1938-1945 1949-1956

Occupied Austria, 1945-1949

Status and Foreign Policy : In 1945, Austria was treated as a defeated nation. like Germany partitioned into 4 zones of occupation, as was the capital city of Vienna (which coincidentally, as in the case of Berlin, was completely surrounded by the Soviet zone of occupation). The Allies agreed on Austrian independence to be restored.
In late 1945 an Austrian government was formed. The responsibility to administrate Austria was given to the new government, while the role of the Allies was understood as rather supervisory. In the unfolding Cold War, Austria, however, became a victim of confrontation between the USSR and the three western Allies over a number of issues.
In 1946 the Austrian government lobbied for the separation of South Tyrol from Italy and the reannexation of the area into Austria. The Allies did not support Austria in this matter; Italy granted political autonomy to the region. In 1947 Italy was given her peace treaty; Austria and Italy established diplomatic relations (despite Austria not being fully independent). Yugoslavia claimed parts of Carinthia, an issue used by the USSR to block peace negotiations. During the year 1949, with the rift between Yugoslavia and the USSR becoming permanent, the USSR dropped this issue.
In 1947 Italy, Bulgaria and Romania were given peace treaties; Austria hoped for the same. Negotiations, however, were not concluded due to differences between the positions of the USSR on one side and the three western powers on the other. In 1947 Britain declared to be at peace with Austria. The construction of the Iron Curtain by Czechoslovakia and Hungary interrupted Austrian trade.

Domestic Policy : Austria had been regarded as the first victim of Nazi aggression, but Austrians had contributed to the Nazi atrocities; Austrians such as Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Arthur Seyss-Inquart were among the defendants in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.
Despite the partition in 4 zones of occupation, Austria was treated as one political unit (a state to be); a democratic constitution (1945) laid the foundation for the reemergence of political parties etc. Austrians were given the right to administrate their own affairs, as long as they got approval from the Allies (i.e. the approval from every one of the 4 Allies) for their measures.
Under the circumstances - there was a considerable refugee problem, the economy had to be set on a peacetime footing again, many men had fallen in the war or were still P.O.W.s, others were suddenly returning - political infights took second stage and a Grand Coalition was formed to asministrate political affairs, consisting of two large parties - the ÖVP (Peoples Party), the SPÖ (social democrats) and one smaller party, the communists. The independents (liberals) would form an opposition. The constitution of 1920 (with 1929 amendments) was readopted.
In 1946-1947 a policy of Denazification was pursued to eliminate ex-Nazis from administration and the economy. Roughly half a million Austrians were affected, because of membership in NS organizations. While trials against those former Nazis guilty of war crimes proceeded slowly, the mass of party members not guilty of any criminal act was long treated as outcasts, banned from public office/service, burdened with additional taxation. In 1947-1948 discrimination against them was scaled down/terminated.
The Austrian government faced numerous problems, not the least her dependence on Allied approval for their actiions; the western Allies did not cause much problems, the USSR did, by insisting on the confiscation of property deemed as German, creating obstacles when it came to the implementation of some decisions of the Austrian government affecting the Soviet Zone of Occupation etc.
The government emphasized feeding the population, reconstruction. Many industries were nationalized. In the summer of 1947, Austria reached a critical point. Many Austrians realized that the conditions under which they had to live were worse than late in the war. The Soviets engineered a mass demonstration intending to force the government to resign. The Austrian communists attempted, in secret negotiations with members of the ÖVP, to form a new government which would exclude the SPÖ.
The 'Sovietization' of Austria failed, for a number of reasons - Soviet ability to manipulate conditions was limited to the Soviet Zone; Austria's Communists were, overall, rather weak, and the Marshall Plan in 1948 lead to a rapid improvement in living conditions. Reports about events in Hungary and later Czechoslovakia served as a warning to Austrians. In Nov. 1947 the sole communist cabinet minister resigned; for the next two decades Austria was governed by a grand coalition of People's Party (ÖVP) and Social Democrats (SPÖ).

Demography : Several thousand DPs - displaced persons (many of whom citizens of eastern European countries who had fled to Austria to escape Communism) were held in camps in Austria's three western zones. Austrian P.O.W.s were held by the Allied forces; the western powers released most prisoners after a short time; the Soviets began to release prisoners in 1946, but some were held for many more years. The Soviets even deported Austrians to work in Russia.
The soldiers of the occupying powers have to be regarded as temporary residents (68,500 at the beginning of 1950).

The Economy : The partition of Austria into four zones of occupation, limits placed on the authority of the Austrian government, mainly by the USSR, were obstacles on the road to recovery. The construction of the Iron Curtain by Czechoslovakia and Hungary cut Austria off from her traditional trade partners. Economic recovery was comparatively slow; Austria in the 1940es was recipient of food donations and beneficiary of other acts of charity. Recovery made rapid progress in 1948, when Austria benefitted from Marshall Plan aid.
When analyzing Austria's economy in these years, the huge costs of the occupation have to be taken into consideration. In early 1950, 68,500 foreign soldiers were still stationed in Austria, 44,000 of them Soviet. Only the U.S. could finance their occupation force. The USSR attempted to confiscate property in Austria, and, after her hopes to turn Austria into another satellite state had failed, concentrated on gaining as much as possible.
Rationing of bread and flour was lifted early in 1949; the Schilling currency had been introduced in December 1945, but until into 1948 there was a huge discrepancy between fixed official prices and black market prices. The thriving black market was largely supplied by individual soldiers of the forces of occupation, who could pass the borders unchecked with truckloads of goods. The black market declined in 1948, when Marshall Plan aid improved the situation.
Actually, the Soviets attempted to cash in on Austria's new wealth by opening a chain of stores where clothes and other items brought into the country without paying import tariffs were offered; the Austrian government called on the people to boycott these stores.

Culture : Athletes from Austria were permitted to compete in the Summer Olympic Games held in London in 1948, where they won 1 gold medal and 3 bronze medals.

Library of Congress, Country Studies : Austria
Wendepunkte der Entwicklung des Parlamentarismus in Österreich 2.10 Die Zweite Republik , (The Second Republic), from Austrian Parliament
Entry Austria, from Global History of Currencies by Bryan Taylor
Entnazifizierung in Österreich (Denazification in Austria), from Nationalsozialismus in Österreich
DOCUMENTS List of Austrian Presidents, Chancellors etc., from World Statesmen
Historical Population Statistics : Austria, from Population Statistics, at Univ. Utrecht
Primary Sources of 20th century Austrian History , from Zeitgeschichte Information System : Planung und Politik der Alliierten 1940-1954 (Planning and Policy of the Allies, regarding Austria); Österreich unter alliierter Besatzung 1945-1955 (Austria under Allied Occupation, 1945-1955); Der Weg zum Staatsvertrag (The road to the Staatsvertrag); Die Grosse Koalition 1945-1966 (The Grand Coalition 1945-1966)
Control Machinery in Austria; July 4, 1945, from Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Image from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Joint allied patrol in Austria (one Soviet, one US, one British, one French officer in the same jeep)
Ernest's Story : Life under Russian Occupation, from Stories from the 1940's, Vienna
Wien im Rückblick (Vienna in Retrospect), summaries of events 1945-1961 on a day-by-day basis, from Wiens Web Service (in German) : 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, in German, secondary sources, based on sources from Vienna City Hall's Archive
Map : Austria and the Marshall Plan (featuring where Marshall aid was invested, 1948-1950), from Marshall Plan Exhibit at Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag (NL)
Österreich und der Marshall Plan (facsimile of book cover; illustrated document edition), from Marshall Plan Exhibit at Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag (NL)
"Liberators and the Liberated", "Occupiers and the Occupied", documents of Americans in Austria 1945 to 1955, from H net
Olympic Games 1948, Final Medal Standings, from Olympic Museum
UN General Assembly 2nd Session 1947-1948, Resolution 122;
REFERENCE Hellmut Andics, Die Insel der Seligen (The Island of the Holy), Wien )1968) : Goldmann 1980, in German [G]
Vienna Still Alive, pp.283-304 in : John Gunther, Behind the Curtain, NY : Harper & Bros. (1948) 1949 [G]
Article : Austria, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1946 p.89, 1947 pp.90-91, 1948, pp.88-89, 1949 pp.81-82, 1950 pp.82-84 [G]
Article : Austria, in : Americana Annual 1947 pp.61-63 (on events of 1946); Occupied Territories pp.515-518 [G]
Article : Austria, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia 1946 pp.63-65 [G]

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First posted in 2000, last revised on August 20th 2008

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