Great Depression, Second World War, disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austro-Fascism and Nazi regime, holocaust and ethnic cleansing, Vienna, the former 2-million multi-ethnic capital of a 50-million peoples’ empire, had turned into a provincial town, capital of a 7-million country, with a decreasing, rather homogenous population. Since the middle of the 1960s the lack of much needed workforce at the times of the economic boom years led to a change of attitude towards labour migration in Austria. The census of 1961 registered 7,074,000 inhabitants in Austria; 102,000 of them foreigners, most of them German citizens, the lowest number ever.

In 1961 the first recruitments abroad for the construction industry took place. Of the agreed 7,300 persons only 1,800 arrived, mostly from Italy. In 1962 a recruitment agreement with Spain under the fascist regime of Franco was unsuccessful. Between 1962 and 1964 37,000 “guest workers” were invited annually, but those numbers of migratory workers never arrived in Austria. Austria did not seem to be an attractive destination at that time. Finally in 1964 a recruitment agreement was signed with Turkey and an official Austrian recruitment office was opened in Istanbul, which was closed nearly 30 years later in 1993. In 1966 such a recruitment agreement was signed with Yugoslavia, too, together with a social agreement that regulated the claims of the workers with respect to health, accident and pension insurance. An official Austrian recruitment office was opened in Belgrade. In 1969 a similar social agreement was negotiated with Turkey. In general, recruitment offices were of minor importance because most migrants entered Austria via tourist visa and their stay was later legalised after they had worked here for some time. The status of these migratory workers was precarious, as the two following examples show: In 1965 Yugoslav workers at the company Iso-Span in Obertrum, Salzburg, went on strike because they received lower wages than agreed. As a consequence the strikers were taken in custody pending deportation. The same happened in 1966, when Yugoslav workers in a construction company in Admont, Styria, went on strike.

Political crises in neighbouring countries also had an effect on migratory movements in Austria. When the dissatisfaction of the Hungarian population with the Soviet domination culminated in the Hungarian revolution of 1956, approximately 180,000 Hungarians fled to Austria and took residence here temporarily. In 1968 160,000 Czech and Slovak refugees settled in Austria for some time due to the revolution in Prague that was crushed by the Soviets as well. After the military coup-d’état In Turkey in 1980 – one of several coup-d’ètats there – the Turkish refugees in Austria received “guest worker” status and that’s why their exact number is not known. When in 1980 martial law was imposed on Poland, more than 35,000 Polish refugees came to Austria, most of which remained here permanently. When in 1991 the war in Yugoslavia started Austria welcomed approximately 90,000 refugees from ex-Yugoslavia over the next four years.

MAID SERVANTS IN ENGLAND: AUSTRIAN JEWISH WOMEN IN EMIGRATION 1938/39

Käthe as a young woman in Vienna

My great-aunt Käthe, born in 1901, was a bank clerk at the Wiener Bank Verein and had lost her first husband, Poldl Kluger, soon after the wedding, victim of a lung disease, in illness that was wide-spread in Vienna at that time. When she lost her job at the bank in 1924, being tall and slim, she made ends meet by accepting occasional jobs as a fashion model. After the civil war in 1934 and the coup d’état of the Austrian fascists, Käthe, an assimilated and agnostic Jewess and a socialist, realised that sooner or later she would have to flee Austria. Being single facilitated the decision-making process. She diligently prepared for her escape from the Nazis by learning English and acquiring cooking skills. She then applied for the position of cook in a wealthy English household and landed in Dover on the 7th of November 1938. Having arrived at a safe haven in England with a domestic permit, she tied to get out of Austria as many of her family as possible. She worked in 25, Warkworth Gardens in Isleworth in Middlesex and managed to convince her generous and understanding mistress to hire her younger sister, Agi, as a maid in the same household and by that offered her a last-minute escape from deportations from Viennese collection points in the 2nd district to the concentration camps of the Nazis. So let’s look at this special rescue model, a window of opportunity for young Jewish women from Austria in 1938, which was closed in 1939.

Käthe’s employment as a bank clerk at the “Wiener Bank Verein” 1924

 

Käthe’s passport stamped with a “J” for “Jude”

Detail of the passport

Around 20,000 Jewish women, three quarters from Austria, fled in 1938/39 to England with a so-called “domestic permit”. This was a work permit for foreign domestic staff which British employers could use since the 1920s to alleviate the chronic shortage of maid servants despite otherwise very strict immigration restrictions. A considerable percentage of these women were not actually domestics by trade, but had only been able to enter the UK on permits for domestic work. They found themselves in a relationship of dependency to their mistresses, but work as a maid guaranteed a livelihood because domestic servants were the only ones who had permission to legally work in England. Yet they were officially not allowed to leave the areas of these private households. The majority of male refugees with a permission to enter the UK needed an affidavit from an influential personality or an institution.