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


Toni and Lola as a newly-wed couple in the Austrian Alps before the war

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A post card from Poland which Toni kept

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


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

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

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


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

THE MILITARY CAMPAIGN


Toni took a photo of a German PAK (Panzerabwehrkanone)

Sanok

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Toni in the “Wehrmacht” uniform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Belgian coast

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

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

Toni’s military service book:


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

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

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 VIENNESE‘ENTHUSIASM FOR CLASSICAL MUSIC: THE VIENNA OPERA’S STANDING ROOM AUDIENCE IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 20th CENTURY

My grandmother Lola – second from the left – with her sisters Käthe – left – and Agi with little Mitzi on the right

My grandmother Flora Kainz, née Sobotka, who everybody called “Lola” grew up with her three sisters, Käthe, Agi and Mitzi, in Kaiser Ebersorf near Vienna in a bourgeois family. Her father, Ignaz Sobotka, was the manager of the brewery in Kaiser Ebersdorf (see article on beer brewing in Vienna). She was born in 1902 and received the standard education of a middle class girl of the time. In the course of the musical education that all girls of her class underwent at that time, it was discovered that she had some talent for the piano. Lola showed an intense interest for the opera and regularly went to see performances at the Vienna Opera in the standing room area, which was extremely popular among the young in those days. Lola was a very charming happy-go-lucky girl who loved all kinds of entertainment and went out a lot, much to the regret of her father. She even had her cut, which was a sacrilege for a young bourgeois woman in the early 1920s. When she came home after her visit to the hair dresser she hid her hair under a funny hat and with jokes made her father laugh out loud and finally went unpunished. None of her sisters would have dared to challenge their father’s rules in the way she did. She liked dressing up, going to parties and going out with groups of young men and women for sports and entertainment – and the opera’s standing room. She adored tenors such as Leo Slezak, Joseph Schmidt and Richard Tauber and waited for the adored singers after the performance in front of the stage door or watched their films in the cinema.

She was admitted to the Vienna Musical Academy in the piano class of Professor Manhart. Later on in her life she was still very proud of that achievement, but admitted that she had not been serious enough. She was not the hardworking studious type as she loved entertainment too much. She used the smallness of her hands and the narrow span between her fingers as an excuse and quitted the class to start work as a shop girl in a sweet shop, where she got to know her later husband, Anton Kainz, my grandfather. After Ignaz Sobotka had lost his job as the manager of the brewery in Kaiser Ebersdorf, the family moved to a small flat in Vienna, Mariahilferstrasse. Ignaz worked as a menial labourer for the construction company “Teerag-Asdag” and the family was no longer well-off. But Lola’s enthusiasm for classical music, especially the opera, never ceased and the standing tickets in the opera were very cheap. Yet despite her skills as a pianist she was always reluctant to play the piano at home. Her husband, Toni, was an amateur who loved the piano, but he always had to urge Lola and coax her into playing with him four-handed piano pieces. Nevertheless, the classical opera remained with her all her life and when I was a child we always had to listen to the one-hour radio programme after lunch the “Opera Concert”, when she told me about the greatest opera singers and her favourite arias. My parents, her daughter Herta and her husband Werner, carried on that tradition. During my whole childhood and youth we listened to records of classical music in the evening – there was no television set bought – and went to operas, classical concerts and operettas. At the reopening of the Vienna Opera house on the “Ring” in 1955, which was destroyed at the end of World War II, my parents acquired a subscription for the Vienna Opera, which they kept until just a few years before they died in 2016. My mother being a dressmaker and my father an electrician, they could only afford the cheapest category, which was the last row before the gallery standing room, but they loved it and were very proud of their subscription that dated back to the reopening of the opera. They knew the opera lovers sitting next to them and enjoyed the atmosphere of the standing room audience behind them without having to endure hours standing up while listening to Wagner, Verdi and Richard Strauss. They also saved up for tickets to see one of the first “New Year’s Concerts” in the now world-famous “Musikverein” after the war.

The Vienna State Opera was a court theatre at the time of the Habsburg Monarchy, financed by the state, just as the “Burgtheater”. After the end of the monarchy, the Austrian Republic took over the financing of the state operas and theatres. In 1870 the old court opera house, the “Kärntnertortheater” was demolished and a new building was erected at the Ringstrasse – today’s “Staatsoper”. The architects van der Nüll and Sicardsburg designed a building in the romantic- historical style. The new opera house was opened in 1869 with Mozart’s “Nozze di Figaro”. After an Allied bombing attack the opera was destroyed on 12 March 1945. Only the main walls, the great staircase and the Emperor’s tearoom survived. Soon after the end of the Second World War the reconstruction of the legendary monument to Vienna’s love for classical music started. The opening ceremony took place on 5 November 1955, when Karl Böhm directed Beethoven’s “Fidelio”.

The Vienna State Opera on the Ring

THE ALPS: PAST TIME OF THE YOUNG VIENNESE IN THE 1920s & 1930s

My grandmother Lola, Semmering 1931

My grandparents’, my great-uncles and great-aunts’ favourite leisure time activities on weekends and during holidays was hiking in the Vienna Woods, the last part of the Alps in the east, and the mountains south of Vienna, such as, Rax, Schneeberg, Gippel, Göller und Semmering and for longer vacations the whole area of the Austrian Alps, Southern Tyrol, Bavaria and Switzerland. How did that overwhelming passion for mountaineering and skiing among the younger Viennese generation in the 1920s and 1930s develop? Alpinism had evolved from an elitist sport of wealthy British tourists to the bourgeois leisure activity of “Sommerfrische” (summer holidays in the Alps) and a sport of intellectual and artistic circles in the 19th century to a widespread working class past time, too, in the 1st Austrian Republic (1919-1934/38).

Many of the beautiful black and white photos of hiking tours in the Austrian Alps were taken by my great-uncle, Karl Elzholz, a mechanic at the Viennese tramways, an atheist, a committed socialist and a member of the Alpine club “Naturfreunde”. He was married to my great-aunt, Mizzi, and later to her sister, my great-aunt, Käthe, and both of them were dedicated hikers as well and formed part of the groups of friends who went hiking in the vicinity of Vienna or on longer mountaineering tours to the Alps. They were experienced hikers and planned the tours themselves.

In the 19th century workers organised educational clubs because that was sometimes the only way to legally form workers’ associations. Later workers’ gymnastic clubs were established along the lines of German nationalist gymnasts’ associations, the “Turnerbewegung”. The aim of these clubs was to improve the health and fitness of the workers with the help sports activities and especially the exposure to “air, light and sun” was seen as beneficial. As a consequence those clubs soon moved out of the stuffy rooms of gyms into nature. That’s when walking and hiking became a popular leisure time activity of the working classes, too. In 1895 the Alpine club “Naturfreunde” (Nature’s Friends) was founded. Soon afterwards also skiing was made popular among the working class. Emmerich Wenger brought skis from a trip to Norway to Vienna and they tried them out at the “Bierhäuslberg” to the amusement of all present. After the First World War all workers’ sports clubs united under the umbrella organisation ASKÖ (“Arbeiterbund für Sport und Körperkultur in Österreich”). In 1931 the 2nd Workers’ Olympic Games took place in Austria, initiated by the ASKÖ: in February in the Semmering area and in July in Vienna in the newly erected stadium in Prater. In 1934 with the takeover of the Austro-fascist regime all workers’ clubs were declared illegal and only after the end of World War II the socialist sports organisation ASKÖ could be reactivated.

ROMA DISCRIMINATION

Roma settlement, Slovakia

A new actor has emerged in European politics: “the threatened majorities”. They feel like minorities, they talk like minorities and they feel betrayed by their elites. European societies have started to view globalisation as an existential threat to their prosperity. A majority of people already psychologically live with the fear that they have lost control of their own social environment. While the Western European debate has been Islam-centred since the beginning of the 21st century, the Central European debate has been Roma-centred. More than 75% of the Roma community living in Europe is settled in the Danube basin and above all, in the EU accession states of 2004/07. While the fear of Islam is the incarnation of cultural fears of Western European publics, the anti-Roma sentiment in Central Europe is the embodiment of predominantly social fears of post-communist societies. …

AUSTRIAN ROMA AND SINTI

The official estimate for the Roma population in Austria is 10,000-20,000. At the 2011 census a little more than 4,000 Romani speakers with Austrian nationality were recorded and approximately 2,000 with other nationalities. Yet Roma representatives estimate 10,000 autochthonous Roma plus 25,000 – 30,000 Roma immigrants. The Roma are the only ethnic minority group which is since 1993 officially recognized throughout the Austrian territory, whereas the Slovenian, Croatian and Hungarian minority is officially recognised in some federal states only. The Roma Advisory Council was established in 1995. The “Burgenland Roma” are considered as mainly rural, whereas other Roma groups are city dwellers. The majority of autochthonous Roma live in Vienna and eastern Austria. As the religious affiliation of Roma is usually determined by that of the majority population of the respective emigration country which in turn correlates with the socio-cultural background, the “Burgenland Roma” and “Lovara”, the biggest Austrian autochthonous groups, are generally Catholic.…

MINORITIES IN THE DANUBE REGION AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 21st CENTURY

 

The current revived nationalism in the region clearly has consequences for minorities, bringing about tensions within and between countries. The present minority issue in the Danube basin most of all concerns the sizable Roma communities in the accession countries of 2004/2007. In the whole of the European Union an estimated 10-12 million Roma live as a transnational minority. Although the adverse situation of the Roma was addressed during the accession process, discrimination and exclusion continue to persist; the situation is sometimes even exacerbated. Many populist and nationalist politicians are hostile towards the Roma, using them as scapegoats and reproducing discriminatory practices. Above all, Roma cannot be regarded in the same manner as other national minorities because they lack a clear territorial base or connection to any nation state. They are transnational people. Clearly the parallel to the position of Jews in the region before World War II is jumping to the eye.…

JEWISH INTELLECTUAL BOOST IN THE HABSBURG CITIES

Palais Morpurgo, Jewish industrialists and bankers in Trieste

Any study of intellectual life in the Habsburg Empire must single out the Jews for special attention. No other ethnic group produced so many thinkers of transcendent originality, i.e. theorists like Freud, Husserl, Kelsen, Wittgenstein, Mahler, authors like Schnitzler, Kraus, Broch, Roth. In addition to these creative geniuses, a disproportionate number of productive thinkers in every field were Jewish. In some fields like psychoanalysis and Austro-Marxism, Jews constituted an overwhelming preponderance. The Jewish middle class provided a unique forum for discussion and dissemination of new ideas. Newspapers like the “Neue Freie Presse” and “Wiener Tagblatt”, Karl Kraus’ journal “Die Fackel” were mainly Jewish.…