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.

THE LIVES OF PEOPLE IN „MIXED MARRIAGES“ AND OF „MIXED-RACE CHILDREN“ (ACCORDING TO THE NAZI NUREMBERG RACE LAWS) IN VIENNA 1938-1945

After the “Anschluß”, the takeover of the Nazis in Austria on 12 March 1938, the racial background of every citizen was documented according to the Nazi Nuremberg race laws and my mother, Herta, was classified as a “Mischling 1.Grades” (a “mixed race child of the 1st degree”) – as can be seen in the documents above. Her mother, my grandmother Lola (Flora Kainz), was a Catholic of Jewish descent with Jewish parents, my great-grand parents Ignaz and Rudolfine Sobotka, which meant that all of them had to bear the full brunt of racial discrimination of the Nazi dictatorship. But as long as my grandfather, Anton Kainz, the father of Herta, stood by his family and did not divorce my grandmother Lola, at least Lola and Herta were somehow “protected” because he was a certified “Aryan”. But this “protection” was constantly on the brink of being withdrawn, despite the fact that Toni loved his wife dearly and adored his daughter and would never have thought of giving in to Nazi pressure. This constant insecurity and permanent racial discrimination left deep scars especially in the psyche of Herta, who was four and a half years old at the time of the “Anschluß”. She first lost her aunts and uncles who had to flee Austria, then her grandparents, who were deported to the KZ Theresienstadt and then was in constant fear that her mother would be arrested and deported, too. At the end of the war she was eleven and a half and was not only terribly afraid of the Allied bomb attacks on Vienna, but even more of the knocking on the door and a surprise visit of the GESTAPO which would take away her mother. It was impressed on her by her father that she had to run to the fish shop where he was the branch manager and inform him immediately if anything happened to Lola. Herta remembered that her parents had lots of friends and kept in contact with them during the Nazi occupation. One of them was a high-ranking NSDAP party member and he proposed that Lola should hide in his flat in case of emergency, because no one would suspect him of secretly protecting a Jewess, so she would be safe at his place. But fortunately this was not necessary. Till the end of her life this fear accompanied Herta. Despite the tragic political circumstances and the discrimination she faced as a child, she stressed what a happy childhood she had had because her parents doted on her and this love carried her through those hard times – and the close friendship to a girl who lived in the same house in Mariahilferstrasse 41 and was an outcast just like her. Her name was Herta, too, and she was a very unruly foster child. This unlikely couple, the extremely timid and withdrawn Herta, my mother, and her daring wild playmate remained friends until old age despite the fact that their lives took very diverging paths: My mother became a master dressmaker and “the other” Herta a bar singer. Maybe the discrimination they faced as children created a lasting bond.

The fate of Jewish partners in “mixed marriages” and of “Mischlingskinder” (“mixed race children”) in Vienna was a doubly tragic one because after the war their sufferings were not recognised, neither by the 2nd  Austrian Republic nor by the Jewish or Catholic community with the argument “nothing had happened to them – they had survived”. Yet the fast succumbing to a very severe form of dementia at a rather early age can be contributed to the trauma Herta had experienced during the Nazi occupation and that had never been diagnosed or treated. It seems that children carried these traumas with them all their lives and despite apparently functioning very well as adults, the harm that was done to their souls came up again much later in life once more.


All Jewish women were forced by the Nazis to take on the name “Sara”, as can be seen in this document of the 30 June 1939 of my grandmother Flora Kainz, called Lola. Jewish men had to include “Israel” in their names.

“Ariernachweis” (“Aryan Certificate) of Anton Kainz, Herta’s father. This document proved the “Aryan” status of Toni, which provided some fragile protection for Lola and Herta. The handwritten addition stated that Toni was married to a Jewess.

The Nazi IDs of Toni (left – the Nazi eagle was covered, probably because the ID was still in use after the liberation by the Allied Armies) and of Lola (right – marked with a “J” for Jewish)

If this photo of Lola of 1939 is compared to the photos of her before 1938 in the articles on classical music, suburban inns and suburban cafés on this research website, one can see that the happy-go-lucky beautiful young woman of those days had turned into a terrified, emaciated and desperate one within a year.

When Toni was drafted by the “Wehrmacht” for the campaign against France, he wrote this Christmas card to Lola from the front on the 24th December 1940 declaring his never ending love for her despite Nazi pressure to divorce her. He quoted the famous lines of the operetta aria “Das Land des Lächelns” by Franz Lehár: “Yours is my whole heart” on the front of the card.

The text Toni wrote, which was censured by the Army High Command, says: “Dearest Muckerle! All the best for the New Year. I only wish for one thing which is being together again very soon. Kisses, yours Toni”

THE VIENNA TRAMWAY AND ITS WORKERS – A POCKET OF RESISTANCE 1889-1945

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.

Karl with Mitzi on the way to Bolivia 6 February 1939
On the back Mitzi wrote to her parents in Vienna: “We are well, getting fat meanwhile, Colombo Atlantic Ocean 06/02/1939”
The document that Karl Elzholz sent to his father-in-law in Vienna, Ignaz Sobotka, from his exile in Bolivia, authorised him to claim his redundancy package from the communal “Viennese Tramways”, which my great-grandfather, Ignaz Sobotka, never received because he was deported to the concentration camp “Theresienstadt” and which was not paid out anyway.
Sucre, Bolivia November 1946: Mitzi and her new husband Bill Stern in front and Käthe, the eldest sister of my grandmother, who had married Karl in a long-distance wedding and joined him in Bolivia, and Karl in the back.

WARTIME COOKERY DURING WORLD WARS I & II: VIENNESE & ENGLISH WARTIME RECIPES – COOKING FOR PEACE?

A typical Viennese kitchen sideboard (between 1910 and 1920)

The title “Cooking for Peace” is wishful thinking on my side, but the following investigation into food supply measures, cooking techniques and recipes during war times will illustrate the similarities of methods in dealing with these challenging situations of want on both sides of the front, the later victors as well as the defeated. Furthermore, despite nationalistic rhetoric on both sides, such as naming recipes, for example “Hötzendorf Gemüse” (a vegetable stew named after the Austrian military commander) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I or “Victory in the Kitchen. Wartime Recipes” in England during World War II or the patriotic “Eintopf Sonntag” (“one-pot stew Sunday”) of the Nazis in World War II, “enemy dishes” were still around. English “puddings” (“Wurstpudding”, a pudding made of sausage), “orange marmalade”, “Marillenjam” (a jam made of apricots) and “mixed pickles” recipes were popular in Vienna during World War I and on the other hand, there was an influx of Viennese cooking traditions in England via Viennese refugees who worked as maids and cooks in wealthy English households and even booklets with continental recipes were distributed in England. Women on both sides of the trenches had to deal with the same problems trying to make ends meet and still put tasty meals on family tables in Vienna and in England. The highest priority was to avoid any waste of food and to provide the people on the “home front” with healthy and nutritious dishes, which might be of greatest interest also today because many of the techniques of preserving food, using vegetable scraps, replacing meat and an economical use of fuel, such as the use of a “cooking crate” (“Kochkiste”), are advertised nowadays, too, in order to improve our diet to reduce health-damaging consequences of too much fat, meat and sugar in our present-day meals. You can for instance find guidelines for building your own cooking crate, which was introduced in World War I, online now, which helps to reduce the costs of energy and preserves the vitamins in the steamed vegetables.

Typical Viennese spice rack (around 1930)

You will ask now, what’s the connection to my family? Well, first of all my great-grandfather, Ignaz Sobotka, who was 42 years old, when World War I broke out, was involved in the war effort on the home front by brewing beer in Kaiser Ebersdorf near Vienna and growing animal fodder and vegetables on the grounds of the brewery. An interesting document of 15 April 1917 signed by Anton Iritzer, the owner of the brewery, asks for “… the dispensation from military service of Ignaz Sobotka, manager of the malt factory and living on the premises of the factory (11th district of Vienna, Mailergasse 5) as he is indispensable for the war industry…. My company is busy producing fodder for animals and transforming worthless rubbish into animal fodder and I therefore need my manager. Further I have to dry coffee surrogate and I use 15,000 square metres of my garden to plant vegetables, cabbage and beans, etc. I furthermore collect the otherwise worthless vegetable cuttings in Kaiser Ebersdorf in large quantities and turn them into urgently needed animal fodder which I deliver to the fodder centre…. The k & k Uniform Depot has stored large quantities at my premises and these need an overseer who lives on site… All these tasks are carried out by my manager alone and he is therefore indispensable and there is no replacement. In case of his conscription operations would have to be terminated and the uniform depot would have to be vacated.” My grandfather, Anton (Toni) Kainz, whose father owned an inn in Vienna’s 18th district in the Währingerstrasse, was a trained cook and waiter, who had acquired experience in Switzerland and France after the successful completion of his apprenticeship in 1924 (see the certificate below).

Certificate of apprenticeship (cook & waiter) of Anton Kainz, my grandfather, 1924

After being drafted by the Nazis for the campaign against France at the age of 33 – much to his regret because he loved the French and their way of life – immediately after the outbreak of World War II, he was later sent back to Vienna to work as a fishmonger – a war-necessary trade at the home front – because he had stubbornly refused to divorce his Jewish wife, my grandmother Lola, and was therefore considered “unreliable” by the Nazis. Contrary to the Nazi’s intention, this offered Toni the possibility to protect his wife and his daughter, my mother Herta, from deportation to concentration camps. My mother often recounted the wonderful dishes he cooked from the meagre provisions that were available during the war. Once she received from her piano teacher a single small piece of old and grey chocolate in tinfoil, a former Christmas tree decoration, which she brought home. Toni cooked the most marvellous chocolate cream from this one grey piece of old chocolate at a time when chocolate was unavailable in Vienna. My grandmother, Lola, on the other hand did not like cooking very much and happily handed over the pots to Toni, whenever there was a family festivity. In the interwar years Lola and Toni ran a café in Vienna’s 8th district at Hamerlingplatz, where my great-grandmother, Ritschi Sobotka, Lola’s mother, did the cooking. Ritschi’s famous “Buchteln” (yeast dough dumplings filled with curd cheese and / or a special type of plum jam) is a simple recipe for a rich, fluffy and tasty Viennese sweet that can be eaten as a main course. But Lola herself was extremely skilled at bargaining for food during the 2nd World War. This was called “hamstern” in Vienna and signified the attempt at bartering any possessions city dwellers still had for food from the farmers in the vicinity of the city. In that way she put to good use her beauty and her charm in helping feed her family because Toni always sent her to the farmers and remained discretely behind. Two of Lola’s Viennese recipes are still treasured in our family, namely a delicious cocoa cake made of only two eggs and little butter or margarine and her famous brawn made of pigs’ feet is always served at our New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Viennese cookery books

My great-aunt Käthe, a bank clerk and Lola’s sister, diligently prepared for her escape from the Nazis in 1938 – Austria had become part of Nazi Germany in March 1938 – by learning English and acquiring cooking skills. She then applied for the position of a cook in a wealthy English household and landed in Dover on the 7th of November 1938. She worked in 25, Warkworth Gardens in Isleworth in Middlesex as a cook until she joined her newly-wed second husband, Karl Elzholz, in Bolivia in 1944. She passed on her collection of English wartime recipes and her handwritten Viennese recipes to me. In the same way as she had introduced Viennese cooking in the English household in Isleworth, she brought back to Vienna English recipes after the 2nd World War, such as the traditional full English breakfast and her recipe for making traditional English marmalade of oranges.

The two silver napkin rings that Karl had made for Käthe for Christmas 1944 with their names: Karl & Käthe

Two more members of my family brought Viennese cookery to the Anglo-Saxon world: First, my grandmother’s youngest sister, Mitzi, who had fled with her first husband, Karl Elzholz to Bolivia. There she married the German Bill Stern and migrated with him to the United States after the 2nd World War where she worked as a housekeeping skills teacher, teaching cookery, sewing, knitting, etc. until her retirement, when she moved back to Vienna with Bill to live in Baden near Vienna. Her concept of cooking was meanwhile strongly influenced by the American way of life, which caused some amusement among her Viennese relatives in the 1960s and 70s: She for example advised against the consumption of milk which was supposed to be health damaging, or she excessively washed a chicken inside out with soap before roasting it to eliminate any bacteria, and she complained about the quality of apples in Austria which at that time still housed worms – something unimaginable in the US of the time where pesticides were widely and abundantly used. Second, a cousin of my mother, Edith Loewenstein, the granddaughter of Mali Markstein, Ignaz Sobotka’s sister, lived in London and worked as a cookery and German teacher there after the 2nd World War. I remember her wonderful Viennese speciality, “Brandteigkrapferl” (choux pastry puffs) with chocolate sauce. She was, above all, the one to introduce me to my best English friend since adolescence, Lynette, one of her pupils, who loves Viennese sweet dishes and desserts.

Viennese cookery book by Josefine Tobler, 1904