The Austrian resistance launched in response to the rise of the fascists across Europe and, more specifically, to the Anschluss in 1938 and resulting occupation of Austria by Germany.

An estimated 100,000 people[1] were reported to have participated in this resistance with thousands subsequently imprisoned or executed for their anti-Nazi activities. The main cipher of the Austrian resistance was O5, in which "O" indicates the first letter of the abbreviation of Österreich (OE), with the "5" indicating the fifth letter of the German alphabet (E). This sign may be seen at the Stephansdom in Vienna.

The Moscow Declarations of 1943 laid a framework for the establishment of a free Austria after the victory over Nazi Germany. It stated that "Austria is reminded, however that she has a responsibility, which she cannot evade, for participation in the war on the side of Hitlerite Germany, and that in the final settlement account will inevitably be taken of her own contribution to her liberation."[2]


Plans and production locations for the V-2 were supplied to the Allies by Heinrich Maier's group.

The Austrian resistance groups were often ideologically separated and reflected the spectrum of political parties before the war.

The most spectacular individual but tiny group of the Austrian resistance was the one around the priest Heinrich Maier. On the one hand, this very successful Catholic resistance group wanted to revive a Habsburg monarchy after the war and very successfully passed on plans and production facilities for V-1, V-2 rockets, Tiger tanks and aircraft (Messerschmitt Bf 109, Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, etc.) to the Allies. The resistance group, later uncovered by the Gestapo, was in contact with Allen Dulles, the head of the US OSS in Switzerland. With the location sketches of the production facilities, the Allied bombers were able to carry out precise air strikes and thus protect residential areas. The information was important to Operation Crossbow and Operation Hydra, both preliminary missions for Operation Overlord.[3][4] In contrast to many other German resistance groups, the Maier group informed very early about the mass murder of Jews through its contacts with the Semperit factory near Auschwitz.[5][6][7][8][9][10]

In addition to armed resistance efforts, "silent heroes" helped Jewish men, women and children evade persecution by Nazi authorities by hiding at-risk individuals at their homes or in other safe houses, storing or exchanging their property to raise funds to support them, and/or helping them to flee the country. Each of these resistance members lived dangerously because such assistance to the Jewish community was punishable by imprisonment at concentration camps and, ultimately, by death. Among these "silent heroes" were Rosa Stallbaumer and her husband, Anton. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, they were both sent to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.[11] Although Anton survived, Rosa Stallbaumer did not; transferred to Auschwitz, she died there at age 44.[12]

Austrian resistance organizations and groups

Sign of the Austrian resistance movement at the St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna
Group of women. One woman wears an Austrian resistance Edelweiss – Patch, which comes from a former hunting clothes; and a pinstripe (in German: Nadelstreif) blazer. Other girls standing close to the car, talking and flirting with Wehrmacht soldier. The car has a PL font over turn signal. It could be a soldier who came from the front or one who cares about the engagement of the soldiers on the Eastern Front.Two further girls dressed in French style (shoes and hair). Two young men wear work uniforms. One a woodwork robe the other a baker or cook robe. Estimated time & location: Summer 1941, Lower Austria – Surrounding: Amstetten-Mauer [de]. (Photo source:


The movement had a prehistory of socialist and communist activism against the era of Austrofascism from 1934. Although the Austrofascist regime was itself intensely hostile to Nazism, especially after the Austrian Nazis' failed coup attempt in 1934, known as the July Putsch.

Notable activists included Josef Plieseis and Hilde Zimmermann.

The symbol and voice of Austrian resistance was Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg who, had the monarchy been reestablished, would have been Kaiser of Austria.[22]


Much as opposing the Nazis was difficult, as maintaining organizational cohesion post the Anschluss constituted a penal offence, resistance activities were maintained throughout the period. The resistance mainly: issued counter-Nazi political leaflets; collected donations, which were mostly distributed to families of those arrested; and provided the Allies with information.

Military resistance was limited to occasional sabotage to both key civil and military installations, with most resisting by avoiding postings to the active war fronts.

Most armed resistance was undertaken in Carinthia.[23] Carinthian Slovenes formed a nucleus to the resistance after targeted deportations and forced Germanisation by the Nazi regime in 1942 led to the establishment of forest bands. As much of the Slovene Lands in Yugoslavia had been annexed to the Reich in 1941 and were subject to the same tactics of ethnic cleansing in northern Slovenia the group's activities should be seen in the context of the Yugoslavian Slovene Partisan operations.

Habsburg opposition

Main article: Otto von Habsburg

Former Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg denounced Nazism, stating:

I absolutely reject [Nazi] Fascism for Austria ... This un-Austrian movement promises everything to everyone, but really intends the most ruthless subjugation of the Austrian people ... The people of Austria will never tolerate that our beautiful fatherland should become an exploited colony, and that the Austrian should become a man of second category.[24]

He strongly opposed the Anschluss, and in 1938 requested Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to resist Nazi Germany and supported an international intervention, and offered to return from exile to take over the reins of government in order to repel the Nazis. According to Gerald Warner, "Austrian Jews were among the strongest supporters of a Habsburg restoration, since they believed the dynasty would give the nation sufficient resolve to stand up to the Third Reich".[25] Following the German annexation of Austria, Otto (who had been allowed to come back to Austria to publicly campaign against the Anschluss), was sentenced to death by the Nazi regime; Rudolf Hess ordered that Otto was to be executed immediately if caught, as ordered by Adolf Hitler.[26] The leaders of the Austrian legitimist movement, i.e. supporters of Otto, were arrested by the Nazis and largely executed. Otto's cousins Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg, and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg, both sons of the late Archduke Francis Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 precipitated World War I, were arrested in Vienna by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau where they remained throughout Nazi rule. Otto was involved in helping around 50,000 Austrians, including tens of thousands of Austrian Jews, flee the country at the beginning of the Second World War.[27]

During his wartime exile in the United States, Otto and his younger brothers founded an "Austrian Battalion" in the United States Army, but it was delayed and never saw actual combat.[28]

Religious group resistance

The organizational cohesion offence was most keenly felt by the Austrian religious community. The Nazis, via both the civil Gestapo and police, and the military Schutzstaffel (SS), implemented both anti-religious and anti-Austrian-patriotic measures. This brought about disparate resistance from many established religious groups, whose core members came mainly from the establishment of Austrian high society.[29]

Catholic Church

Although tolerated to a large extent, noted anti-Catholic measures and regional imposition of such brought about the formation of three large regional Catholic-based resistance groups.[29]

The first purge and arrest round occurred in Spring 1940, when the three groups had held talks on merging, in which over 100 activists were arrested, interrogated and some individuals tortured. After this, the leaders sought closer ties to the main body of the Austrian resistance movement, and although remaining separate in part for security reasons, began feeding both directly and indirectly information to the United States Military Intelligence Service (MIS).[29]

Amongst the Catholic group's members were Burgtheater actor Otto Hartmann, a spy in paid service of the Gestapo. In late 1944, his information led to the arrest of 10 key Catholic resistance organisation leaders, who were all tortured and then sentenced to death. These included the main contacts with the American MIS, Semperit Director General Franz Josef Messner (1896-1945, killed in the gas chambers at the Mauthausen concentration camp), and Chaplain Dr. Heinrich Maier (1908-1945) executed on 22 March 1945 as the last victim of the Nazi régime in Vienna.[30] Other detainees were sentenced to long prison terms, which some survived but many were killed before the final surrender.[29]

The exile community in London

The main organised exile group during the Second World War was based around the Austrian Office in London, centre to the 30,000 strong exile community.[31] The Austrian Society, or "Austrian Office", was home to both the monarchist Austrian League and liberal Austrian Democratic Union.[32]

Battle of Castle Itter

Main article: Battle of Castle Itter

The Austrian resistance were involved in the Battle of Castle Itter, the Austrian village of Itter in the North Tyrol, was fought on 5 May 1945, only three days before Germany's unconditional surrender came into effect. Troops of the 23rd Tank Battalion of the US 12th Armored Division led by Lieutenant John C. "Jack" Lee, Jr., anti-Nazi German Army soldiers, and imprisoned French VIPs defended the castle against an attacking force from the 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division until relief from the American 142nd Infantry Regiment arrived.[33]


Austrian society has had an ambivalent attitude both toward the Nazi government from 1938 to 1945 and the few that actively resisted it. Since large portions of Austrian society either actively or tacitly supported the Nazi regime, the Allied forces treated Austria as a belligerent party in the war and maintained occupation of it after the Nazi capitulation. On the other hand, the Moscow Declaration labeled Austria as a free and democratic society before the war, and considered its capture an act of liberation.

See also


  1. ^ Heath, Tim (2021). Resistance Heroines in Nazi and Russian Occupied Austria Anschluss and After. Virginia Wells, Herti Bryan. Havertown: Pen & Sword Books Limited. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-5267-8790-3. OCLC 1321799255.
  2. ^ "MOSCOW CONFERENCE, October, 1943".
  3. ^ Christoph Thurner "The CASSIA Spy Ring in World War II Austria: A History of the OSS's Maier-Messner Group" (2017), pp 35.
  4. ^ Operation Crossbow - Preliminary missions for the Operation Overlord
  5. ^ Elisabeth Boeckl-Klamper, Thomas Mang, Wolfgang Neugebauer: Gestapo-Leitstelle Wien 1938–1945. Vienna 2018, ISBN 978-3-902494-83-2, p 299–305.
  6. ^ Hans Schafranek: Widerstand und Verrat: Gestapospitzel im antifaschistischen Untergrund. Vienna 2017, ISBN 978-3-7076-0622-5, p 161–248.
  7. ^ Fritz Molden: Die Feuer in der Nacht. Opfer und Sinn des österreichischen Widerstandes 1938–1945. Vienna 1988, p 122.
  8. ^ Peter Broucek "Die österreichische Identität im Widerstand 1938–1945" (2008), p 163.
  9. ^ Hansjakob Stehle "Die Spione aus dem Pfarrhaus (German: The spy from the rectory)" In: Die Zeit, 5 January 1996.
  10. ^ Christoph Thurner "The CASSIA Spy Ring in World War II Austria: A History of the OSS's Maier-Messner Group" (2017), pp 187.
  11. ^ Morse, Steven and Peter Landé. Dachau Concentration Camp Records (online database): Retrieved online April 11, 2018.
  12. ^ "Rosa Stallbaumer," in 124 Victims of the Resistance: Short Biographies, in The Eduard-Wallnöfer-Platz in Innsbruck. Bregenz, Austria: Verein Nationalsozialismus und Holocaust: Gedächtnis und Gegenwart (Association National Socialism and the Holocaust: Memory and Present), retrieved online April 6, 2018.
  13. ^ Neugebauer, Wolfgang. Koralmpartisanen.
  14. ^ Mugrauer, Manfred (2018). "Geplante Sabotage am Erzberg". Mitteilungen des DÖW. 238: 1 f.
  15. ^ Neugebauer, Wolfgang (2018). "Der österreichische Widerstand 1938 -1945" (PDF). DÖW Publication: 22–23.
  16. ^ Carl, Harry (2015). Abwehr General Erwin Lahousen. Böhlau Wien.
  17. ^ Muigg, Mario (2007). "Geheim- und Nachrichtendienste in und aus Österreich 1918-1938 (page 68,69,71)" (PDF).
  18. ^ Johnson, David Alan (2007). Betrayal: The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the Nazi Saboteurs Captured During WWII. Hippocrene Books, Inc.
  19. ^ "NS Opfer". 3 April 2018. Archived from the original on 3 April 2018.
  20. ^ Neugebauer, Wolfgang (2018). "Der österreichische Widerstand 1938-1945" (PDF). DÖW Publication.
  21. ^ "Zur Erinnerung - Was war, was ist, was bleibt". (in German). Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  22. ^ "MercatorNet: Otto von Habsburg, son of Austria's last emperor and champion of European unity, has died".
  23. ^ The Resistance in Austria, 1938–1945 Radomír Luza, University of Minnesota Press, 1984
  24. ^ Gunther, John (1936). Inside Europe. Harper & Brothers. pp. 321–323.
  25. ^ Warner, Gerald (20 November 2008). "Otto von Habsburg's 96th birthday telescopes European history". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  26. ^ Scally, Derek (5 July 2011). "Death of former 'kaiser in exile' and last heir to Austro-Hungarian throne". The Irish Times. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  27. ^ "Otto Hapsburg, eldest son of Austria's last emperor, dies at 98". Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  28. ^ "Otto von Habsburg, oldest son of Austria-Hungary's last emperor, dies at age 98". Newser. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  29. ^ a b c d "DÖW - Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) - Memorial Room for the Victims of the Gestapo Vienna - "They Took the Other Road" - Organized Resistance in Austria".
  30. ^ Wolfgang Neugebauer (2008). Der österreichische Widerstand (in German). Vienna: Edition Steinbauer. pp. 154–155.
  31. ^ Marietta Bearman. Out of Austria: The Austrian Centre in London in World War II. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008. ISBN 9781441600073. "The Austrian Centre was established in London in 1939 by Austrians seeking refuge from Nazi Germany, of whom 30,000 had reached Britain by the outbreak of World War II. It soon developed into a comprehensive social, cultural and political organisation with a theatre and a weekly newspaper of its ".
  32. ^ Marietta Bearman. Out of Austria: The Austrian Centre in London in World War II. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008. ISBN 9781441600073. "143 Seven Sisters Road, notably, was the address of the Austrian Centre's Finsbury Park branch. This ties in neatly with a minute in a Home Office file from early 1947, referring to British security reports on the ..."
  33. ^ *Harding, Stephen (2013). The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-82209-4.