Waltzing into the Cold War. The Struggle for Occupied Austria

Review by Christopher Eric (Moon) Mullins

Carafano opens his story by highlighting the pre-war neglect of occupation planning, exposing a void in military doctrine and institutional mechanisms for coordinating with non-military organizations. This unpreparedness, Carafano argues, led U.S. Forces Austria to rely on familiar military tactics in the face of numerous challenges.

In the aftermath of World War II, Europe lay in ruins, a continent fractured by conflict and scarred by the horrors of war. Once a proud and vibrant nation, Austria was caught in the crossfire, its capital city of Vienna divided like a fallen crown. Once a symbol of European elegance, the city lay in ruins, ravaged by the war and divided among the four Allied powers. Post-war Vienna was a cauldron of displaced persons, black marketeering, and simmering resentment. Underneath the rubble, despair lurked, threatening to engulf the city in chaos.

As U.S. troops marched into vanquished Austria at the end of World War II, they faced the dual tasks of destroying the remnants of Nazi power and establishing a new democratic nation. The military was adept at the first task and woefully unprepared for the second. These halting efforts, complicated by the difficulties of managing the occupation with Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, exacerbated an already monumental undertaking and fueled the looming Cold War confrontation between East and West.

Initially, debates about occupation zones, logistics, and transportation dominated the Austrian occupation. However, these concerns soon yielded to a more pressing issue: the growing resentment among the Austrian populace towards the behavior of American troops. Yet, the true defining feature of this period was the shared anxiety of both Americans and Austrians regarding Soviet ambitions. This mutual fear led to a significant shift in U.S. policy, transitioning from “rehabilitating and reconstructing Austria” to “enlisting the state as a partner in NATO’s defense.” This policy shift brought about mixed results. While it prolonged the occupation and added complications, it also generated crucial diplomatic and economic support for rebuilding Austria.

The US Provost Marshall, Yarborough, faced a daunting task. He was responsible for maintaining order and security in a city riddled with tensions, mistrust, and the lingering effects of war. He needed soldiers and men of integrity, intelligence, and cultural sensitivity.

What happened in Austria during WWII?

Vienna was the capital of a large multi-national empire under the German-speaking Habsburg dynasty for five centuries. After 1918, following World War I, Vienna became the capital of the small Republic of Austria. Vienna’s population of 1.9 million was 28 percent of the country’s entire population in 1934. In 1938, some 170,000 Jews lived in the city, as well as approximately 80,000 persons of mixed Jewish-Christian background. Including converts from Judaism, the Viennese Jewish population may have been as high as 200,000, more than 10 percent of the city’s inhabitants.

Vienna was an important center of Jewish culture and education. The city was also a center of Zionist thought and Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, had studied at the University of Vienna. Many Viennese Jews were well-integrated into urban society and culture. Jews made up significant percentages of the city’s doctors and lawyers, businessmen and bankers, artists, and journalists.

In March 1938, Nazi Germany incorporated the Austrian Republic in what became known as the Anschluss. Once in power, the Nazis quickly applied German anti-Jewish legislation to Vienna and the Austrian hinterland. This legislation intended to exclude Jews from the economic, cultural, and social life of the former Austria. Officials closed Jewish community offices and sent the board members to the Dachau concentration camp. By the summer of 1939, hundreds of Jewish-owned factories and thousands of businesses had been closed or confiscated by the government.

Emigration from Vienna

After the Anschluss, Vienna became the focal point of Jewish emigration from Austria. Those seeking exit visas and other documentation necessary for emigration were required to stand in long lines, night, and day, in front of municipal, police, and passport offices. Would-be emigrants were forced to pay an exit fee and to register all their immovable and most of their movable property, which was confiscated concurrent with their departure from the country.

In 1938, SS Captain Adolf Eichmann (later the Reich’s most zealous deportation “expert”), working closely with the Inspector of Security Police and SD in Vienna, Brigadier General Walter Stahlecker (later commander of a mobile killing unit, Einsatzgruppe A), established a Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna. By May 17, 1939, nearly half of Austria’s entire Jewish population had emigrated, leaving only approximately 121,000 Jews in Austria (all but 8,000 in Vienna). Though the pace of emigration slowed to a trickle with the increasing threat of war and its outbreak in September 1939, another 28,000 Jews were able to leave Austria between May 1939 and the middle of 1942.

Kristallnacht in Vienna

While Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) occurred primarily in Germany on November 9-10, 1938, Austria, recently annexed by Germany through the Anschluss, also experienced its own violent anti-Jewish pogrom during those days. Here’s what happened:

Similar Pattern, Amplified Hatred: The attacks in Austria mirrored those in Germany, with mobs targeting synagogues, Jewish-owned businesses, and homes. Synagogues were desecrated and set ablaze, windows were smashed, and shops were looted. The violence was often led by Nazi paramilitary forces like the SA and police, but many civilians also participated.

Severity and Scale: Though Austria’s Jewish population was smaller than Germany’s, the pogrom there was particularly brutal. In Vienna, almost all synagogues were destroyed, including the iconic Stadttempel. Across the country, hundreds of businesses were damaged or destroyed, and many Jews were beaten and arrested. Estimates suggest around 200 people were killed in Austria during Kristallnacht.

Targeted Figures and Institutions: Jewish leadership figures became targets, with many leaders arrested and deported to concentration camps like Dachau. Jewish community centers and organizations were shut down, effectively dismantling vital support networks for the Jewish population.

A Catalyst for Emigration: Following Kristallnacht, the atmosphere for Jews in Austria became even more perilous. Emigration rates, which had already been high after the Anschluss, surged further. Many saw the violence as a clear sign of the dangers they faced and desperately sought escape.

Legacy of Terror: Kristallnacht in Austria, like its counterpart in Germany, marked a turning point in the persecution of Jews and served as a prelude to the systematic deportation and genocide that followed in the years to come. It remains a painful reminder of the dangers of unchecked hatred and the importance of protecting vulnerable communities.

Many historians consider Kristallnacht in Austria to be even more brutal than in Germany, as it marked a continuation of violence that had already been escalating in the months before the Anschluss.

The city of Vienna, with its large Jewish population and cultural significance, became a particular focus of Nazi aggression during Kristallnacht.

Despite the widespread violence, there were also instances of non-Jewish individuals intervening to protect their Jewish neighbors or speaking out against the pogrom.

Why was it a turning point?

Kristallnacht’s significance as a turning point in Austria, and indeed across Europe, can be analyzed from several angles:

Escalation of Persecution: Before Kristallnacht, anti-Jewish policies in Austria, though implemented after the Anschluss, were primarily focused on economic and social exclusion. Kristallnacht marked a dramatic shift to open, physical violence, demonstrating the Nazis’ increasingly radicalized intentions and complete disregard for Jewish safety and dignity.

Heightened Fear and Emigration: The brutality of the pogrom instilled widespread fear and panic within the Jewish community. It served as a stark wake-up call, making it abundantly clear that remaining in Austria meant increasing vulnerability and potential danger. This led to a significant surge in emigration, as Jews desperately sought escape routes before further escalation.

The destruction of synagogues and community centers dealt a severe blow to the Jewish spirit and sense of belonging. These centers were not just places of worship, but hubs of social and cultural life. Their destruction symbolized the dismantling of Jewish infrastructure and the erosion of any shred of normalcy and security that remained.

While not the immediate start of the Holocaust, Kristallnacht is recognized as a key precursor. The brazen anti-Jewish violence, coupled with the subsequent deportations of prominent Jewish leaders to concentration camps, paved the way for the more systematic and orchestrated deportation and extermination of Jews that began shortly thereafter.

International Response and Public Awareness: While the world had largely turned a blind eye to earlier discriminatory policies, the open violence of Kristallnacht sparked widespread international condemnation and public outcry. This increased awareness of the plight of European Jews, though it did not prompt immediate intervention, helped lay the groundwork for future resistance efforts and advocacy on behalf of persecuted communities.

A Watershed Moment in History: Ultimately, Kristallnacht stands as a stark symbol of the dangers of unchecked intolerance and the potential for escalation when hatred is allowed to fester. It serves as a grim reminder of the fragility of human rights and the importance of active resistance against oppression and violence.

In conclusion, Kristallnacht, with its unparalleled scale of violence and societal disruption, marked a decisive turning point in Austria’s relationship with its Jewish population and in the broader context of European history. It was a brutal manifestation of Nazi hatred, a catalyst for further persecution, and a dark reminder of the consequences of inaction in the face of injustice.

The Mauthausen Concentration Camp

The Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz in Upper Austria was not among the NS regime’s biggest but undoubtedly among its most horrendous camps. Built in August 1939 by inmates of Dachau concentration camp, Mauthausen was the only category III concentration camp, the classification with the most brutal detention conditions. Until the liberation by US-allied troops in early May 1945, almost 200,000 people from practically every European country as well as non-European countries were deported to Mauthausen because of their political activity, their “criminal record”, religious conviction, homosexuality, and of course for “racist” reasons.

Another major inmate group consisted of prisoners of war. According to records, more than half of the inmates were murdered. In Mauthausen, the murder was committed by members of the SS and took on various forms: People were beaten to death, they were lynched, or shot, while those who had fallen ill were left to freeze or starve to death or were killed by lethal injections in the heart or gassed.

Forced Labor in Vienna

In 1944, German SS and police officials, assisted by Hungarian gendarmes, deported tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Austria to perform forced labor. Thousands of Hungarian Jews were incarcerated in Vienna’s Strasshof labor camp, where they were deployed to build fortifications. Several of the forced-labor camps in Vienna were under the administration of the Mauthausen concentration camp.

The End of the War After waging a battle for the city, the Soviet Red Army View This Term in the Glossary took control of Vienna in April 1945. That month, the Soviets allowed a new Austrian government to form and appointed a new mayor of Vienna. In July 1945, the Allied powers agreed that an Allied Commission for Austria with representatives from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union would control the country. The city of Vienna was divided into five occupation zones—one zone for each of the Allied powers and one international zone in the city center. Austria remained officially under four-power occupation

Waltzing into the Cold War: The Struggle for Occupied Austria. By James Jay Carafano. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002. ISBN 1-58544-213-5. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 248. $44.95.

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