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.

VIENNESE SUBURBAN COFFEE HOUSES UNTIL WORLD WAR II

Café Hummel, Josefstädterstrasse (next to Hamerlingpark) in the suburb of Josefstadt. The house was built in 1805 and in 1856 an inn opened there which was later turned into a coffee house. In 1896 a vaudevillian singer, Carola Biedermann, wife of the Viennese folk singer Julius Biedermann took over the coffee house and named it “Café Carola”. This coffee house offered separate reading and gaming rooms, a smoking room and a ladies’ room, as well as a conservatory with palm trees. The couple had to flee from its creditors to New York and the new owner staged daily concerts and kept the coffee house open the whole night. Among the many owners that followed was Joseph Carlo Popper, who had worked as a lion tamer and circus employee in South Africa in his youth and had earned his living as a gold digger. In memory of his youth he called the coffee house “Café Pretoria”. The coffee house changed its name often until 1937, when the family Hummel finally bought it.

In the vicinity, just outside the “Linienwall” (today’s Gürtel) in the suburb Neulerchenfeld, a coffee house with a conservatory, palm trees and parrots continued this tradition until the 1960s, the “Café Wintergarten”, where I went with my grandmother, Lola, as a child. Today it’s a musical event location, the “Café Concerto”.

In 1934 my grandparents, Toni and Lola Kainz, took over the running of a coffee house on Hamerlingplatz in the suburb of Josefstadt. My grandmother loved the contact to the guests and my great-grandmother Ritschi (Rudolphine Sobotka) helped with the cooking. Her specialities were “Krautfleckerl” (small pasta with cabbage), a Jewish speciality that is much praised in Friedrich Torberg’s book “Die Tante Jolesch” (Aunt Jolesch), “Sulz” (brawn) and sweet dishes, such as “Buchteln”, chocolate cake and “Apfelstrudel”. The recipes of these coffee house classics have been passed on in the family.

Here are some simple and tasty recipes of Ritschi and Lola, which are typical Viennese coffee house specialities. There are not always precise indications of quantity as the recipes were communicated orally:

Simple chocolate cake

Ingredients: 40g butter, 100g sugar, 1 egg,  40g cocoa, some milk, 1/2 package of baking powder, 150g flour

Mix everything and beat for some time, then bake in the oven in a square baking dish until no longer liquid inside. Fill with the following cream:

100g butter, 3 soup spoons of cocoa, 2 soup spoons of black coffee, 3 soup spoons of sugar and whip everything until it is creamy

“Buchteln”

Mix 500g flour with active dry yeast, 250g butter, 3 eggs, 70g sugar and ¼ l of milk and beat for at least 10 minutes. Then put the dough in a warm place to rest for an hour. As soon as it has doubled its volume, cut it in small dumplings, fill them with a special plum jam (Zwetschkenröster) or sweetened cottage cheese, then dip the dumpling in melted butter and fill a square baking tray with the dumplings. Let the dish rest in a warm place for half an hour before baking in the oven until the dumplings are golden. Serve them still warm.

“Krautfleckerl”

Cook 250g small square noodle pasta “al dente”. Meanwhile slice half a white cabbage thinly. Heat a little lard, add a little sugar and cumin. Then fry the white cabbage until it is brown, add pepper and salt and in the end mix it with the small pasta noodles.

“Sulz”

Fill a pressure cooker with: 4 pig’s feet, and a pig’s tail, 400g tender pork meat, an onion, two garlic cloves, salt, pepper, 1/8 l of vinegar, a carrot, some celery, some parsley and fill the pot with water until everything is totally covered. Cook in the pressure cooker for an hour. Then pour the liquid into a porcelain bowl through a sieve and cut up the meat in small slices together with some of the jellied skin of the pig and stir it into the liquid. Put it into the fridge overnight. When solid, cut it up in slices and serve with thinly sliced onions and a little bit of vinegar and sunflower oil.


Menu card of the coffee house and restaurant in the suburb Leopoldstadt, Prater “Konstantinhügel” , 1927

In some Viennese coffee house coffee was formerly made in the traditional porcelain “Karlsbader” coffee makers – widespread in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Two of my grandmother’s “Karlsbaders” have survived. When preparing the coffee, she added a pinch of salt and a spoonful of cacao to the ground coffee beans in the porcelain sieve before slowly pouring the boiling water over it.


“Karlsbader” coffee makers