Ed.: This is the first of a series of post dealing with Austria’s history of fascism and the persecution and exile of Austrian sociologists.
You are moving to Austria, nice! Are you going to live in Vienna or the countryside with the alpine Landscape? – No, I’m moving to Linz. – Linz? Isn’t that the Hitler City? Isn’t it a Nazi Town?
This is how (fellow European) people usually react when you are telling them about planning to move to or currently living in Austria. Based on this experience we decided to tell you about this dark chapter of our city and country.
Hitler was born in a small town in Upper Austria and spent most of his youth in Linz. The city reminded him of his childhood and his mother, therefore he referred to Linz as his “Heimatstadt” (hometown). However, Hitler’s sympathy for Linz also rested upon his ideological thoughts; in his opinion Linz was the “deutscheste Stadt” (most German city) in the Austrian K&K Empire. In his Vienna times he told his friends that there were only a few Jews living in Linz. As a result of these memories he envisioned turning Linz into one of the most beautiful cities in the “Deutsche Reich” by using a certain kind of architecture. The Danubian city became one of the five “Führerstädte” (the Führer’s capitals) besides Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Nurnberg.
On March 12th 1938 (the day of the “Anschluss” of Austria) he visited his “Heimatstadt” and declared himself the Godfather of Linz. Straight away Hitler planned to rebuild the whole city. In his vision Linz should transform into the cultural capital of the Nazi Empire. Hitler and his architects designed huge pompous buildings, museums, operas and other cultural institutions. He planned to settle here after winning the war and dreamed of spending the last years of his life in Linz; the Castle of Linz was planned to be his retirement home. Hitler was obsessed with the idea of Linz as his city, indeed during his empire’s last days in April 1945 he sat in the “Führerbunker” in Berlin staring at a model of future Linz.
Herman-Göring-Werke – Tanks and Steel
Linz also took a crucial part in Herman Göring’s infrastructure- and military plans. In May 1938, after the Anschluss, the Herman-Göring-Reichswerk (known today as voestalpine) in Linz became an important asset for the Third Reich. Former inhabitants were relocated overnight to clear space for steel mills. The cluster of steel mills in Linz played a key role in the Nazi Regime’s armament industry since the “Linzer Reichswerke” became the Nazi’s most important tank-factory. Many forced laborers from the concentration camps were brought to Linz by the end of 1941 to ensure the production. In fact most buildings constructed during the Hitler era were built by forced laborers. They used granite extracted by the quarry next to Austria’s biggest concentration camp Mauthausen. This leads us to the next dark chapter of Linz and Upper Austria: the concentration camps Mauthausen and Gusen with their satellite camps.
Mauthausen and Gusen – More than forced laborers
After the Anschluss the SS decided to construct the concentration camp KZ Mauthausen (12 miles from Linz). Although it was planned to serve as the only main concentration camp in Austria, by the end of 1939 another concentration camps was build: the KZ Gusen (10,5 miles from Linz). Forty more satellite camps all over Austria were put up as the Second World War went on – almost half of them were located in Upper Austria. The choice of Upper Austria as a location was primarily based on economical and infrastructural factors. On the one hand the Nazis needed huge amounts of resources and construction materials for their building programs – provided by the nearby quarries – and on the other hand they required many forced laborers to actually construct the planned buildings.
From 1938 till 1942 Mauthausen und Gusen were referred to as the deadliest concentration camps in the Nazi Reich; they displayed the highest death rate of prisoners. The prisoners were shot, slayed, tortured, used for medical human trails or even put to death by forcing them to bath outside during the cold winter months. By October 1941 a gas chamber was constructed. The first gassing took place in March 1942.
Schloss Hartheim – Anything but a Castle
Before Mauthausen had its own gas chamber the prisoners were brought to Schloss Hartheim (Castle of Hartheim) for their execution. Schloss Hartheim is situated in the village Alkoven, about 12 miles from Linz. The castle was notorious for being the Nazi regime’s first systematically planed mass murdering institution. Starting in spring 1940 the former castle was rebuilt into a euthanasia facility. The aim was to dispose of “undeserving life” such as mentally or physically disabled persons and children, incapacitated people and prisoners of concentration camps. Between 1940 and 1944 around 30.000 people were murdered here. Generally Schloss Hartheim served as an experimental station for systematic killing and is considered as the Holocaust’s precursor. Indeed most of the concentrations camps gas chambers were based on the Hartheim model.
Nowadays: (Re-)dealing with the past
Whereas Austria tended and sometimes still tends to see itself as ‘Hitler’s first victim’ nowadays many Austrians are aware that this is not the actual story. Many Austrians were perpetrators and many (war-)crimes took place in Austria. Linz’ and Upper Austria’s history is deeply connected to the atrocities committed by the Nazi Regime. In upcoming blog posts we want to ask how the Linzer and Upper Austrian population dealt with their past. What do they think nowadays? What does the current political situation in Austrian look like? And what did Austria really learn from its past?
Fabienne Décieux studied sociology at the University of Trier. Currently she is a PhD student and research assistant at the Department for Theoretical Sociology and Social Analysis, Institute of Sociology, Johannes Kepler University Linz. Her main research interests are critical social theories, care, social movements, sociology of work and industry.
Katrin Anna Walch is studying Sociology at the Johannes Kepler University Linz, she is the chairwoman of the student representatives of the Faculty for Social and Economic Science and a student-representative for Sociology. Her research interests are political sociology, sociology of work and organisation and gender studies.