Austria 1938

Under intense pressure from Adolf Hitler, Austria tried to show a small amount of independence, knowing it did not have the heart nor the mind to resist Hitler.  And people around the government came forth in an effort to strike a blow for that independence.  Jews for example donated 500,000 schillings and then another 300,000 shillings to hold a plebiscite to find out just what Austria wanted and hoping for the best for Austria and the Jewish people.   This was March of 1938, and the historical march of 1938 into Austria by the Nazis was about to take place.

Jews were divided into assimilationists and Zionists.  I found the same kind of evidence in Galicia in Austria-Hungary in the 1890s.  Assimilationist Jews resented newly arrived immigrants who came from the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

Vienna was the European city with the most Jews back in those days.  There were almost 200,000 Jews in Austria and and more than ninety percent of them lived in Vienna.  But there were also large numbers of Jews who did not call themselves Jews and lots of converts to Christianity. 

And by 1932 baptisms of Jews were rising dramatically, obviously pushed up by the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.  Conversions to seek protection had been common in other places including the Balkans.  And we could go back to Castilian Spain as a reminder too. And I write about the same kinds of divisions today.  I am one of Trump’s “disloyal” Jews.  How could I be anything else, even if I am not a staunch Democrat? Conditions in Austria had been adverse for more than a decade following World War I and the creation of the Republic of Austria.  In 1921 there was a three-day meeting of anti-Semites in Vienna followed in 1923 by between 50,000 and 100,000 people that marched around the famous Ringstrasse protesting the “Jewish dictatorship” in Austria.  And I can tell my readers who have followed the White House, that Jews were proud of being Austrian and did not wish to leave even under such pre-hurricane conditions.  I guess my point is that we should never be told (nobody) to go back to your country as we notice the divisions in our politics.  And Austria, like the United States, had to be viewed as one of the greatest nations in the history of the world, even as things got worse for Jews and others.  A papal nunzio wanted the cessation of Constitutional Rights in Austria as it flexed its muscles.  And this was at a time when Austria was able to advance toward a better democracy as the rights of Jews in housing and jobs were protected. During the short period related to the plebiscite Kurt von Schuschnigg had flyers scattered by aircraft all over rural Austria where many voters would have been Nazis. And the message was that Austrians were better Germans than the Nazis was spread everywhere, but one day after the Germans made their move into Austria, police who had guns did nothing.  All for nothing as Hitler took Austria without firing a shot.  And those police (Vienna’s Finest) quickly started working for the Nazis in the name of law and order.  

And keep in mind that the communists only numbered around 6,000 back at that time.  Here are things that the Social Democrats of Austria did and that helped contain communism. 

Built housing projects, schools, kindergartens, libraries, and hospitals. And this was in Vienna.  Rural poor tended to side with the right-wing even back then. 

And there were social insurance and rent control.

The large housing complex called the Karl Marx Hof where 5,000 people lived had laundromats, baths, kindergartens, a library, and doctors offices.  In 1949 the new Lillian Wald Houses where I lived had only a laundry in some buildings and we had bathrooms (if that is the bath referred to) in each apartment.  What Vienna was doing for the poor did gain attention throughout Europe and I should also write that Austrian socialism was not Venezuela, but that nation ended up in far worse conditions from my Jewish point of view.  I would like to see Repugnicans discuss the socialism of Austria and tell about the enormous propaganda campaign that had to provoke hysteria when the word Marxism was invoked as things were done for the poor.  Two-thirds of Austria was rural in those days.  Rural thought in those days among other things condemned Bolshevism and Jews and now Trump has written his page in the anti-Semites diary and one-fifth of Jews are still supportive of Trump.  And the politics of that time definitely has not changed very much as the wealthy convinced the middle class to do very little that was supportive of the poor.  And more has to be done to help the poor just as things were done back then. 

The Austrian government faced grave political crises, including a strike of workers that affected the national railroad that was crushed by the army.  Parliament shutdown and a virtual dictatorship was instituted citing emergency powers.

Hitler went immediately to his birthplace Braunau am Inn close to Linz, Austria and this little-known fact I found on the History Place “On Monday afternoon, he made his grand entry into Vienna, the city he had known so many years earlier as a down-and-out tramp. He stayed at the Hotel Imperial, the same hotel where he once worked as a half-starved day laborer, shoveling snow off the sidewalk outside the entrance and respectfully removing his cap as wealthy guests came and went. As a poor youth he could never go inside. Today he was the guest of honor.”   I would imagine that Hitler was one of hundreds of millions who future was shaped by his beginnings.  In Vienna, one hundred thousand came out to celebrate his entry into that city.

Rich Jews were arrested and sent to Dachau in Germany along with Jews representing community organizations. Their properties confiscated as “The Yid must get out, but he has to leave his dough behind” became popular.  Jews looked for escape routes and Czechoslovakia would not open its borders.   And Jews were sent to Austrian and German concentration camps and as far away as the Lodz Ghetto.  Jews were also able to emigrate and that saved lives.

The application today is to learn from the past.  I know that I am not selfish nor do I have any selfish interests as I watch the Trump landscape.  Trump is selfish and I have listened to some of his supporters tell me that they are selfish.  These selfish interests destroy our nation slowly just as selfish interests almost annihilated all of the Jews in Austria who had the misfortune to be there.  Tell me that I am wrong.  Were the Austrian police looking out for Austrian Jews, as one such example, or were they looking out for their own selfish interests?  And things were much worse as we went up the chain of interests.  The mayor of Vienna was able to decide who was a Jew, he said as disaster struck.  Trump decides who is loyal, who is a good Mexican or Salvadoran, who is a good Jew, but in a context that has been modified by almost one hundred years of history, but his views are truly reprehensible.  He was and he is a disaster in the making or Make America A Disaster Again.  Put that on the red hat, because that is really what is happening as his supporters remain in denial.  He may be a “mad hatter” or insane or he may be just mentally unfit, either way we welcome important challenges to his leadership from all sides except those sides that harbor hate in their hearts.

Feng Shan-Ho, the Chinese consul general in Vienna, risked his life providing visas to thousands of Jews whose lives were saved.  That’s the character that pervades the “righteous of nations” and not the behavior and poor and lack of knowledge that we observe in Trump. 

I certainly do not want to listen to another human being that tells me I sent my condolences to this person or that person who has been victimized by a mass shooting or something else that is horrific and listen to anyone who doesn’t understand propaganda when he or she hears it.

Mark Cohen has a Holocaust Exhibit in Dania Florida and here is an drawing called Dachau Survivor, Liberation Day, 1945. The venue is the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center.

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1 Comment

  1. just read it. I think it’s too late to call. Really good history lesson. I guess the more things change, we can really see that they actually stay the same.

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