February 1934 - Austrians take up Arms

At a meeting in Lower Austria on 11 February 1934, Emil Frey, the leader of the Heimwehr (a paramilitary formation of the Christian Social Party), declared: "Yesterday's statements and those of the day before have proven beyond doubt that Chancellor Dollfuß is one of us. I can tell you even more: Tomorrow we will go to work and we will make a good job of it!" Richard Bernaschek, commander of the paramilitary Socialist Schutzbund in Upper Austria, sent a letter to the party leadership in Vienna making it very clear that in case of a weapon search in Upper Austria, the Schutzbund would resist. And just as in previous years of the First Republic, events took a fateful course, one that would prove disastrous for the future.

12 February 1934 - civil war in Austria - victims and perpetrators

The events of February 1934 were sparked off by the constant search for weapon deposits kept by the outlawed Schutzbund. On 12 February at about 6 am, 20 police officers attempted to raid the Hotel Schiff in Linz, a property belonging to the Social Democratic Party, to search for weapons. Members of the Schutzbund responded by shooting at them. At around noon the Federal Army stormed the hotel.

The skirmishes quickly spread to other industrial areas such as Steyr or Bruck an der Mur and eventually to Vienna. Being only deficiently equipped and poorly manned, the Schutzbund was chanceless in the face of the combined forces of the army, the police and the Heimwehr. Also, the military at one stage proceeded to shell the city council housing estates occupied by members of the Schutzbund with artillery. The exact number of people killed in the conflicts which were to continue for several days after 12 February remains unknown until this day.

Still, in terms of casualties these days were devastating: In Vienna alone the Schutzbund mourned the death of probably 1,000 of its members; among the police forces around 120 officers had been killed and 400 more injured. But those are mere numbers hiding the human lives and destinies behind every single one.

After the proclamation of martial law nine Schutzbund leaders were executed and approximately 10,000 people incarcerated. The death toll paid by Austria’s democratic forces had undeniably been high. In February 1934 the Social Democrats had desperately braced themselves against a political development which in fact had already long rolled over them. With a view to the future though and the founding of the Second Republic in 1945 when attempts were made to reach out to one another across the party lines, the victims of February 1934 did not die in vain.

July 1934 - an attempted coup on the way to the Anschluss in 1938

The year of 1934 was to bring one more domestic political confrontation: On 25 July, members of the outlawed Austrian National Socialist Party undertook an attempted coup d’état. Other than the armed conflicts in February, this uprising did not intend to preserve the democratic order but to annihilate it – modelled after the NS regime under Hitler ruling Germany since 1933.

The most spectacular attack on 25 July was directed against the Federal Chancellery in the course of which Federal Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß was shot and killed. In Vienna, the Nazis also occupied the building of the Austrian radio broadcasting station, the RAVAG. The fights continued until 30 July. In the end the attempted coup failed. Many of the defeated insurgents fled to the Altreich, the German Reich, to eventually return in March 1938 as members of the "Austrian Legion". On 29 July 1934, Kurt Schuschnigg was appointed the new Federal Chancellor.

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