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.

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

Käthe as a young woman in Vienna

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

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

 

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

Detail of the passport

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

THE ROLE OF AUSTRIAN BANKS IN NAZI GERMANY’S EXPANSION TO CENTRAL, EASTERN & SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE

Palais Ephrussi, Viennese Jewish banking Family (exiled): Edmund de Waal, “The Hare With Amber Eyes” describes the destiny of this banking family

The German state-owned VIAG (Vereinigte Industrieunternehmungen) and the Deutsche Bank gained control of the majority of shares of the Creditanstalt-Bankverein CA from the time of the “Anschluß” of Austria to the Nazi German “Third Reich” in 1938 onwards, originally by taking over the shares of the Austrian state. From the very beginning the German majority shareholders viewed the bank as an important tool for German penetration into South-Eastern Europe, not only because of the geographical position of Vienna, but also because the Viennese banks, many of which had merged with the Credit-Anstalt in the interwar years, had been very active in this area before 1918 and still had much experience in the region. Contrary to the image the CA wanted to create after 1945, the leadership of the CA, and especially its most important director, Josef Joham, viewed the German takeover of Austria as an opportunity to recover the position the CA had held in South-Eastern Europe before and to turn Vienna into the financial hub of the Nazis’ activities in Central Europe and the Balkans. In fact, the CA often took the initiative in expanding its banking activities in the German satellites and occupied territories. It constantly made reference to its historical role in the region and viewed its acquisitions as restitution and/or compensation for its losses and exclusion by the successor states after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The German control of Austria and the CA provided a welcome opportunity to restore the position Viennese banks had enjoyed during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The close co-operation between the CA and the Deutsche Bank, namely between the two directors Josef Joham and Hermann Josef Abs, had already started before the “Anschluß”. As Joham had supported the old regime in Austria, but anticipated the “Anschluß” of March 1938, he sought protection for himself and the bank through the alliance with Abt and the Deutsche Bank. Yet first the German VIAG took over the majority of shares from the Austrian state and Deutsche Bank got hold of only 25 per cent of the shares of the CA, but in 1942 the Deutsche Bank finally acquired the majority of shares in the CA.…

THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CREDIT-ANSTALT CRISIS FOR CEE

Österreichische Postsparkasse, architect: Otto Wagner, built 1904-1906

The Great Depression hit Hungary hard, stopping the slow recovery and leading to a dramatic decline. The crisis hit Hungary first through the collapse of the international agricultural market with a 60-70 per cent decline in agrarian prices. But the most severe blow was dealt by the break-down of the Credit-Anstalt and was followed by the international financial and banking crisis. Hungary was heavily indebted, but new credits stopped arriving and substantial portions of the short-term credits were withdrawn from Hungary. The Hungarian National Bank lost most of its gold and foreign exchange reserves and the banking system reached the edge of the abyss in 1931. Between 1931 and 1933 70 banks collapsed. By 1938 the number of banks had been reduced by more than 300 that had been operating in 1929. The effect of the shrinking banking sector was the decrease in its share of industry. Strict government measures were introduced after the financial collapse and the repayment crisis in 1931, the gold Standard was abolished and foreign exchange controls were introduced. After the trade agreement with Nazi Germany in February 1934 barter trade became dominant and a clearing system was introduced to replace hard currency payments in foreign trade. State interventions, economic nationalism, high protection and the policy of self-sufficiency became stronger. Hungary was isolated from the world market and became integrated into the German Nazi economic system.…

INTERNATIONAL CAPITAL FLOW, BANKS AND INDUSTRIAL ENTERPRISES IN CEE IN THE INTERWAR YEARS

Former Länderbank (Vienna), founded 1880, architect Otto Wagner (built 1882-1884)

Central and South-Eastern Europe became one of the most important world markets for capital exports after the First World War. Foreign investors not only invested in the defeated countries, such as Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, but also in Poland and Czechoslovakia. From 1919 till 1923 international capital from Britain, France, the USA, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland acquired substantial shares in the main Viennese banks. The Länderbank and the Anglo-Austrian Bank were turned into totally foreign-owned banks, based in Paris and London. A similar development of Western European capital participation took place in all the joint-stock banks of the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the exception of the Zivnobanka in Prague. This bank increased its investment in South-Eastern Europe, often together with Western European financial groups. As the governments of the successor states were in urgent need of foreign investment, they promoted the internationalisation of the banking systems there. So the governments paved the way for the access of international capital to industrial enterprises via the participation in the equity of the big commercial banks. This followed the traditional investment pattern of the region and through the internationalisation of the banks the whole area moved closer to international markets.…