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.


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.