Austria's Underground Fights For Liberation
Austrians have had a nightmare awakening from Hitler's Greater German dreamworld. Result: Sabotage, terror and patriot suffering
LONDON (By cable)—Early this year a call went out from London: Patriots of Austria—sabotage the German war effort ; form new Partisan groups;
to wait means suicide— to wait means suicide.
Evidence emanating from Austria suggests that the people have no intention of waiting. Blood-red posters on hoardings in Vienna are weekly announcing the death sentences passed by the German Peoples’ Courts on Volksverrader—traitors to the people. Austrian newspapers record day after day how patriots, anti-Nazis, haters of the Prussians, devout Catholics, faithful Socialists, and well-organized Communists work against the Germans and pay for this work with death, with long prison sentences, or with deportation to labor camps.
As the Soviet Armies advance toward Austria from the cast, as the shadow of Anglo-American Armies in the south falls over Germany’s brother country, as Marshai Tito’s Liberation Army moves in, active opposition assumes such proportions that the cruel and violent Gestapo measures can no longer be hushed up. Open threats and public persecution of patriots are not the means by which the German authorities can stem the rising tide of revolt. Thus, even if we did not have our reports from the organized Underground we would hear more about events inside Austria than were known about any occupied country before liberation.
And we can say this, definitely and positively: Austria is disillusioned with Nazidom. Austrians have had a nightmare awakening from the Greater German
dreamworld of Hitler—who once called himself an Austrian — and Austrians of many political complexions have united in a secret underground organization that is sabotaging the Nazi war effort and working for the day when the forced marriage of their land with Germany can be annulled.
Austria’s resistance against Nazism is truly national and is inspired by the age-old antagonism between Austria and Prussia and the irreconcilable difference in character and temperament between north Germans and Austrians. This confronts the German Nazis with an almost united Austrian front; and just as the Austrian Nazis have both tradition of and training in underground warfare, which dates back well over 10 years, so has the large body of Socialists, particularly in Vienna, a background of illegality which is hardly matched anywhere else in Europe. Dollfuss drove them underground in 1934, when he established his dictatorship. Schuschnigg kept them there when he succeeded the pocket chancellor.
After the latter’s violent death, as the Nazi invasion of Austria was expected, the leaders of the Underground managed to maintain their underground organization intact. Austrian Socialists, indeed, provide the greatest numbers of martyrs in the antiNazi cause. Some of those who died as heroes or heroines—in the squalid surroundings of a Gestapo torture chamber or on the gallows of the Nazi oppressors—I knew well.
In front of me as I write is the snapshot of Hedi Urach, the young Viennase seamstress, who was
executed by the Germans last May. Her cheerful, obstinate features are symbolic of the attitude of these Viennese underground fighters, who face death with a smile, who grind their teeth into a smile, who can laugh and fight with the fervor of their convictions. Hedi was a Socialist, she loved liberty, yet in her teens she learned to know the inside of a Fascist prison. For illegal activity she had to pay with a long spell in a damp cell, while her heart longed for those glorious excursions in the Vienna woods, which, incidentally, so often provided opportunities for anti-Fascists to meet, lay their plans, decide on their line of action, and receive instructions and weapons. When the Germans invaded Austria, Hedi intensified her underground work. At first it meant only distribution of anti-Nazi leaflets and underground newspapers such as the illegal Wiener Beobachter, which forcefully corrected the propaganda lies of Hitler’s Voelkischer Beobachter. Later this meant helping to produce the leaflets, stealing paper from under the nose of the Germans, and perhaps even accepting a job in a Nazi newspaper and recruiting friends among the compositors, who would set up anti-Nazi matter with the type provided by the Nazis.
Underground editors in Vienna, as elsewhere, were the advance guard of the struggle against Nazism. For Hedi it was easy to organize a mouth-to-mouth news service in her local district of Ottakring, where factories and workers’ dwellings abound, and where men
worked for Hitler by day and put sand into the German machinery by night.
Everyone knew Hedi Urach, and only the severe discipline of the anti-Nazi underground enabled her to operate so long under the very eyes of the Gestapo and in the midst of German spies who had been introduced into the district as factory foremen and under a dozen other pretences. But death, as it came to so many patriots, came to her in May. In death she has become a legend and the inspiration of her surviving fellow patriots.
I remember the slender boy who always wanted to be an artist but put away his easel and his canvas and became the leader of a small group of Austrians. When Hitler led his country into war this group began to operate the Austrian Freedom radio station. Soon after Stalingrad the youthful artist had grown into a determined fighter for freedom, leading his unit from mountain to mountain, from forest to forest, and always only a step ahead of the Gestapo sleuths who had been trained to track down the underground broadcasters.
Voices of Freedom
OVER a whole continent one could hear his voice calling Austrian patriots to arms, denouncing Hitler and his Austrian satellites, explaining the news, educating the people, replying on an information service of which free news-gathering organizations could have been proud. He could not spend two nights in the same district. Whenever he set out to give one of his broadcasts it meant assembling the transmitter and taking it to its new destination in a dozen parts. When one day his voice failed to come over the ether his friends abroad knew that the worst-alas, the inevitable—had happened. His trial and execution were announced a few weeks later, but it was only another month before a successor stepped into his shoes and the voice of Austria spoke again.
These broadcasts had a wide audience inside Austria. They reached the farmers in Carinthia too, where a healthy wind of freedom had already blown from across the Jugoslav border. It had been an open secret in the Austrian province of Carinthia that there was a way out of the hideous obligation to serve in Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Old men whispered it into each other’s ears, young men winked knowingly, trembling mothers, without any explanation, gathered what was afoot. Across the mountains there were the Jugoslav guerillas, under Marshal Tito, and when the special SS Black Guard divisions sent out to track Tito’s men down pressed some of their units too hard quite a number of guerillas managed to escape to Austria to the farms of Carinthia and were received with open arms. There were always food and wine for them, new outfits of clothes and shoes to replace the tattered rags which had hardly covered their bodies.
When the danger was over Tito’s heroes slipped across the border, passed on the word and told of the friends they had found in unexpected quarters. Some of them did not return alone. Young farmer boys
were electrified by the glint in the Jugoslav guerillas’ eyes. They listened tautly to their taies of a life in freedom, and accompanied them to join the Jugoslav Army of Liberation rather than serve Hitler. Hundreds of Austrians are today proud soldiers, even officers, in the Jugoslav Army. Some of them have returned to Austria and opened a new chapter in the fierce struggle against the Nazis. Naturally it must still remain unspecified where the Underground leaders meet. But they regularly receive news and information from the world outside of the vast prison into which successive Gauleiters, first the uncouth Buerkel, then the refined and youthful protégé of Hitler, Baldur von Schirach, ex-Hitler Youth leader and poet, have transformed Austria.
Among these underground leaders was a young lieutenant, member of a prominent Austrian family, who cheerfully welcomed his call-up papers because he knew that it would enable him to work for freedom within the German armed forces. A proficient mountaineer, born in the rugged mountain districts which link Austria and Jugoslavia, he was soon transferred to an Austrian mountain division, charged with punitive expeditions against the “Serb bandits” of Marshal Tito. But he used well the time he and his men lay in waiting preparing for the attack, and when the signal for the attack came his work was done. With 200 other Austrian crack mountaineers of the Wehrmacht he went over to the guerillas, taking with him tanks, guns, mortars and ammunition besides much needed medical equipment. Instead of killing the Freedom Fighters he helped to save the lives of hundreds of them, and he returned to Austria, where he sat in council with other Patriots who reached the secret meeting place from all corners of the country. He was responsible for organizing a “tourist route” which to this day takes scores of Austrians out of Austria when the Gestapo is on their heels.
WE HAVE seen some of these men who changed camps from the Wehrmacht to the Liberation Armies, who dodged service for Hitler but bravely bore their pain when they were wounded in the struggle for freedom. They reached hospitals in Africa and Italy. They brought news of Austria, told tales of endurance and heroism among those who had to stay behind in Vienna, Linz and Graz and Klagenfurt. They told of leaders of anti-Nazi cells that are growing from month to month. There is nothing amateurish or emotional any longer about the work they are doing. It is carried out according to a carefully laid strategic plan designed to hit the Germans where it hurts them most.
It was at one of these meetings,attended by leading engineers, experts in explosives, local guides, underground staff officers and a variety of nondescript, humble-looking folk, whose eyes alone revealed the fires of enthusiasm for the cause, that the campaign was designed. It started truly with a bang—a bang when of
exploded in the northern entrance of the tunnel between Austria and Switzerland through which tens of thousands of tons of supplies reach Germany. For almost two weeks traffic was interrupted while an army of Wehrmacht technicians and labor corps men worked to restore the damage. And when the repair work was completed the Austrian Underground struck once more.
From then on no bridge in Austria was really safe. Precious military manpower was wasted because every strategic point in Hitler’s homeland had to be guarded against Hitler’s enemies.
In Vienna, when the signal went up, anti-Hitler posters appeared by the side of the red KDF posters, standing for “Kraft Durch Freude” — Strength Through Joy. The Nazi slogan was transformed into Kaputt Durch Führer—Ruined by the Führer.
Undermine Nazi Morale
WHILE explosions rocked the edifice of Nazism throughout the country, Vienna gradually undermined the morale of the Nazis in the capital. Germans — North Germans — in Austria looked anxiously over their shoulders, harassed; embarrassed by the smiles which played around the lips of Austrians who met them with deadly politeness in cafés and wine gardens. Prussians kept strictly sober because it was no longer safe to live in Vienna without the full powers of their reason. There was no joy, no entertainment, no relaxation for the 200,000 Germans who had been imported into Austria.
Austrians, too, created the reinsurance business in which almost every Nazi in the country is involved. To make life tolerable in a sea of smiling hostility Nazis began to reinsure themselves against defeat and Austrian revenge. They began to trade arms and favors in exchange for certificates of good behavior toward the Patriots.
Austria, incidentally, is the only part of the Reich where the Nazi leaders had to contend early with Nazi opposition. To this day, that is seven years after the involuntary union with Germany, there are Austrian Nazis hiding underground who were disappointed at Hitler’s treatment of Austria. Some of them have, of course, long since joined up with other political groups. They have lost their love of Hitler and the Nazi regime. They are grim fellows; most of them trained in the early Nazi sabotage schools for their young white-stockinged gangsters who helped to undermine Austria’s independence.
There is one among them who has learned in Germany and from the Nazis how to produce homemade bombs, how to blast telephone booths, how to plant explosives in sensitive centres of communications under bridges—-in big stores. He practiced his art during the rowdy days of Nazi radicalism around 1934. The Austrian police caught him, locked him up, confined him in the Woellersdorf concentration camp, but he escaped to Germany and returned to Nazified Austria as a leader of the Nazi legion which had been gathered in Munich.
DISAPPOINTED with the importation of Prussians, who snatched the most remunerative jobs from the Austrian Nazis, he went into the camp of the anti-Nazis. He has been in opposition ever since, where he employs against the Nazis exactly the same methods he formerly used to help them get Austria. There are hundreds like him. Their ranks swelled by deserters, Austrian youths who bargained for promotion and profits but not for war. Austrian Nazi leaders regard them as a great danger but it is difficult to say exactly which of the many sabotage acts have been committed by such men.
In Austria, too, there originated the Edelweiss Piraten—gangs recruited from members of the Hitler’s Youth and other Nazi organizations. These gangs have gathered under the symbol of the lovely, velvety mountain flowers which take so much courage to gather among the high rocks and precipices of the Austrian mountains. They call themselves “pirates,” frankly admitting the nature of their activities, which include attacks on wealthy Nazi bosses, plain robberies of party stores, and safes. A general revolt against authority qnd discipline, they represent a surging new tide of anarchism which confuses and complicates the battle of the Nazi leaders against the genuine underground.
These boy gangs, symptoms of the vandalization of German-held territory, have harassed their Nazi elders in many mountain districts, have now found their counterparts not only in the mountains of south Germany but also in western Germany, where the
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proximity of Allied Armies enables them to exploit the apprehension and fear among the local population. But they originate from Austria, and though these Nazi oppositionals are by no means a political development wholly welcome to genuine antiFascist patriots they serve to illustrate a vital feature of Austrian underground warfare and are a partial explanation of its ferocity and success.
Many Women Patriots
As the food position deteriorated in Austria, one of the strongest political elements in the country, the women were called in regularly. They blockaded the food shops and stores, followed the messengers who carried out the orders of the powerful Nazi elite. God help the wife of a Nazi leader who dared to obtain extra food supplies from her grocer or butcher. A flock of housewives would accompany the delivery van, shouting slogans and abuse, and more than once wrecking the premises of the shopkeeper who had supplied the Nazi Aristocrats.
This movement of the patriotic housewives developed into open revolt when the Naschmarkt, famous historic market place in Vienna, became the scene of a stampede. Hundreds of loyal Nazi party members had been placed in charge of the stalls, around which legends of Vienna and Austria had grown through the decades, when they retained scarce goods under the counter. The women of Vienna gathered to bring them to daylight. In the process not a single market stall was left standing. Helpless Nazi stall holders were trampled underfoot, beaten up, chased away from the source of their profits. For weeks no business was done on the Naschmarkt and Viennese police just did not turn up to fight their own womenfolk.
Three months ago tension grew to such a pitch that 30,000 SS Black Guard Storm Troopers, mainly recruited from the Hamburg district,
were concentrated on Vienna, marching up and down the Ringstrasse, and the suburban Guertcl, the outer ring. At regular intervals Viennese threw flowers at them, with rotten fruit hidden in the bouquets—until an official order banned the understandable outburst of “admiration” for Hitler’s own soldiers. In the suburbs at Hernals, Ottakring, Brigittenau and Meidling, to mention the principal centres of organized workers and resistance, wheels in the war factories slowed down.
Labor Helps Patriots
In the meantime into Austria had been transferred much of the German refugee industry from western and north Germany, where life and production had become difficult under the hail of constant Allied bombardment from the air. High wages were paid in Austria to keep the unreliable workers at their jobs. Most Nazi restrictive labor regulations were disregarded to mollify the men on whom such a large proportion of the German war effort depended. Austrians reacted in their own rather cynical way. They accepted the bribes; refused to be bribed, however. They pocketed the high wages and went slow.
Ca’ canny took on such proportions that worried Nazi industrial leaders worked out a vast plan according to which Viennese workers would be distributed over Germany and Prussian workers sent to Vienna. While the plan was carried out, production fell, confusion ensued, millions of manhours were lost. From a spontaneous action of individual Austrian workers developed one of the most effective sabotage plans against German industry. And this experts led into constructive, or rather destructive, channels.
Action was more difficult in provincial towns like Linz, Steyr or Wiener Neustadt. There the Hermann Goering Works and the Messerschmitt factories, respectively, employ well over 100,000 workers. Here, however, Allied air raids came to the rescue and gave Patriots their chance.
We know of one trained saboteur who used the confusion created by Allied air attacks to remove vital parts from invaluable machinery. When he
was finally forced to flee across the frontier he brought much of the evidence many of the essential parts which he had removed with him providing the Allied authorities, incidentally, with important technical information about German production processes and technique.
Many accidents in Austrian factories, every detail of which is now known, cannot as yet be described because Nazi leaders must be left in doubt about the nature of local sabotage; must remain in ignorance about whatwas planned and what was carried out according to plan.
The Price of Liberty
Let me quiote for you just one of thp reports, out of hundreds, which convey to Austrians abroad what is happening to their compatriots inside Austria, and let the sober, matter-of-fact report not deceive you about the ordeals through, which thousands of the Patriots went in these years. I am quoting from a report received toward the end of 1944.
“Two girls in their 20’s were among the Austrian Patriots executed by order of the Gestapo in the latest drive to smash an extensive Austrian antiNazi underground organization. One of the girls was Margarethe Jost, daughter of an Austrian painter who is well known in Austrian anti-Nazi circles in London. She was a sculptress, and stayed behind in Austria to fight the Nazis when most of her friends emigrated in 1938. The second girl, 23-year-old Rosa Hoffman, was working against Hitler when still in her teens. Twelve peasants, all from the Zellpfarre district, were brought before the People’s Court and indicted. They received sentences of many years imprisonment. A Klagenfurt newspaper states that small groups of Carinthian deserters, Communists and bandits have been terrorizing the working class, attacking and plundering farms, murdering Germans and people loyal to the Reich. It is for aiding these people that the men brought before the People’s Court were convicted.”
I have tried to explain what lies behind these crisp few lines which reach the Allied camp almost every week as the Austrian underground approaches itá greatest and final test.
It is impossible to add any details about its work and organization. Enough to say that in defiance of Nazi propaganda and orders the Austrian churches are full. Every week another priest is led away to prison or concentration camp, because his interpretation of the Gospel from the pulpit is too full of implications encouraging popular resistance against the Nazi heathens. The number of 20th century Christian Martyrs in Austria is legion.
Let me end with this reminder— when the workers of Vienna first rose against Fascism in 1934 their Putsch failed because the leaders who knew the hiding places of their arms were arrested before they could communicate the secret to the followers. These hidden arms have since been found. They are again in the hands into which they belong. They are in the hands of the Vienna workers, who will use them at a given signal in their own bid for liberation and victory over Nazis.