Austrian Resistance

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Sign of the Austrian resistance movement at the St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

The Austrian Resistance launched in response to the rise in fascism across Europe and, more specifically, to the Anschluss in 1938 and resulting occupation of Austria by Germany. An estimated 100,000 people were reported to have participated in this resistance with thousands subsequently imprisoned or executed for their anti-Nazi activities. In addition to armed resistance efforts, "silent heroes" helped Jewish men, women and children evade persecution by Nazi authorities by hiding at-risk individuals at their homes or in other safe houses, storing or exchanging their property to raise funds to support them, and/or helping them to flee the country. Each of these resistance members lived dangerously because such assistance to the Jewish community was punishable by imprisonment at concentration camps and, ultimately, by death. Among these "silent heroes" were Rosa Stallbaumer and her husband, Anton. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, they were both sent to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.[1] Although Anton survived, Rosa Stallbaumer did not; transferred to Auschwitz, she died there a week before her 45th birthday.[2]

Overview Austrian resistance organizations and groups[edit]

  • Non-partisan groups: O5, New Free Austria, Helfenberg, Prinz Eugen (founded during balkan campaign, group name is associated with Prinz Eugen´s military strategy)
  • Armed groups: Carinthian Slovenes as partisans of Carinthia (see Yugoslav partisans) and the partisan group Leoben-Donawitz; the groups often referred to partisans in the Salzkammergut (group "Willy Fred") or in the Ötztal. The resistance group in Ötztal founded by Wolfgang Pfaundler and Hubert Sauerwein in 1941. Around 50 people belonged to this group. Apart from their political activity, in the beginning they did not go beyond the construction and arming phase.
    • One major league of 200–300 fighters called the Koralmpartisanen. Their activities extended from 1944 to Western Styria. They began to attack in the districts of Leibnitz and Deutschlandsberg (Styria) infrastructure facilities such as municipal offices and gendarmerie. They also sabotaged militarily important facilities such as bridges and railways.[3]
    • The so-called Salzkammergut partisans under the direction of the im August 1943 fled from the concentration camp Hallein communist Spain fighter Sepp Plieseis hid in a hideout ("hedgehog"/"Igel") at the "Ischler Hütte" (Ischler cottage) in the Toten Gebirge and maintained close contact with resistance circles in the area. The difficult and dangerous supply was done by dedicated women from the valley. In fact, in order to avoid reprisals against the civilian population, the group did not have an armed man, combat taken or violent actions set. Karl Feldhammer from Bad Aussee was, however, in the course of his arrest by the Gestapo Linz shot on January 26, 1945. His wife was Marianne "Mariandl" Feldhammer. In the Salzkammergut from the end of April 1945 also acted from the British SOE in the mountains of hell remote combat group under the leadership of the former socialist Albrecht Gaiswinkler from Bad Aussee.
    • Both resistance groups appeared politically in the wake of the liberation by US troops in early May 1945 and participated in the rescue of the stolen art from all over Europe, which were stored in a tunnel of the salt mine in Aussee. These resistance fighters were also involved in the arrest of Nazi criminals like Ernst Kaltenbrunner.[4]
  • Resistance in (state) enterprises: Franz Josef Messner (also a member of the catholic antifacist freedom movement Maier-Messner-Caldonazzi)
  • Intelligence agency (Abwehr) resistance: Erwin von Lahousen[5] He joined the resistance circle against Hitler within the 'defense'. It is believed that he kept his contact network with British, Czechoslovaks and Russian agents during the war.[6] Lahousen ordered that agents destined for Britain be trained primarily for spying, also with disastrous results.[7] The case Lahausen is very controversial, there are different opinions. Various publications have been published that speak for him.
  • Military resistance in the Wehrmacht: Robert Bernardis, Heinrich Kodré, group around Major Carl Szokoll (including Operation Walküre / Operation Valkyrie) Major Karl Biedermann, Hauptmann Alfred Huth and Oberleutnant Rudolf Raschke joined the resistance group of Austrian members of the Wehrmacht, led by Major Carl Szokoll, within the Wehrkreiskommando XVII. In the spring of 1945, this planned the "Operation Radetzky" whose goal was to assist the Red Army in the liberation of Vienna and to prevent major destruction. Biedermann should have occupied with his troops key positions in the city and to prevent the blowing up of bridges. But the planned for April 6, 1945 "Operation Radetzky" was betrayed. Robert Bernardis, Heinrich Kodré, Karl Biedermann, Alfred Huth and Rudolf Raschke were sentenced to death by the German "People's Court" (Volksgerichtshof) and executed the same day. In 1967 a barrack was named "Biedermann-Huth-Raschke barracks" (1140 Vienna, Penzing), in remembrance of these three Austrian officers of the German Wehrmacht Major Karl Biedermann, Captain Alfred Huth and Lieutenant Rudolf Raschke.
Group of women. One woman wears an Austrian resistance Edelweiss – Patch, which comes from a former hunting clothes; and a pinstripe (in German: Nadelstreif) blazer. Other girls standing close to the car, talking and flirting with Wehrmacht soldier. The car has a PL font over turn signal. It could be a soldier who came from the front or one who cares about the engagement of the soldiers on the Eastern Front.Two further girls dressed in French style (shoes and hair). Two young men wear work uniforms. One a woodwork robe the other a baker or cook robe. Estimated time & location: Summer 1941, Lower Austria – Surrounding: Amstetten-Mauer. (Source:

The members of the Resistance, limited primarily to adherents of the restoration of the Habsburg dynasty and the political left, operated in isolation from the Austrian mainstream during the war years. Other strands of Austrian resistance included Catholics and monarchists.[citation needed] However, it is notable that several Austrian nationalists, some of them even with fascist sympathies, also resisted, opposed to the destruction of the Austrian state. The most prominent unifying symbol was former Crown Prince, Otto von Habsburg.


The movement had a prehistory of socialist and communist activism against the era of Austrofascism from 1934. Although the Austrofascist regime was itself intensely hostile to Nazism, especially after the Austrian Nazis' failed coup attempt in 1934, known as the July Putsch.

The sign of the Austrian resistance was O5, where the 5 stands for E and OE is the abbreviation of Österreich with Ö as OE. This sign may be seen at the Stephansdom in Vienna.

Notable activists included Josef Plieseis and Hilde Zimmermann.

The symbol and voice of Austrian resistance was Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg who, had the monarchy been reestablished, would have been Kaiser of Austria.[11]


Much as opposing the Nazis was difficult, as maintaining organizational cohesion post the Anschluss constituted a penal offence, resistance activities were maintained throughout the period. The resistance mainly: issued counter-Nazi political leaflets; collected donations, which were mostly distributed to families of those arrested; and provided the Allies with information.

Military resistance was limited to occasional sabotage to both key civil and military installations, with most resisting by avoiding postings to the active war fronts.

Most armed resistance was undertaken in Carinthia.[12] Carinthian Slovenes formed a nucleus to the resistance after targeted deportations and forced Germanisation by the Nazi regime in 1942 led to the establishment of forest bands. As much of the Slovene Lands in Yugoslavia had been annexed to the Reich in 1941 and were subject to the same tactics of ethnic cleansing in northern Slovenia the group's activities should be seen in the context of the Yugoslavian Slovene Partisan operations.

The Moscow Declarations of 1943 laid a framework for the establishment of a free Austria after the victory over Nazi Germany. It stated that "Austria is reminded, however that she has a responsibility, which she cannot evade, for participation in the war on the side of Hitlerite Germany, and that in the final settlement account will inevitably be taken of her own contribution to her liberation."[13]

Habsburg Opposition[edit]

Former Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg denounced Nazism, stating:

He strongly opposed the Anschluss, and in 1938 requested Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to resist Nazi Germany and supported an international intervention, and offered to return from exile to take over the reins of government in order to repel the Nazis. According to Gerald Warner, "Austrian Jews were among the strongest supporters of a Habsburg restoration, since they believed the dynasty would give the nation sufficient resolve to stand up to the Third Reich".[15] Following the German annexation of Austria, Otto (who had been allowed to come back to Austria to publicly campaign against the Anschluss), was sentenced to death by the Nazi regime; Rudolf Hess ordered that Otto was to be executed immediately if caught, as ordered by Adolf Hitler.[16] The leaders of the Austrian legitimist movement, i.e. supporters of Otto, were arrested by the Nazis and largely executed. Otto's cousins Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg, and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg, both sons of the late Archduke Francis Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 precipitated World War One, were arrested in Vienna by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau where they remained throughout Nazi rule. Otto was involved in helping around 50,000 Austrians, including tens of thousands of Austrian Jews, flee the country at the beginning of the Second World War.[17]

During his wartime exile in the United States, Otto and his younger brothers founded an "Austrian Battalion" in the United States Army, but it was delayed and never saw actual combat.[18]

Religious group resistance[edit]

The organizational cohesion offence was most keenly felt by the Austrian religious community. The Nazis, via both the civil Gestapo and police, and the military Schutzstaffel (SS), implemented both anti-religious and anti-Austrian-patriotic measures. This brought about disparate resistance from many established religious groups, whose core members came mainly from the establishment of Austrian high society.[19]

Catholic Church[edit]

Although tolerated to a large extent, noted anti-Catholic measures and regional imposition of such brought about the formation of three large regional Catholic-based resistance groups.[19]

The first purge and arrest round occurred in Spring 1940, when the three groups had held talks on merging, in which over 100 activists were arrested, interrogated and some individuals tortured. After this, the leaders sought closer ties to the main body of the Austrian resistance movement, and although remaining separate in part for security reasons, began feeding both directly and indirectly information to the United States Military Intelligence Service (MIS).[19]

Amongst the Catholic group's members were Burgtheater actor Otto Hartmann, a spy in paid service of the Gestapo. In late 1944, his information led to the arrest of 10 key Catholic resistance organisation leaders, who were all tortured and then sentenced to death. These included the main contacts with the American MIS, Semperit Director General Franz Josef Messner (1896-1945, killed in the gas chambers at the Mauthausen concentration camp), and Chaplain Dr. Heinrich Maier (1908-1945) executed on 22 March 1945 as the last victim of the Nazi régime in Vienna.[20] Other detainees were sentenced to long prison terms, which some survived but many were killed before the final surrender.[19]

The exile community in London[edit]

The main organised exile group during the Second World War was based around the Austrian Office in London, centre to the 30,000 strong exile community.[21] The Austrian Society, or "Austrian Office", was home to both the monarchist Austrian League and liberal Austrian Democratic Union.[22]

Battle for Castle Itter[edit]

The Austrian Resistance were involved in the Battle for Castle Itter, the Austrian village of Itter in the North Tyrol, was fought on 5 May, only three days before German's unconditional surrender came into effect. Troops of the 23rd Tank Battalion of the US 12th Armored Division led by Lieutenant John C. "Jack" Lee, Jr., anti-Nazi German Army soldiers, and imprisoned French VIPs defended the castle against an attacking force from the 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division until relief from the American 142nd Infantry Regiment arrived.[23]


Austrian society has had an ambivalent attitude both toward the Nazi government from 1938 to 1945 and the few that actively resisted it. Since large portions of Austrian society either actively or tacitly supported the Nazi regime, the Allied forces treated Austria as a belligerent party in the war and maintained occupation of it after the Nazi capitulation. On the other hand, the Moscow Declaration labeled Austria as a free and democratic society before the war, and considered its capture an act of liberation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morse, Steven and Peter Landé. Dachau Concentration Camp Records (online database): Retrieved online April 11, 2018.
  2. ^ "Rosa Stallbaumer," in 124 Victims of the Resistance: Short Biographies, in The Eduard-Wallnöfer-Platz in Innsbruck. Bregenz, Austria: Verein Nationalsozialismus und Holocaust: Gedächtnis und Gegenwart (Association National Socialism and the Holocaust: Memory and Present), retrieved online April 6, 2018.
  3. ^ Neugebauer, Wolfgang. Koralmpartisanen.
  4. ^ Neugebauer, Wolfgang (2018). "Der österreichische Widerstand 1938 -1945" (PDF). DÖW Publication: 22–23.
  5. ^ Carl, Harry (2015). Abwehr General Erwin Lahousen. Böhlau Wien.
  6. ^ Muigg, Mario (2007). "Geheim- und Nachrichtendienste in und aus Österreich 1918-1938 (page 68,69,71)" (PDF).
  7. ^ Johnson, David Alan (2007). Betrayal: The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the Nazi Saboteurs Captured During WWII. Hippocrene Books, Inc.
  8. ^ "NS Opfer". 03.04.2018. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. ^ Neugebauer, Wolfgang (2018). "Der österreichische Widerstand 1938-1945" (PDF). DÖW Publication.
  10. ^ "Zur Erinnerung - Was war, was ist, was bleibt". (in German). Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  11. ^ "MercatorNet: Otto von Habsburg, son of Austria's last emperor and champion of European unity, has died".
  12. ^ The Resistance in Austria, 1938–1945 Radomír Luza, University of Minnesota Press, 1984
  13. ^ "MOSCOW CONFERENCE, October, 1943".
  14. ^ Gunther, John (1936). Inside Europe. Harper & Brothers. pp. 321–323.
  15. ^ Warner, Gerald (20 November 2008). "Otto von Habsburg's 96th birthday telescopes European history". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  16. ^ Scally, Derek (5 July 2011). "Death of former 'kaiser in exile' and last heir to Austro-Hungarian throne". The Irish Times. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  17. ^ "Otto Hapsburg, eldest son of Austria's last emperor, dies at 98". Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  18. ^ "Otto von Habsburg, oldest son of Austria-Hungary's last emperor, dies at age 98". Newser. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  19. ^ a b c d "DÖW - Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) - Memorial Room for the Victims of the Gestapo Vienna - "They Took the Other Road" - Organized Resistance in Austria".
  20. ^ Wolfgang Neugebauer (2008). Der österreichische Widerstand (in German). Vienna: Edition Steinbauer. pp. 154–155.
  21. ^ Marietta Bearman. Out of Austria: The Austrian Centre in London in World War II. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008. ISBN 9781441600073. "The Austrian Centre was established in London in 1939 by Austrians seeking refuge from Nazi Germany, of whom 30,000 had reached Britain by the outbreak of World War II. It soon developed into a comprehensive social, cultural and political organisation with a theatre and a weekly newspaper of its ".
  22. ^ Marietta Bearman. Out of Austria: The Austrian Centre in London in World War II. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008. ISBN 9781441600073. "143 Seven Sisters Road, notably, was the address of the Austrian Centre's Finsbury Park branch. This ties in neatly with a minute in a Home Office file from early 1947, referring to British security reports on the ..."
  23. ^ *Harding, Stephen (2013). The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-82209-4.

External links[edit]