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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The Viennese public transport system is one of Europe’s most efficient and affordable public transport systems. It all started with the first horse-drawn tramway in 1865 that connected the former gate in the city wall “Schottentor” with the suburb of “Hernals” which was famous for its many entertainment venues where famous musicians, like the family Strauss, Josef Lanner, the “Schrammeln” and many others performed. So this tramway was built to offer the Viennese a quick and more comfortable possibility to get to their leisure activities. The fast developing network of tramways – first horse-drawn, then steam-powered, too, and finally electric – employed an increasing number of tramway workers who were an ever-present appearance in the Viennese city scape at the end of the 19th and the 20th century. Their protest against the excessive exploitation by the private tramway owners in 1889 resulted in the first wide-spread strike in Vienna and gave a boost to the newly founded socialist movement of Victor Adler. The workers of the tramways also later remained a pocket of resistance, most of all in the Austro-Fascist era 1934-1938 and then during the time of Nazi occupation 1938-1945. A monument in Vienna lists the names of 42 Fascist and Nazi victims of the Vienna transport system workers 1934-1945 (3rd district of Vienna, Kappgasse1). The tramway workers who were active Socialist party members were either dismissed in 1934 when the Austro-Fascist regime of Engelbert Dollfuß put an end to the democratic system of the 1st Austrian Republic or after March 1938 when Hitler made Austria a part of the “Third Reich”. Then all workers of the Viennese tramways who were Jews or had Jewish ancestors were not only sacked but had to flee the country, such as my great-uncle Karl Elzholz, who managed a last-minute escape to Bolivia with his wife, my great-aunt, Marianne (Mitzi), the sister of my grandmother. Those who were unable to find refuge abroad were sent to Nazi concentration camps where many of them were murdered.