Orgy of Sadism in Vienna

“You all live up to your oath from Koenigsburg to Hamburg and down to Vienna. You do so in deepest emotions.”
- Hitler, from his hotel balcony in Vienna to overflowing crowds, quoted in The Times-Picayune, March 15, 1938

Our survivor Isaac Niederman lived in Satu-Mare, Romania. His parents grew up in the old Habsburg Empire and had fond memories of Vienna, the once glittering imperial capital. Isaac was fourteen when the Nazis seized Austria in March 1938. He along with the other Jews in his world heard the stories about how terrible the Nazis treated the Jews in Vienna. But Isaac reminds us in his documentary that anti-Semitism had always been a part of Jewish existence in Central Europe.

On March 11, 1938, Hitler ordered the German armed forces to seize and occupy his native Austria, a task he had set out for himself in the first page of his autobiography My Struggle. But the German troops were not prepared to occupy a neighboring country and ran out of gas on the highway to Vienna. Everywhere they were greeted by flowers strewn at their feet. The Anschluss, or union with Austria, became known as the “flower war.” The Jews of Vienna were treated to a different kind of war. The Jewish writer Stefan Zweig wrote: “All the morbidly filthy hate fantasies orgiastically conceived in the course of many nights were released in broad daylight.” He later immigrated to South America and committed suicide

Life for the Jews of Vienna changed overnight and would never be the same.

The Times-Picayune, with articles from The Associated Press and the International News Service, gave considerable coverage to the Anschluss. The articles certainly gave a vivid depiction of the euphoria that gripped Vienna.

Despite the headline, the article didn’t mention anything about Jews pleading for refuge in America. It stressed the dire circumstances of the Viennese Jews: “Jews were disappearing from Vienna life. Few, if any, were to be seen on the streets or in the coffee houses. Jews were asked to leave streetcars. Some were not molested if they gave the Hitler salute.”

Hitler arrived in Vienna on March 14, 1938. Church bells began peeling as soon as soon as he entered the city. The swastika flew from the Archbishop’s palace. The archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Theodore Innitzer, petitioned his diocese “to offer thanks to the Lord God for the bloodless course of the great political change and to beg for a happy future Austria.” “Naturally all order of officials should be fulfilled willing.” Innitzer would later urge Austrians to vote ‘Ja’ in the plebiscite, approving of the Anschluss. Hitler drove into Vienna and was “the master of all he surveyed.”

The Times-Picayune published an editorial on March 14, 1938, which suggested that “Hitler is sure this latest conquest will not be forcibly challenged – and doubtless already is planning his next.”

There were “frenzied thousands” lining his route to the old imperial capital. Outside Hitler’s hotel the crowds were “cheering with a zeal that amounted to religious fervor.” He spoke from the balcony of the Imperial Hotel on March 14, 1938: “You all live up to your oath from Koenigsburg to Hamburg and down to Vienna. You do so in deepest emotions.”

That oath would take Austrian soldiers all the way to Stalingrad, where so many perished. Hitler proclaimed, “The German Reich as it stands today is inviolable. No one can shatter us.”

The terror that gripped the Jewish community was made plain in an AP article (page 3) on March 15, 1938: “The world of Austria’s Jews fell around their shoulders. Thousands attempted to flee. Physicians and lawyers were prevented from practicing. Jewish stores were plundered. Jews were beaten and arrested. The Jewish residential districts were on in a panic.”

The terror directed against the Jews was actually far worse than depicted by this article. We know that Austrian Nazis [SA men] seized Jews in the former glittering capital and forced them to scrub the streets and walls with toothbrushes. Crowds gathered to observe the spectacle and spat abuse at the helpless and often elderly Jews. The American journalist William Shirer was a CBS radio correspondent in Vienna and witnessed the first days of the Anschluss:

“For the first few weeks the behavior of the Viennese Nazis was worse than anything I had seen in Germany. There was an orgy of sadism. Day after day large numbers of Jewish men and women could be seen scrubbing Schuschnigg [former Austrian chancellor] signs off the sidewalk and cleaning gutters. While they worked on their hands and knees with jeering storm troopers standing over them, crowds gathered to taunt them. Hundreds of Jews, men and women, were picked off the streets and put to work cleaning public latrines and the toilets of the barracks where the SA and the SS were quartered. Tens of thousands more were jailed. Their worldly possessions were confiscated or stolen. I myself, from our apartment in the Plosselgasse, watched squads of S.S. men carting off silver, tapestries, paintings and other loot from the Rothschild palace next door.”

Absent from the newspaper’s coverage was any reference to the hundreds of Jewish people who committed suicide. The Nazis chortled about these suicides and listed them in the newspapers under “Traffic accidents.”

The Times-Picayune published an editorial on March 15, 1938, suggesting that Great Britain was reconsidering its policy of appeasement towards Hitler in view of his naked aggression against Austria. In this instance the newspaper was far off the mark, as the Abandonment of Czechoslovakia would demonstrate six months later.

A political cartoon on the editorial page of The Times-Picayune described the Anschluss in ways that words could not.

Hitler spoke at the Heldenplatz on March 15, 1938, before a vast crowd: “In this hour I report to the German people the greatest achievement of my life. As leader and chancellor of the great German nation and of the Reich, I declare to declare to history the entrance of my native land into the German Reich.”

This photograph appeared in The Times-Picayune four months after the Anschluss and indicates the massive and poisonous Nazi propaganda that blanketed Vienna.

What was going on behind the scenes and unreported in the newspapers? Jewish businesses were Aryanized - that is, forced to sell their businesses to Aryans in a transaction that was one-sided and a big financial loss. In Vienna an estimated thirty-five hundred Nazis, untrained for the job, grabbed Jewish businesses and acted as commissars (managers). The greed in Vienna ran out of control. The Nazis stepped on one another to get at the fabled Jewish wealth.

In an ominous and terrifying development, the SS officer Adolf Eichmann (an Austrian) established the Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna, at the confiscated Rothschild palace. It was here that Jews, much alarmed by the terror, found their emigration facilitated by Eichmann’s diligent bureaucrats. The Jews relinquished one document (and piece of property) at every step of the way until receiving the prized exit papers (a visa from the U. S. Consulate was a separate matter). Eichmann employed the existing Jewish leadership to assist with emigration matters. He would later employ their services to facilitate the deportation and destruction of the Austrian Jews. The demands of forced emigration were not so different from the demands of mass murder: terror; identification; expropriation; concentration; expulsion; extermination.