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From the end of the war to state treaty

and neutrality: Austria 1945-1955

Neither the non-national-socialist political elite from before 1938 nor the broader

public knew precisely how to rehabilitate a democratic system in the aftermath of

two dictatorships.

Oliver Rathkolb

was born in Vienna in 1955,

received his doctorates in

law and history at the

University of Vienna and is

a university professor at

and head of the

Department of Contemporary

History of the

University of Vienna.

75 regime through the Allies, we still tend to

years after the end of the war and the

crushing of the national-socialist terror

take the rebuilding of the democratic structures carried

out by Austria’s provisional government under

Karl Renner for granted.

The founding of the Second Austrian Republic

through the proclamation of 27 April 1945 through

the representatives of the recently established Austrian

People’s Party (ÖVP), the Social Democratic Party

of Austria (SPÖ) and the Communist Party of Austria

(KPÖ) is often brushed over as a given and part of the

“course of history”. Vienna, however, had just been liberated

by the Red Army on 13 April following bloody

and deadly battles. Austrian resistance groups had

played a strategically important but only marginal role

in all of this. Neither the non-national-socialist political

elite from before 1938 nor the broader public knew

precisely how to rehabilitate a democratic system in

the aftermath of two dictatorships, the Dollfuß-

Schuschnigg regime from 1933 to 1938 and the totalitarian

national-socialist terror from 1938 to 1945. In

the beginning, however, the political influence of the

Renner government was limited to the Soviet Zone,

i.e. Vienna, Lower Austria, what would later become

Burgenland and the Mühlviertel region in Upper Austria.

The incoming Western Allies, US units in Tyrol

from 28 April, the French army in Vorarlberg one day

later and British troops in Carinthia from 7 May, were

completely surprised and diplomatically speaking

quite irritated that – contrary to the initial agreements

between the Allies – there had been a one-sided Soviet

initiation and recognition of Renner’s provisional national

unity government prior to the establishment of

an Allied Commission. It would take many months

before the suspicion that Renner’s government was a

pro-Soviet and pro-Communist puppet government

could be refuted. This is why some of the Allies initially

refused to recognise the government.

In the first few months after the destruction of the

Nazi regime, British and US occupation authorities

initially prohibited any form of political activity in

their occupation zones. Only newspapers from the Allies

were permitted, even resistance activists were also

excluded. In Upper Austria and Salzburg, US forces

made use of a bureaucratic caretaker government.

Only in Tyrol – the French zone – the successful resistance

movement, which had also liberated Innsbruck,

was able to take a seat in the provincial administration

with Karl Gruber as a representative. The British, on

the other hand, initially also pursued total control like

the Americans.

What became clear relatively quickly was that it

was impossible to enforce a total “shut down” policy,

i.e. to ban any form of political activity. From August/

September 1945, the controls were loosened, and political

parties were permitted once again, and the first

Austrian party papers and independent press organs

were able to publish again. On 20 October, following a

conference by the provinces and the integration of politicians

from Western Austria into Renner’s government,

its jurisdiction was de facto extended by the

Allied Council over the whole of Austria. The Austrian

public – women especially, since over 64% of voters

were women – spoke at the National Council elections

of 25 November 1945 (44.6% Social Democratic Party

of Austria, 49.8% Austrian People’s Party, 5.4% Communist

Party of Austria) in favour of a westward

course for the nation.

The new government did not seek to engage with

the authoritarian Dollfuß-Schuschnigg regime of

Leopold Figl - the former concentration camp internee later

served as Austrian Chancellor and Foreign Minister.


1933–1938 politically but applied the “Burgfrieden”

truce concept in order to focus on working together

on the creation of an independent state and the withdrawal

of the four Allied Powers (USA, USSR, UK and

FR). Once again, the suffering endured under the Nazi

regime was used as a justification, as well as the “Geist

der Lagerstrasse” (“Spirit of the Camp Road”), denoting

the collective suffering of members of the Austrian

People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party of

Austria in the Nazi concentration camps, which helped

the brushing aside of earlier controversies. There

had, as a matter of fact, been selective contact with

concentration camps, but the majority of the 1945 Social

Democratic elite (such as Karl Renner, Adolf

Schärf or Oskar Helmer) had not been sent to one,

whereas several People’s Party politicians (such as Leopold

Figl, Felix Hurdes, Heinrich Gleissner or Lois

Weinberger) had gone through individual experiences

and were called upon for the indirect justification

of the non-engagement with the 1933/1934-1938 years.

The myth of the “Camp Road” was meant to put

an end to the past, just like the myth of the “victim

theory”, which posed that Austrian collaboration with

the Nazi destruction and expansion machinery could

be reduced to only a few perpetrators. The “Prussians”

were to blame for the Second World War and the Holocaust,

and the Allies were to be considered occupiers,

not liberators.

Accordingly, it was not a coincidence, but actually

mirrored to the political self-image of the society of

the Second Republic that Minister of Foreign Affairs

Leopold Figl was able to push through the annulment

of the “Co-responsibility Clause” prior to the conclusion

of the Austrian State Treaty of 1955 without much

debate. Figl was persuasive, since he had undergone

horrific torture as a political concentration camp prisoner

by the hands of Nazi henchmen. At the same

time, the Allies had achieved everything they had geostrategically

pushed for: The Soviet Union had imposed

higher withdrawal requirements in the form of

crude oil shipments and the USA were able to enforce

the rearmament of the western-oriented Austrian Armed

Forces, which, though it had been obliged to remain

militarily neutral through the Constitutional law

of 26 October 1955, ended up cooperating and sym-

pathising with the West and with NATO. Moreover,

western oil corporations received extensive oil and

natural gas drilling rights through the Vienna Memorandum.

The actual “father” of the State Treaty, however,

was Chancellor Julius Raab, who, after the death

of Joseph Stalin in 1953, pushed for direct talks and

negotiations with the Soviet Union, recognised the

window of opportunity in February 1955 as revealed

through his close confidante Ambassador Norbert Bischoff

in Moscow and agreed to a trip to Moscow in


After the accession of the Federal Republic of

Germany to NATO, the German question had been

solved through the partition of Germany and the

way had been paved for an Austrian solution as well,

since the new strongman in Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev,

demanded a summit meeting with new US President

Dwight D. Eisenhower. The prize for this was

the conclusion of the Austrian State Treaty: A winwin

situation for both superpowers and for Julius

Raab of the Austrian People’s Party and finally also

for the Social Democratic coalition partner and

Vince Chancellor Adolf Schärf and State Secretary

Bruno Kreisky at the top, who, despite some fears

and reservations, ultimately accepted the neutralisation

of Austria.


From the “bulwark of Germanity in the

east“ via the “bridge between the blocks“

to the “island of the blessed“ and a

member of the EU: Austria has changed,

but the simultaneity between megalomania

and an inferiority complex, between

engagement and isolation, has remained.

Zsolnay Verlag

ISBN 978-3-552-05723-4

English edition (1945-2005) published by

Berghahn Books

ISBN 978-1-78238-396-3

44 Cercle Diplomatique 2/2020

Cercle Diplomatique 2/2020


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