AUSTRIA'S DAYS OF HORROR
THE JULY 15, 1927 RIOTS IN VIENNA AS REPORTED BY THE U.S. PRESS AND THEIR IMPACT ON AUSTRIA
By Dan Durning
Long ago I heard of the July 15, 1927 disturbances in Vienna, including the burning of the Palace of Justice, but had never understood why this affair was of great moment for the First Austrian Republic. The topic became of interest again after purchasing some Austrian postcards published in the 1920s and early 1930s. Among them were one showing a scene from the July 15th riots and another with the faces of 54 people killed during the clashes. Viewing these cards, I decided to learn what had happened in Vienna during those days of turmoil and what they meant. 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 to increase their power and ultimately to destroy Austria's democratic institutions, including competing political parties. Second, the reporting of the events in the United States was so distorted by claims that the rioting was caused by communists intent on a Bolshevik revolution that U.S. newspapers missed the story about the empowerment 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 15-17 confrontations and their aftermath, contemporaneous accounts of the events enable a researcher to form his or her own impression of what was going on. Fortunately, Austrian newspaper stories covering the Schreckentage can be accessed at this website: 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 are the newspapers of the Social Democrats and its allies (Die Arbeiter-Zeitung, Mitteilungs-Blatt, and Tagblatt) and the Christian Socialists (Reichspost), plus provincial newspapers unsympathetic to the Social Democrats. These newspapers offer differing accounts of what happened during the Schreckentage. Digital issues of many U.S. Newspapers published in July 1927 are also accessible on-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 are also 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 the political developments that followed in Austria, including a short civil war in 1934 and the creation of an Austro-fascist state soon after that. The importance of this episode in Austrian history is laid out persuasively by C. Carl Edmond, in his book The Heimwehr and Austrian Politics 1918-1936. According to Edmond: 1
...the political effects of the bloodshed in Vienna on 15 July 1927, and of the nationwide strikes that followed, were so enormous that the crisis must be seen as a turning point in the history of the First Republic. That event opened the way to a sustained counterrevolutionary thrust and the rapid growth of the Heimwehr, which played its most crucial role in Austrian politics between 1927 and 1934. (p. 9) An astute observer of Austria's first republic, journalist M.W. Fodor, agreed with this assessment. 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 that the Fascists could induce the peasants to take a more active interest in the Heimwehr. The revolt, which was a spontaneous outbreak of the masses angered because of the acquittal of two Fascists who murdered two Socialists, was unorganized and came very much against the will of the Socialist leaders. The low court jury which acquitted the Fascists was constituted mostly of Viennese sympathizers of the Socialists who did not realize that their verdict would cause such an upheaval. But the skillful propaganda of the Heimwehr was able to spread the tale in the provinces that it was an organized revolt, defeated only by the intervention of the Heimwehr. They declared that if the peasants did not realize that their property was in danger, it would be too late next time when a better organized revolt would be maneuvered by the Vienna "Bolsheviks." This appeal, indeed, had a success, and the ranks of the Heimwehr swelled rapidly. (p. 156) Other historians and journalists whose work I have read agree with these assessments of the importance of the July 15th clashes, though all do not agree on what happened that day and those that followed. While the major events of the Schreckentage are well documented, several key events (e.g., who shot first) and the 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 the Ring near the University, the Vienna City Hall, the Austrian parliament building, and the nearby Palace of Justice to protest a court decision that freed three men who had shot and killed Matthias Csmarits, a World War I veteran who had lost an eye in war, and Pepi Groessing, his-eight-year old nephew. These two had been participating in a peaceful political march staged on January 30, 1927 by the Social Democratic party in Schattendorf, a small city in the Burgenland. They had been shot by three members of the Freischutz, an anti-democracy group: Josef Tschermann, Hieronymus Tschermann, and George Pinter.
A court decision freeing them had been rendered in the evening of July 14th. When workers opened their newspapers on the morning of July 15th, they read front-page stories headlined: The Schattendorfer Murderers Declared Innocent: No Punishment for the Blood of Workers (Das Kleine Blatt) The Murderers of Workers Declared Innocent: The Bloody Day of Schottendorf Unexpiated (Die Arbeiter-Zeitung) Outraged by the court decision as described in the Social Democrat's newspapers, they, in large numbers, laid down their tools and marched to seats of power on and near the Ring to protest. This march from the workers' districts of Vienna to the Ring was, from all accounts, a spontaneous action. It caught both the police and the leaders of the Social Democratic party by surprise, and both were unprepared to deal with the mass gathering. The police had too few officers on duty to protect all of the major government buildings. Also, the Social Democratic leaders were unable to mobilize the Republic Guard -- its militia -- to help ensure order. The accounts of the day show that the crowds kept growing in number from the time initial group arrived, around 8:00 a.m. The size of the crowd at its peak was likely 200,000 people or more. Though many of the facts about the march and its aftermath are still contested, some facts are well documented. They include these: by 10 a.m. a huge crowd had gathered in the plaza in front of the Palace of Justice, a large building next to the Parliament, which was guarded by a small contingent of security and police offices. For reasons that are not certain, shortly after 10 a.m. Vienna police rode into the crowd on horses with sabers drawn, and soon after that they shot into the crowds of marchers. Then, some demonstrators picked up rocks, lumber, and tools from nearby construction sites to use against the police. Some in the enraged crowd stormed the Palace of Justice, routing the security officers. By noon, the building was on fire and several police officers, who escaped the rioters, were trapped in it. Efforts of the fire department to douse the fire were stopped by the crowd, and the building's interior was gutted, causing the loss of huge numbers of important records and documents. Other buildings were also burned, including a building near the Palace of Justice that housed the Reichspost (the newspaper of the Christian Democrats) and a few police stations. At about 2:30 p.m., police armed with military rifles appeared on the scene and began firing. Battles between groups of workers and armed policemen continued at different locations during the rest of the day and into the night. Some limited violence resumed the next day.
As the discord grew, the Social Democratic Party rushed its Republic Guard to help stop the rioting and urge its members to go home and stay off the streets. As it exhorted its members to end violence, it called for a nation-wide strike. The strike closed telegraph and telephone communications, railroads and airports, and other services such as street cars. Reaction to the riot and the nation-wide strike was strongly negative outside of Vienna, and in some provinces, anti-strike groups threatened strikers and took over services. The Social Democratic party received reports that the Heimwehr was having success mobilizing volunteers to march to Vienna to stop the strike and battle the Socialist. On Sunday, July 17, the Social Democrats announced an end to the strike at midnight. During the three days from Friday, July 15 to Sunday July 17, about 85 marchers and bystanders were killed, as were four police officers. About 600 police officers were wounded, 120 of them badly. Between 300 to 500 civilians were wounded. Over 1,300 people were arrested. Among the disputed facts about the three days are these: (1) were any of the marchers (called a mob by most newspapers) armed with guns, (2) did the marchers fire guns at the police before they fired into the crowd, (3) were attacks on police justified after the police had fired on the crowds and continued to shoot at protestors throughout the city, (4) was the march an attempt to seize power rather than a protest, and (5) did communists have a significant role in the violence that occurred? Three competing narratives that followed the Schreckentage had these basic points: Socialists: A large group of workers came to protest peacefully an unjust decision; this unarmed group of protesters was fired upon without provocation by policemen. This violence enraged the marchers who, lamentably, retaliated by burning the Palace of Justice and other buildings. In short, the days of horror resulted from indiscriminate violence used against peaceful protesters at the instigation of the Austrian Prime Minister and the head of the Vienna police. The people who were killed were heroes. Christian Socialists (the main ruling party): A mob, some of whom were armed, attacked the Palace of Justice. With inadequate numbers to stop the mob, and after shots were fired at them, the police officers fired first into the air, then at the ground, then at protesters threatening them. The mob violence was due to agitation by communists and other provocateurs. The government responded with the force needed to restore order. The policemen and others who restored order were heroes. The Heimwehr and other right-wing groups: The "Red" march was a planned effort to overthrow the Austrian government and create a Bolshevist government, such as the one that ruled Hungary for several years after WWI. This revolution was planned and encouraged by Moscow and communists from other countries. It was 4
narrowly averted by the actions of the police, and it should have been crushed more decisively with the Socialist leaders punished. Because the Heimwehr helped resist the revolution and helped put an end to the nation-wide strike, its members were heroes. Eyewitness Description Several journalists wrote eyewitness accounts of the Schreckentage. One of the most detailed was written by an English journalist, G.E.R. Gedye. This account is more in tune with the Socialist Democrat's narrative than the other two. It is contained in his book, Betrayal in Central Europe, published in 1939, after the Anschluss. According to him, the court verdict on the Schattendorf murders came at 10:00 p.m. on July 14th. By that time, the police had been standing by for forty-eight hours in case trouble came after the verdict was read. Nothing happened that night, and early in the morning of July 15th, the Police President Johann Schober sent the weary policemen home. The trouble started when workers came to their job places and read about the "scandalous acquittal." Geyde wrote: Impromptu meetings called by the shop stewards quickly resulted in resolutions to down tools in protest against this "class injustice" and march in peaceful procession, men, women and children, to the Inner City, around the Parliament Building and back to the workers' suburbs to disperse. Such processions were not unusual in Republican Vienna. Usually discipline for such marches was maintained by Republican Defense Corps [the militia of the Social Democratic Party] marching as an escort. However, this march began too quickly to get them in place. When the large group of protesters arrived at the Parliament and the Justice Palace, the police had only a small force there to protect the buildings. Most of the police reserves were at home. Gedyes described what he saw: When I reached Parliament at about ten o'clock, the Ringstrasse was filled with thousands of workmen, men and women, marching in orderly procession. After I had watched them for about a quarter of an hour, I saw the procession stop, apparently unable to make headway. They carried banners protesting against the class injustice of the Schattendorf verdict, but were perfectly good-tempered, as photos prove which I took from the steps of a tramcar showing them laughing and joking among themselves at the delay. Suddenly there came a sound of firing a few streets away, somewhere behind Parliament. At that distance the isolated shots sounded no more dangerous than those of popguns; they were the revolvers of the police. Almost simultaneous on the Schmerlingplatz, the square in front of the 5
Palace of Justice, I saw the flash of sabers in the bright sunshine above the heads of the crowd and the cry arose "Man schiesst auf uns" [someone is shooting at us]. It was the beginning of one of the most bloodthirsty twentyfour hours in the history of Vienna. The police had blundered badly and more than one high official lost his head...At the root of the problem was the blunder of Police President Dr. Schober in allowing the police to disperse to their homes as 6 a.m. On the most normal days, when there was no question of a political demonstration, 150 men were always held ready for duty, guarding Parliament. On this day there were only 67 men to guard both Parliament and the Palace of Justice. Their commandant made the serious blunder of barring the line of march to the hundreds of thousands of workers, instead of keeping them moving round the buildings and so back towards the factory areas in the outer suburbs as the marcher had planned. Immediately confusion was created in the ranks and the whole temper of the demonstrators changed. Whether the police drew their revolvers or the workers threw stones first was never definitely settled and is not important. The vital point is that the nervousness of several police commandants with insufficient forces at their disposal turned a peaceful protest demonstration into bloody street-fighting. The worst thing of all was to give the order to a few dozen mounted police to charge these enormous crowds. [p. 22] ... The feeble charge of the mounted police was resisted and in a trice planks and cobblestones were seized from a neighbouring building under construction and barricades built up. Stones, chunks of wood and brickbats hurtled through the air. Men armed with planks and iron bars rushed at the mounted and foot police and started hamstringing their horses with knives. For two hours I was in the midst of the fight all round Parliament and on one occasion got a good photo of the business end of police revolvers, as the workers retreated behind me, hurling stones, and the police advanced towards me firing... [p. 23] .... The mounted police were driven back to the Palace of Justice, which was defended inside by police who eventually exhausted all their ammunition firing into the crowd. But before that happened wisps of smoke began to arise from the great building...The Palace of Justice was set well ablaze and the fire brigade prevented from coming to the rescue until the chairman of the Socialist Party and Burgomaster of Vienna, Karl Seitz and other Socialist leaders, came into the midst of the furious mob and mounted a fire-brigade ladder to make an appeal to reason. But by this time the flames had got beyond control and the building was lost. [pp. 23-24]
...Thanks to the Burgomaster's intervention, fire brigades had at last been able to get to work, when suddenly the firing took on a less popgun-like note. The Police President had armed the police with rifles and carbines. Worst of all, many of the men were using what was virtually dum-dum ammunition...inflicting terrible wounds where the lead splashed. [p. 24] ...The police had been inflamed during the day, deliberately or accidently, by all kinds of atrocity stories. The cap and uniform jacket of a policeman were hung derisively on a lamp-post outside a small police station from which the police were driven out. In an hour all the police believed a dozen policemen had been hanged there. The police took a terrible toll of the civilian population that afternoon. They started firing indiscriminately, not only in the neighborhood of the Ringstrasse but in many other parts of the city, on any little crowds, mostly of the curious, which collected. [p. 25] Though the police were firing wildly at workers, Social Democratic leaders refused to give the workers weapons to return fire. The Socialists had several hundred thousand rifles and thousands of machine-guns hidden in arsenals and homes. Instead the Socialist leaders declared a general strike, and the strike was broken within three days, thanks largely to the Heimwehr. (Geyde, p. 25). Geyde concluded his account with this: ...they buried the eighty-five civilian dead, seventy-five of them in graves of honor provided by the Socialist Municipality, while the police buried their fatal casualties, which totaled exactly four -- indisputable evidence of where the real guilt for the slaughter lay. p 27 Monsignore Seipel [the Austrian Chancellor] was victorious and utilized his victory to the utmost. The Government Press published the wildest and most distorted stories of a dangerous and well-planned Communist revolution desperate fighting. Despite the palpable untruth of this version in the face of many photographs showing the unarmed and perfectly orderly procession with its many women and children prior to the mounted-police provocation, the striking figures of the casualties and indisputable fact of Socialist possession of huge quantities of arms which were not issued, the story was very generally accepted abroad. p. 28 Reporting the Schreckentage in the United States Geyde's account of the July 15th events corresponds closely with the Social Democratic narrative of the Schreckentage. However, it contrasts sharply with the reporting on the event in American newspapers, which likely relied on information provided to reporters by the Austrian government. American newspapers, for the most part, made the story largely about communists and their attempt to take over 7
the Austrian government. Its stories backed the narratives of the Christian Socialists and the Heimwehr, plus the claims of Austria's two fascist neighbor, Italy and Hungary. The Atlanta Constitution, a part of the Chicago Tribune syndicate, had a front page story on July 16th about the Vienna riots, and one of its sub-headlines was "Communists Fight Police and Troops." The story by reporter George Seldes, an eye witness, described the situation as follows: In the streets of Vienna the mobs have created barricades and the police put up barriers. The police stormed the barricades of the mobs and the mobs stormed the barriers of the police. Terrible confusion reigns. When I [left] Vienna [to file the story in Bratislava] machine guns were firing from the parliamentary building and ambulances were dashing about wildly. The fire from the palace of justice lit up the whole city with pillars of flame. At 10 o'clock tonight the roof collapsed with a terrible crash. Then, the story takes on a twist likely promulgated by spokesmen for the Austrian national government: Communist agitators are in full control of the masses. They had been called out by the socialists who planned a quiet protest meeting but they lost control to the communists who staged the clashes with the police and used them to excite the red hot anger of the police. Workers who remained in the workshop were dragged out by the communists and threatened with death if they refused to follow the reds. This afternoon at 5 o'clock the rail men tried to start a train to Budapest. The communist heard it, dragged the engineer from the engine, hurled stones at the rail men and passengers and demolished the engines. (Seldes, Atlanta Constitution, July 16, 1927, p. 1) This story of the communist threat continued in another story Seldes wrote for the Chicago Tribune syndicate the same day: Foreign ambassadors and ministers have asked permission of the Austrian government to send troops from neighboring states into Vienna to suppress a communist uprising, which is threatening to turn Austria into a Soviet republic. This city of beauty tonight is smeared with bloodshed. The revolutionary outburst began at dawn. At noon, 50,000 persons faced machine gun fire and the dead were estimated at 30 and the injured at more than 100. Half a million people went, cowed and fearful, to bed. (Seldes, Atlanta Constitution, July 16, 1927, p. 5)
After those two opening two paragraphs, Seldes provided a vivid eye witness description of the events of the day, similar to the one provided by Geldes. His account is not one, at all, of "revolution" or a "communist uprising," but of a large group of marchers clashing with police. From all of the evidence provided in Seldes' eye-witness account, the purpose of the march was to protest a perceived injustice, not to "turn Austria into a Soviet republic." Given the very conservative, anti-communist political views of the Col. Robert McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune and its syndicate, which provided the dispatches to the Atlanta paper, it seems likely that Seldes stories were either edited or augmented to emphasize the angle of a communist threat. The New York Times' stories on July 16th were also full of misinformation. While Seldes had driven from Vienna to Bratislava to get his story wired to the U.S., the early edition of the NYT had no stories from its reporters on the July 15th events. Instead, it quoted other newspapers. The second paragraph of the July 16th (erly edition)story was this: The Turin correspondent of The Daily Mail [a British newspaper] reported that, according to news from Vienna, a Red dictatorship had been proclaimed in Austria. He added that Otto Bauer, the Socialist leader, had been seriously wounded." (Eye-witness describes Rioting, New York Times, July 16, 1927, p. 2) The story then quoted another eye witness account of July 15 events, this one from the Daily Mail's reporter in Vienna. This story is more pro-police than the other eye witness accounts. Likely this reporting was colored by the fact that the owner of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, was a friend of Mussolini and Hitler. A later edition of the NYT on July 16th had this front-page headline: RED RIOTS BATH VIENNA IN BLOODSHED; 40 TO 100 ARE KILLED AND 500 WOUNDED; SOVIET REPUBLIC THE AIM OF COMMUNISTS This story was written by Navarre Atkinson, and he started it with this lead paragraph: Austria may become a Soviet Republic before the day is out. At this moment the communists are leading a frenzied mob many thousand strong in control of Vienna. Of course these hyperventilating assertions were mostly non-sense. There was never a threat that communists would or could seize power in Vienna -- and a frenzied mob never controlled Vienna. On July 17th, the NYT had a long article by Navarre Adkinson with the headline:
"Violent Rioting Breaks Anew in Vienna as Red Strike Paralyzes all Austria; 250 Reported Dead in City, 100 Outside." He wrote: Actual bloodshed seems to have been started when the police and crowd clashed as the former attempted to prevent the crowds entering the Palace of Justice. Shots fired by unknown persons aroused the fury of the mob and forced the police to fire in earnest. This paragraph is in a section with a subtitle: "Crowd Fired First Shot." This subtitle is a claim that has never been proven. He wrote a little later in the story: Dreadful events occurred yesterday opposite the Parliament building when a solitary policeman, surrounded by three angry Communists, attempted to force them to get behind the police line. One Communist snatched the sabre from the officer and stabbed him to the heart. The reporter did not tell if he witnessed this event or how he determined the ideology of the three men involved in this fight. The story was not repeated in other newspapers that I read. Despite the description of the "communist murder" of a policeman, this story differed remarkable in tone from the previous ones in the NYT and others published on July 16th. It contained no claims about a communist revolution, and it called the people in the street a crowd instead of a "mob." In contrast, Seldes of the Chicago Tribune syndicate was still writing about communists in his story on July 18th with the headline, "246 Are Jailed as Vienna Riot Comes to an End": ...Communists have been arrested by the wholesale while 10,000 men in uniform are holding the streets.... The police admit that 256 persons have been arrested. Many Russian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian communists are among them... Buergermeister Seitz organized 2,000 republican guardsmen of the social democratic party, who have been placed at strategic points side by side with the national infantry. This measure prevents all except the communists from making trouble. There were two bloody battles last night between republican guards and communists in the district of Hernals. The communists killed two policemen and lost six dead. Twenty communists were wounded. When the republican guards came to the rescue of the police, the communists had succeeded in destroying the police station and erecting a barricade. In the battle around the barricade six more people were killed.... 10
Seldes again emphasized the communist angle of the riots. It is not clear how he identified the combatants as communists -- maybe they were enraged workers -nor does he explain the source for his assertions about the agitation by communists. If the sources were government spokesmen, then the information was likely more propaganda than fact. The New York Times story of July 20, 1927 by Navarre Atkinson returned to the communist narrative in its lead paragraph: The curtain on Friday's uprising which almost threw Austria into the hands of the Bolsheviki descends tomorrow with the funeral of eight Socialist among the ninety-one victims of the latest European clash involving Communism. The Socialist Government of the city will bury its dead with all the pomp and ceremony which the Government's restrictions will allow.... There is still a bitter discussion between the city and the government officials as to who is to blame for starting the trouble, but so far there is nothing to refute the stories of several eye-witnesses that the Communists who are now under arrest were the first to draw blood after inciting the mobs against the government. The attempted revolution demonstrated clearly the weakness of the Communists, the lack of sympathy for the Communists in Austria and the total lack of political power by the Socialists outside of Vienna and the corresponding strength there of Mgr. Seipel and his Government. .. ... Herr Pick, a German Communist Deputy of the Reichstag, who came to Vienna Sunday morning and two members of the Russian Legation in Berlin were arrested by the Viennese policy yesterday in a general round-up of Communists. The police assert that they found papers and documents on the three which sow that the Moscow authorities order the Communists in Austria to use the possible acquittal of the men accused of killing the Socialists as a provocation for riots which might act favorable for the Communists, or at least the Socialist interests. The arrests up to last night number 560, mostly Communists who entered Austria in the past two weeks, and are said to have been ordered to come here from Poland, Germany, Russia, and Hungary in preparation for a putsch. An NYT story by T. R. Ybarra published on July 21, 1927 ("Vienna Riot Dead Buried in One Grave") described the grief-filled burial of 57 people killed during the Schreckentage, including a small child that had been hit by a bullet while being carried in her father's arms and a 15 year old girl who was shot while watching the street fighting from the roof of her house. This article quotes Municipal Councilor Breitner, speaking as the representative of Vienna's Social Democratic Mayor Seitz 11
who was ill, as saying the police repeatedly fired without provocation on the crowds during the street rioting. He stated: "Against all precepts of law and humanity...policemen repeatedly fired without having been directly attacked and without previously warning the crowd to vacate certain places." According to the article "Dr. Breitner ridiculed the idea that the Communists had prepared for last week's excesses, declaring that they were due entirely to popular fury at what was considered a miscarriage of justice when the man thought guilty of murder of two Socialists were suddenly acquitted." Beyond the major newspaper reporting of the Schreckentage, smaller town papers relied on Associated Press and United Press reporting, which also had lurid headlines of a communist takeover of Austria. Here are some examples: "Red Dictatorship is Declared in Austria Following Bloody Riot" The Times Record (Zaneville, OH, July 16, 1927, p. 1) "Austrian Reds Seek to Stretch Riots into Revolt: One Report Has Red Dictatorship Already Proclaimed" (San Antonio Express, July 16, 1927, p. 1) "Russ Caught Up in Vienna Revolt" (Oakland Tribune, July 20, 1927, p. 1) Looking retrospectively at what happened on July 15 to July 17, from all available evidence, "communists" played a very minor role -- if any at all -- in the Schreckentage. There is no evidence that they (domestic or foreign) planned, led, or influenced in any significant way the riots that occurred. While individuals who identified themselves as communists may have urged others to violence, or engaged in it themselves, it is unproven that they acted together to try to overthrow the government. In fact, communists were not popular in Austria, even in Red Vienna. In elections held in April 1927, the Communist Party received only 70,000 votes out of over 3.6 million cast (less than 2 percent). In Vienna. the Party got only 10,000 votes. They had no seats in the Austria Parliament. As Dr. Breitner (see above) ridiculed the idea that the Schreckentage were planned by communists, one of the demonstrators, a Social Democrat who was a foreman at a soap factory, told a NYT reporter: "It is nonsense to say communists were instigators. There are not enough communists in Vienna to instigate a dogfight, much less a revolution." (Eyre, NYT, July 19, 1927, p. 8) Even the Christian Socialist Chancellor, Mgr. Ignatz Seipel, downplayed the role of communists in the rioting as July ended. At parliamentary debates on July 26, he 12
said, "By this revolt, Austria herself was wounded by her own citizens, not foreigners. The communists took advantage of the tumult for their own ends but did not instigate it." ("Hurl 'Lie' in Debate on Vienna Rioting," NYT, July 24, 1927, p. 9.) The wild, often hysterical claims about the role of communists in the July 1927 events, likely reflected (1) the efforts of the parties ruling Austria to justify the shooting by the Vienna police force and (2) the efforts of the growing fascist groups to discredit the Social Democrats. Just as Hitler later used anti-Bolshevist rhetoric as one of his tools for gaining power, the Christian Socialists and their allies -including the fascist groups -- successfully employed the non-existent threat of a Bolshevist revolution to justify the violence against Social Democrat marchers. The arrests of "communists" in the days following the end of the violence was part of the drama to convince people outside of Vienna that a Red threat had been averted. The propaganda of the Austrian Christian Socialists can be seen in this strange paragraph in a July 25th story in the Washington Post. The article reported that 300 prisoners had been charged with violence and proceeded to state this non sequitur: Half of these prisoners, the police report, are old criminals and their presence at the demonstrations showed, it is held, that the communists actually intended to precipitate a revolution. ("Vienna Girls of 15 Real Force Behind Orgy of Disorder," WP, July 25, 1927, p. 5) In the same WP story, this strange tale was used to support the government narrative about the events of July 15: Evidence now being brought to light shows that 15-year-old flappers, who have been listening to communist speeches for years, actually were more bloodthirsty than the men, the little girls putting the brains of one man, whose head has been split open, in their pocket handkerchiefs, and several others killing the horse of a policeman, then quartering the animal." (Vienna Girls of 15 Real Force Behind Orgy of Disorder, WP, July 25, 1927, p. 5) Such stories, and the early reporting on the Schreckentage by major newspapers in the United States, ensured that most readers in the United States would be sympathetic to the Christian Socialists and the Heimwehr, supporting their actions to end the "communist" riots and the national strike. In the end, they -- not communists -- proved to be the real threats to democracy in Austria. The Aftermath of the Schreckentage The riots and the burning of the Palace of Justice were a disaster for the Social Democrats and ultimately for the country. They weakened the Social Democratic party, and enabled the Heimwehr and other groups to strengthen their support among Austrians living outside Vienna.
On July 19, in the NYT, Navarre Atkinson wrote a story with the headline: "Loyal Moves Crush Revolt in Austria: Socialists Abandon Demands and End Strike." This story is about how "citizen groups" -- which were, in fact, private militias mobilized by the fascist Heimwehr -- had intimidated strikers and begun to organize an attack on Vienna. Atkinson wrote: "Red Friday" has been followed by the bluest Monday for Viennese Socialism. Today a Socialist attempt to dominate the Austrian Government went down to defeat. ... All over the provinces, according to messages pouring into the labor headquarters, the rural bourgeois were arming and planning a march to Vienna in the event the Socialists continued on Strike. (Navarre, NYT, July 19, 1927, p. 9) The July 19th story in the Washington Post called actions by the Social Democrats "unconditional surrender." The story stated: The united government parties have greatly enhanced their political prestige at the expense of the Social Democrats, who have been carrying obstructions against the Seipel government for the weeks past. ("Vienna Socialists and Labor Leaders Yield to Cabinet," WP, July 19, 1927, p. 3. Within seven years of the Schreckentage, following a short civil war, Austria's democracy had been destroyed and the Social Democratic party had been disbanded. Nearly eleven years later when the Fatherland Front, which was created by Chancellor Dollfuss to be the only political party in clerical-fascist Austria, had to confront the growing power of the Nazi Party, it lacked allies on the left to help repel the challenge.
Sources Consulted Atkinson, Navarre. 1927. Red Riots Bathe Vienna in Bloodshed; 40 to 100 Are Killed and 500 Wounded; Soviet Republic the Aim of Communists." New York Times, July 16, p. l. Atkinson, Navarre. 1927. Violent Rioting Breaks Anew in Vienna as Red Strike Paralyzes All Austria; 250 Reported Dead in City, 100 Outside. New York Times, July 17, p. 1 Atkinson, Navarre. 1927. Viennese Opposed to Trial by Jury. New York Times, December 18, p. E3.
Atkinson, Navarre. 1927. Loyal Moves Crush Revolt in Austria. New York Times. December 19, p. 9. Atkinson, Navarre. 1927. Vienna Socialist Will Bury 80 Dead. New York Times, July 20, p. 3. Burton-Page, Piers. Fruits of the Fire (a play), accessed at http://www.doderergesellschaft.org/pdf/fruitsofthefire.pdf Die Arbeitermörder Freigsprochen. 1927. Arbeiter-Zeitung, July 15, p. 1. (downloaded from http://www.dasrotewien.at/justizpalastbrand.html) Die Schattendorfer Mörder Freigesprochen: Keine Strafe für Arbeiterblut! 1927. Das Kleine Blatt, July 15 p. 1 (downloaded from http://www.dasrotewien.at/justizpalastbrand.html) Edmondson, C. Earl. 1978. The Heimwehr and Austrian Politics 1918-1936. University of Georgia Press. Eyewitness Describes Rioting. 1927. New York Times, July 16, p. 2. Eyre, Lincoln. 1927. Seek a Revolution, See Gemuetlichkeit. New York Times, July 19, p. 8. Fodor, M.W. 1939. South of Hitler. Houghton Mifflin Co. Gedye, G.E.R. 1939. Betrayal in Central Europe. Harpers & Brothers. Hindels, Josef. 1977. 15. Juli 1927: Nie Vergessen. Bund der Sozialistischen Freiheitkaempfer. "Hurl 'Lie' in Debate on Vienna Rioting." 1927. New York Times, July 29, p. 9. Leser, Norbert und Paul Sailer-Wlasits (Eds). 2002. 1927 – als die Republik brannte. Editional Va Bene. Luft, David. 1985. Austrian Intellectuals and the Palace of Justice Fire, in The Austrian Socialist Experiment, by Anson Rabinbach (ed). Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, pp. 151-156. Masek, Karin. 2004. Schattendorf und der Justizpalastbrand 1927 im Spiegel der Wiener Tagespresse. Seldes, George. 1927. Ambassadors Ask Troops as Vienna is Swept by Mobs. Atlanta Constitution, July 16, p. 1. Seldes, George. 1927. 256 Are Jailed as Vienna Riot Come to End. Atlanta Constitution, July 18, 1927. 15
Stieg, Gerald. 1990. Frucht des Feuers. Canetti, Doderer, Kraus und der Justizpalastbrand. Edition Falter im OeBV. "Vienna Girls of 15 Real Force Behind Orgy of Disorder." 1927. Washington Post, July 25, p. 5. "Vienna Socialists and Labor Leaders Yield to Cabinet." 1927. Washington Post, July 25, p. 3. Ybarra, T. R. 1927. Strike Collapses Like British One. New York Times, July 20, p. 3. Ybarra, T. R. 1927. Vienna Riot Dead Buried in One Grave. New York Times, July 21, p. 1. Related websites: http://gfraster.at/index.php/blogs/9-familie-fischer/8-opfer-der-schreckenstage-15und-16-juli-1927-wie http://www.mediathek.at/akustische-chronik//popups_22/F_15._Juli_2 http://gedsafe.com/~gfraster/index.php/bilder/category/9-opfer-derschreckenstage-15-und-16-juli-1927-wien