The Resistance in Austria, 1938-1945


Radomir V. Luza

The Resistance in Austria, 1938-1945 was first published in 1984.

The Austrians were the first people outside the German Reich to fall under Hitler’s rule, and they remained under the Nazi regime longer than any others. For modern Austria -- one of several states created with the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918 -- the interwar years were marked by economic instability and political polarization; the idea of Anschluss -- unification with Germany -- appealed to many Austrians, even though it was expressly forbidden by the 1919 peace treaty. When Anschluss finally happened, in March 1938, it was imposed on Austria by Germany. The change of power went smoothly, and German troops were greeted by cheering crowds. Nazi rule was accepted by those who felt that Austrians were part of the German nation, or that the country’s serious economic and social problems could best be solved within a dynamic and prosperous Greater Germany. Only a minority of Austrians clung to pre-Anschluss concepts of national identity, and from their ranks came the even tinier minority that formed the Austrian Resistance.

Radomir Luza’s Resistance in Austria is the first scholarly treatment of the subject to appear in English. Based largely on primary sources, including interviews with surviving resisters, Luza’s book is an objective yet compelling account of the movement’s origins and development. The Austrian Resistance was made up of people of conscience who spanned the political spectrum. Luza describes the early Resistance as an array of clandestine movements with a constantly changing cast, as Gestapo arrests eroded the front ranks of activists. In the years between Anschluss and the war’s end, nine fairly distinct groups participated in the Resistance, sometimes in concert, sometimes alone, but always with a remarkable sense of solidarity, and at least one motivating factor -- Austrian patriotism -- that overrode ideological differences. These groups ranged from Legitimists, who supported a Habsburg restoration, to the Communists -- highly organized, long familiar with an underground existence, and always subject to death in Nazi purges. Luza also shows how the Austrian Resistance differed from that in other occupied countries. The presence of a strong native National Socialist Party meant that Austrian resisters could not count on wide support in the populace; they were isolated internally as well as from the outside world.

Luza’s book centers upon three main phases of the Resistance that evolved gradually under the impact of Nazi policies and the war itself. During the initial phase, diverse political groups, reacting with moral revulsion to the Nazi takeover, made an effort to reestablish Austrian independence. Infiltrated by the Gestapo, the main Communist, Legitimist, and Conservative-Catholic networks were destroyed by the end of 1940. A second, less amateurish generation of resisters took shape between 1941 and 1943. The role of Austrian Communists, and the arrests that silenced them and wrecked their networks, is the main theme of this phase. In the final state of Resistance, hardened survivors and new recruits became more focussed in their efforts; contacts with the United States and the Soviet Union -- and with Austrian military resisters -- made plans for armed uprising possible. Aside from these localized insurgencies in the spring of 1945, the principal activities of the Austrian Resistance were intelligence-gathering and sabotage. Its military significance was virtually nil but, as Luza makes clear, its moral, political, and psychological role was of vital importance -- to the individuals involved and, finally, in the postwar emergence of an independent Austrian state.

Radomir Luza, born in Prague, was active in the Czechoslovak Resistance during World War II. Now Professor Emeritus of History at Tulane University, he is the author of Austro-German Relations in the Anschluss Era and other books on central Europe.

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