30 January 1927 - prologue of a fateful day

With the foundation of the paramilitary forces Heimwehr (home guard) by the conservatives and Republikanischer Schutzbund (defence league) by the socialists the confrontations between the political factions deteriorate sharply. Violent clashes become more and more frequent and disagreements are much too often settled with arms and fists leaving people killed or injured.

Of particularly fateful consequences is an incident in Schattendorf, Burgenland, on 30 January 1927. When after a demonstration a group of Schutzbund members are on their way to the train station, they are shot at from inside an inn by members of the Frontkämpfer (front combat union - a paramilitary association affiliated with the conservatives) killing the 40 year old war veteran Matthias Csmarits and 8 year old Josef Grössing. As soon as the news reaches the Social Democrats a storm of outrage ensues. On 2 February 1927, the day of the victims' funeral, the free socialist trade unions call for a fifteen minute general strike in all of Austria. The funeral is attended by thousands of Schutzbund members in uniform.

5 July 1927 - the fire is sparked by a trial and acquittal

On 5 July 1927, the three men accused of having fired the fatal shots at Schattendorf, appear in court in Vienna to be tried in one of the first court sessions under an independent jury system. They are charged with "public violence". The trial is closely followed by the public.

In the early evening of 14 July the verdict is passed: acquittal for all three defendants. The verdict comes completely unexpected and is followed by a fatal day.

15 July 1927 - the Palace of Justice in flames

In the early morning hours of 15 July 1927, socialist workers from the outskirts of Vienna assemble in front of the Palace of Justice to voice their anger. The Social Democratic leadership is taken completely by surprise and has made no arrangements to warrant a regular course of the demonstration.

When the demonstrators chase away a small group of policemen near Parliament, the head of police Schober gives the order for police on horseback with their sabres drawn to move against the workers. Now the angry crowd storms the Palace of Justice. Files are set on fire and soon flames blaze from the windows of the Palace. A police station and the building of the Christian Social Party's newspaper Reichspost are also set on fire. Despite the efforts taken by the Social Democratic Party's leadership to prevent further riots, 600 armed policemen open fire against the demonstrators.

The exact number of casualties of 15 July 1927 will never be known. Documented are 89 people killed, five of them members of the police. More than 600 people are seriously injured, approximately 1,000 get away with slight injuries. For the First Republic the 15 July uprising will prove to be a fateful day: a prelude of what will eventually lead to the civil war in February 1934 and its fatal consequences for Austrian democracy. Today the events ought to serve as a reminder for present and coming generations.

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