Austrian history in the first half of the 20th century

Austrian history in the first half of the 20th century was marked by chaos. In 1914, Serbian conspirators assassinated the Austrian heir to the throne in Sarajevo. This was the immediate cause of World War I, which led to the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia were established as separate states with Romania, Poland and the kingdom of Serbia (later Yugoslavia) all granted large chunks of the defunct empire.
On 11 November 1918 – a day now observed as Armistice Day or Veterans Day in much of the western world – the last Austrian emperor, Karl, renounced all part in conducting state business, and the first Republic of Austria was declared the next day. The collapse of the dual monarchy also meant the breakdown of a major economic bloc, and the new republic found itself facing major problems. Closed borders and tariffs virtually stopped imports and exports, and the establishment of authoritarian regimes in Italy and Germany rocked the still shaky fledgling nation.
Within the country there were strikes, food shortages, and widespread disease. Paramilitary organizations emerged from the confusion of political infighting. The lower house of parliament stripped itself of power in 1933, and the swift takeover by Chancellor Dollfiiss marked the end of democracy in Austria. When civil war broke out less than a year later, his regime used harsh measures to end it and to establish Austria as an authoritarian state. Dollfuss was murdered in the abortive Nazi coup of July 1934. His successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, tried to maintain Austrian independence, but after meeting with Hitler realized that the situation was nearly hopeless. Schuschnigg called for a plebiscite on 13 March 1938, in which the people would decide for or against joining the German Reich, but on 11 March, German troops marched across the border. Two days later the Anschluss was complete and occupied Austria was a part of the Third Reich.
The era of Austrian history which followed is surely its most terrible and the one with which most of us are familiar. Austrian casualties ran high and virtually every city was bombed or burned. As the war came to an end, there was hunger and chaos throughout the country. The liberation of Austria began in March 1945, with Soviet troops entering the country from the east, while American and British forces approached from the west. By April, a provisional government had been formed, although fighting still continued in some parts of the country. Austria’s democratic constitution became effective on 1 May. In October 1945, the Allies recognized the provisional government under Karl Renner on the condition that general elections be held that same year.
Post-war Austria was divided into four zones of occupation governed by the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union and the United States. Vienna, situated within the Russian zone, was also divided into four sectors. Its first district, or inner city, remained international and served as the seat of the Allied High Commission for Austria. The political situation was rapidly stabilized, largely through the efforts of men who had formerly been bitter opponents. Their experiences in the prisons and concentration camps of the Third Reich, and especially in Austrian resistance movements, had taught them that Austria, once revived, would have to be governed in a spirit of democratic tolerance. The economic situation, however, continued to present problems, and Austrians suffered terrible deprivation. Improvement came only after thorough monetary reforms and the generous aid of the Marshall Plan which made capital investments possible in all branches of the economy. Thereafter, reconstruction proceeded more rapidly.
Austria remained occupied for ten years. The foreign ministers and representatives of the four powers met more than 300 times, but failed to agree on the form of a state treaty. Finally, in May 1955, the Allies’ ambassadors met an Austrian delegation in Vienna. There they drew up and signed the final text of an agreement, and the State Treaty went into effect that July. On 26 October, now a national holiday, parliament passed the Federal Constitutional Law on the Neutrality of Austria. The last foreign soldiers left Austrian soil and the country was free once again.


The course of Austrian history has been confusing to say the least, determined primarily by the region’s geographical position astride natural European highways where cultures met and usually clashed. Celts had been in the area for about 700 years when Roman legionnaires pushed northward through Alpine passes and into the Danube valley around 100 BC. The Romans introduced wine growing and established Roman law there, and traces of the baths, arenas, roads and fortified settlements they built are still in evidence.
During the Dark Ages, waves of barbarians flowed over the plains of the Danube intermingling and leaving their imprint on following generations. Germanic invaders, including Attila and his terrible Huns, steadily weakened the far-flung Roman Empire until the Romans finally vanished from Austria in 480 AD. More than five centuries of constant rivalries and invasions ended when Otto the Great was crowned as the first Holy Roman Emperor in 962. The newly-created eastern province of the Reich, Oesterreich, came into being as a separate country.
For nearly a thousand years, Austrian history was determined by two dynasties. The Babenbergs’ 270 year reign was a period of peaceful development and material attainment: salt, gold and silver were mined, peasants and merchants alike prospered, and the church accumulated vast wealth. Austria lay on the route of the Crusades, and Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned there when he was caught attempting to travel through the country in disguise In the 12th century, one of the last Babenberg rulers built his imperial palace in Vienna, it as his capital.
What happened in 1273 is a prime example of European confusion. The Electors of the Holy Roman Empire crowned the Swiss Rudolf von Habsburg in Aachen and put him on the throne in Vienna as King of the Germans. It worked though. Twenty Habsburg kings and emperors reigned for the next 640 years, concluding treaties and living by their motto: “Let others wage war. Maximilian I, the “Last Knight”, married the heiress of Burgundy and the Netherlands, and their sons’ marriages eventually added Spain, Hungary and Bohemia to the Habsburg’s vast empire. Maximilian’s grandson Karl ruled over it all as both king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, claiming that the sun never set on his dominion. Karl divided his territories with his brother in 1521, establishing two distinct Habsburg lines; one to rule over Austria and the other over Spain and the Netherlands.
The 16th and 17th centuries were full of conflict and tragedy. The Turks posed a threat for 200 years, beginning with the first siege of Vienna in 1529. Religious conflicts sparked by the K Reformation and Counter-Reformation triggered the Thirty Years War in 1618, and in 1679 the plague claimed some 100,000 victims in Vienna alone. The Turks, seeing a chance for victory over war-torn and decimated Austria, again laid siege to the capital in 1683. This time, allied forces routed the invaders, taking spoils of war that included the golden crescent now atop Saint Stephen’s Cathedral and a sack of unfamiliar brown beans which introduced coffee to Europe and led to the opening of Vienna’s first coffee houses that same year.
Empress Maria Theresia, who ruled from 1740 to 1780, is one of the outstanding women in world history. Despite the distraction of wars with Prussia and her domestic responsibilitie as the mother of 16 children, she championed a program of reforms that united the empire, reformed the government, updated the legal and financial systems, promoted trade, abolished cruel punishment, and established schools and universities. Hers was the golden age of high Baroque art and architecture and of Austrian classical music from composers such as Gluck, Haydn and Mozart.
Her successors had Napoleon to deal with. After a defeat at his hands in 1805, Austri.i its Italian possessions, Tirol and Vorarlberg, and was forced to renounce the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. An Austrian general led the army that finally defeated Napoleon, and bam him to Elba in 1813. The Austrian Prince Metternich presided over the Congress of Vi.
1814, and Vienna became the glittering center of European diplomacy, with the crown footing the bill. Austria regained both considerable territory and a dominant position in European politics under Metternich, until the revolutions of 1848 forced him to flee the country. That same year, Emperor Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his young nephew Franz Josef, who ruled for more than half a century. The Prussian defeat of Austria in 1866 resulted in the establishment the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. It was generally a time of peaceful progress, but a series of governments was unable to solve the increasing tension generated by nationalism in a multi-national empire.

Lower Austria is the historical nucleus

Lower Austria is the historical nucleus of present-day Austria and the site of archeological finds from the Stone Age to Roman times. A cruise along the Danube will give you a spectacular view of monasteries, castles, abbeys and churches from the Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque eras. Lower Austria is the home of the Weinviertel area, which produces about sixty per cent of all Austrian wines and is one of Europe’s most important grape growing regions. Visitors to the “vacation-land around Vienna” can enjoy everything from 12 health spas to wine tasting at local vineyards.
Burgenland (area 1530 sq miles; pop 273,000)
Austria’s easternmost province is also its newest. It was formed in 1921 from German-speaking border areas of what had been Hungary. It is a largely agricultural province which produces a variety of renowned wines; industry here consists mostly of canning factories. Its unusual landscape ensures a steady flow of visitors, especially around Lake Neusiedl, the only steppe lake in Europe. Burgenland’s small provincial capital is Eisenstadt, once the home of Josef Haydn.

Vienna (area 160 sq miles; pop 1.5 million)
Vienna is Austria’s federal capital, largest city and a federal province in its own right. Surrounded by the province of Lower Austria, it is only forty miles from the borders with Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics. For centuries Vienna was the capital of the Habsburg monarchy; today it is the seat of Austria’s federal government.
Vienna hosts numerous international conferences and is the headquarters of many major international organizations. The United Nations City in Vienna is the headquarters of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and other sub-organizations. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) made Vienna its permanent headquarters in 1965. The capital is also Austria’s economic focal point. It is the home of many specialized industries and the headquarters of most of the country’s large firms, banks and insurance companies.
Vienna’s university is the oldest in the German-speaking world. Often called “the real capital of Europe”, Vienna is an undisputed center of European culture and a city famous for its magnificent architecture, art collections, theaters and museums. The annual Opera Bail is OIK of Europe’s most dazzling cultural events. The New Year’s Concert, the Lippizan stallions of the Spanish Riding School, and the Vienna Boys’ Choir delight millions around the world. Shopping and dining rival cultural pursuits as absolute musts. Viennese cuisine (Wiener Kueche) is the only school of cooking in the world named after a city. An extraordinary blend of Slavic, Hungarian, Bohemian, Italian and German cooking unique to this area, it can be sampled in every restaurant from simple local eateries called Beisel to the chic Noblerestaurants. Vienna’s downtown district is a shopper’s paradise, offering everything from the latest fashions to priceless antiques. Little wonder that visitors from all over the world come to enjoy the incredible wealth of history, entertainment and atmosphere that is Vienna.