The Austrian Resistance 1938-1945

Title:                      The Austrian Resistance 1938-1945

Author:                 Wolfgang Neugebauer

Neugebauer, Wolfgang (2014), translated from the German by John Nicholson und Eric Canepa. The Austrian Resistance 1938-1945. Vienna: Edition Steinbauer

LCCN:    2014409221

D802.A9 .N48 2014

Uniform title

LC Subjects


  • Revised and expanded English version of the German edition of 2008.

Date Posted:      October 25, 2017

Review by Martin Malek[1]

The Viennese historian Wolfgang Neugebauer (not to be confused with a German historian of the same name) worked from 1969 in the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, or DOW) and was from 1983 to 2004 its scientific director. He is also Honorary Professor at the University of Vienna and author of numerous publications on resistance and persecution in Austria from 1934 (when democracy was abolished) to 1945, the justice system and euthanasia during Nazi rule in Austria (1938–45), right-wing extremism in Austria after 1945, the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, or FPO) and the history of Austrian Social Democracy. The book under review is based on a translation of Neugebauer’s 2008 book Der österreichische Widerstand, 1938–1945, but several chapters have been revised and expanded.

The film of Adolf Hitler’s speech at Heroes’ Square in central Vienna on 15 March 1938, which over the decades has been shown over and over again, suggested overall support for National Socialism in Austria. There were, however, always different forms of opposition as well, which are covered by this volume in an introduction, 18 sections and a final chapter. Resistance emanated from Communists, Socialists and other leftwing groups; Conservatives and Legitimists; Catholics (with Franz Jagerstatter as an especially noteworthy case), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, etc.; Jews; Austrians in exile; Allied commando operations (at least 10,000 Austrians fought in the Allied armies against Germany); partisans, especially consisting of Carinthian Slovenes; Austrians in the German military (with Carl Szokoll the best known); cross-party groups like the O5, founded in 1944; prisons and concentration camps where tens of thousands of Austrians were detained; and individuals (including well-known help for persecuted Jews and the forbidden listening of Allied radio broadcasts, but also almost unknown resistance to the Nazi euthanasia programme and espionage for the benefit of the Allies). A separate chapter illustrates the repression apparatus in the shape of the Nazi Party, the Gestapo, the concentration camps, the police, the security service, the courts, etc.

Communists, many of which had been (i.e. before 1938) Social Democrats, were dominant in the resistance (cf. pp. 58–9, 81). In no other period of its history, did the – naturally forbidden – Austrian Communist Party, acting undercover, play a more significant role than during Nazi rule (p. 82). The author maintains that Stalin’s crimes give no reason to disregard the communist resistance (p. 114). However, it would have been possible to add at this point that the Communist Party explicitly denounced a post-war reincarnation of Austria as ‘bourgeois-democratic’ republic (as it was established in 1945), but advocated a Soviet political system.

The Holocaust claimed 66,000 lives in Austria. About 9500 Austrians (including those condemned by German military courts) were executed. During the euthanasia programme, between 25,000 and 30,000 people were killed. Furthermore, 9000 Roma were murdered (p. 256). This means that, due to political persecution, roughly 110,000 Austrians were put to death (which would have been augmented by the figures for civilians and soldiers who perished in the war, but they are not the subject of this book).

The author emphasizes that National Socialism, keen erase any kind of Austrian identity, achieved the opposite. This refers especially to political prisoners: “In almost all prisoner accounts we see that the Austrians saw themselves as Austrians and that most of them had a vision of an independent Austria in the future” (section 224). This would have important consequences for the period after 1945, when–in complete contrast to the First Austrian Republic after 1918–the idea of unification with Germany was “dead” and nobody doubted Austria‘s independence and viability.

Overall, this book offers an excellent survey of all forms of resistance against the Nazi regime in Austria, based on archive documents which were collected, evaluated and reviewed over decades. Tiny inaccuracies – for example, the German toponym “Weisrussland” has to be translated as “Belorussia” and not as “White Russia” (p. 209)–by no means change the fact that this volume deserves the widest possible distribution.

[1] Martin Malek, “Austrian and German Studies,” accessed at

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One Response to The Austrian Resistance 1938-1945

  1. Pingback: Vienna Spies | Intelligence Fiction

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