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Austria's Days of Horror: The July 15, 1927 Riots

Austria's Days of Horror: The July 15, 1927 Riots

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Published by DanWDurning
The riots and police shootings on July 15, 1927 were pivotal days in Austria's history.
The riots and police shootings on July 15, 1927 were pivotal days in Austria's history.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: DanWDurning on Dec 21, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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By Dan Durning
December 2011
1Long ago I heard of the July 15, 1927 disturbances in Vienna, including the burningof the Palace of Justice, but had never understood why this affair was of greatmoment for the First Austrian Republic. The topic became of interest again afterpurchasing some Austrian postcards published in the 1920s and early 1930s.Among them were one showing a scene from the July 15th riots and another withthe faces of 54 people killed during the clashes. Viewing these cards, I decided tolearn what had happened in Vienna during those days of turmoil and what theymeant.Researching topic, I was impressed by two things. First, the events of July 15-17,1927, were pivotal ones for Austria that helped enable the enemies of democracy toincrease their power and ultimately to destroy Austria's democratic institutions,including competing political parties. Second, the reporting of the events in theUnited States was so distorted by claims that the rioting was caused by communistsintent on a Bolshevik revolution that U.S. newspapers missed the story about theempowerment of the fascist Heimwehr an enemy of Austria's democracy.
Researching the Schreckentage, the Days of Horror
Many accounts of what happened on July 15, 1927, and the two days that followed,call them "die Schreckentage", translated "the Days of Horror" or "the Days of Terror." Those days of shocked most Austrians and stunned outside observers,making headlines in newspapers throughout the world.Although several books have been written (in German) about the July 15-17confrontations and their aftermath, contemporaneous accounts of the events enablea researcher to form his or her own impression of what was going on. Fortunately,Austrian newspaper stories covering the Schreckentage can be accessed at thiswebsite: http://anno.onb.ac.at/ This site contains digitized issues of a dozen or so newspapers published on July 16, 1927 and the days that followed. Included arethe newspapers of the Social Democrats and its allies (
Die Arbeiter-Zeitung
, and
) and the Christian Socialists (
), plusprovincial newspapers unsympathetic to the Social Democrats. These newspapersoffer differing accounts of what happened during the Schreckentage.Digital issues of many U.S. Newspapers published in July 1927 are also accessibleon-line. Several can be read at http://www.newspaperarchive.com/.(This same database of newspapers can be accessed through Ancestry.com.) Back issues of major newspapers such as the
New York Times
and the
Washington Post
arealso available on other sites.
Pivotal Moment on the History of the First Republic
Reading about the July 15-17, 1927 events, it is clear that they were pivotal for thepolitical developments that followed in Austria, including a short civil war in 1934and the creation of an Austro-fascist state soon after that. The importance of thisepisode in Austrian history is laid out persuasively by C. Carl Edmond, in his book
The Heimwehr and Austrian Politics 1918-1936
. According to Edmond:
2...the political effects of the bloodshed in Vienna on 15 July 1927, and of thenationwide strikes that followed, were so enormous that the crisis must beseen as a turning point in the history of the First Republic. That event openedthe way to a sustained counterrevolutionary thrust and the rapid growth of the Heimwehr, which played its most crucial role in Austrian politics between1927 and 1934. (p. 9)An astute observer of Austria's first republic, journalist M.W. Fodor, agreed with thisassessment. In his book,
South of Hitler
, published in 1939, he wrote:It was only after the revolt of the proletariat in Vienna on July 15, 1927 thatthe Fascists could induce the peasants to take a more active interest in theHeimwehr. The revolt, which was a spontaneous outbreak of the massesangered because of the acquittal of two Fascists who murdered twoSocialists, was unorganized and came very much against the will of theSocialist leaders. The low court jury which acquitted the Fascists wasconstituted mostly of Viennese sympathizers of the Socialists who did notrealize that their verdict would cause such an upheaval. But the skillfulpropaganda of the Heimwehr was able to spread the tale in the provincesthat it was an organized revolt, defeated only by the intervention of theHeimwehr. They declared that if the peasants did not realize that theirproperty was in danger, it would be too late next time when a betterorganized revolt would be maneuvered by the Vienna "Bolsheviks." Thisappeal, indeed, had a success, and the ranks of the Heimwehr swelledrapidly. (p. 156)Other historians and journalists whose work I have read agree with theseassessments of the importance of the July 15th clashes, though all do not agree onwhat happened that day and those that followed. While the major events of theSchreckentage are well documented, several key events (e.g., who shot first) andthe interpretation of the events are disputed, with competing narratives.
The Basic Facts of July 15, 1927
Early morning, July 15, 1927, a large group protestors marched to areas on theRing near the University, the Vienna City Hall, the Austrian parliament building, andthe nearby Palace of Justice to protest a court decision that freed three men whohad shot and killed Matthias Csmarits, a World War I veteran who had lost an eyein war, and Pepi Groessing, his-eight-year old nephew. These two had beenparticipating in a peaceful political march staged on January 30, 1927 by the SocialDemocratic party in Schattendorf, a small city in the Burgenland. They had beenshot by three members of the Freischutz, an anti-democracy group: Josef Tschermann, Hieronymus Tschermann, and George Pinter.

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