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Leopold Figl und das Jahr 1945 by Helmut…
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Leopold Figl und das Jahr 1945

by Helmut Wohnout

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Leopold Figl, the first post-WWII chancellor of Austria, died 50 years ago. His place in history is assured by his famous sentence in 1955 from the balcony of Belvedere Palace: "Österreich ist frei." when the Allies agreed to full Austrian independence. In the capital of Lower Austria, Sankt Pölten, there is currently a good exhibition about the man and his life called "Figl von Österreich". This book is not a full biography but deals with the drastic events of 1945 in Austria from the final days of war and destruction, the Soviet occupation in the East and the energetic actions to hold the country together, rebuild the institutions and machinery of government and set up new democratic institutions. Austria even managed to hold democratic elections before the year ended. Much of it is due to the effective leadership of Leopold Figl.

As the book was written by a conservative party historian, it includes very little information about the dark chapter of Leopold Figl's life, namely his leading role in Austro-Fascism (that is only called "authoritarian regime" in the book). He was the Lower Austrian leader of the paramilitary organisation of "Ostmärkische Sturmscharen". While the Nazis were worse than the Austrian Fascists, they still mistreated and locked up their political opponents (such as the later Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky who was imprisoned together with many Autrian Nazis). When the Nazis came to power in Autria, Figl was immediately locked up and sent to a concentration camp where he had to endure years of maltreatment and punishment. His positive spirit helped many of his fellow inmates to survive that hell. Figl was first released by the Nazis for a time but then in 1944 seized again. In 1945, he was days, maybe hours away of being shot during the frantic last days of the defense of Vienna. He was lucky that the hardcore German Nazis fled and the low level Austrian prison wardens let the inmates go (not without Figl's intervention of procuring release papers for the prisoners to show to the Soviet army).

A priority of the Soviets was to prevent hunger in Vienna and Lower Austria. Figl as an energetic and powerful organizer of the farmers (Bauernbund) was crucial in setting up structures and supply lines. He could certainly rely on his Austro-Fascist connections. The Communists had never properly become an important part of Austrian politics (despite Lenin's and Stalin's stay in Vienna). The Socialists had been out of power and in exile for more than a decade. They first had to rebuild their organizations whereas the new conservative party ÖVP could reactivate many from the previous regime. Figl transformed this slim advantage into an election victory in a very early vote in November 1945 and became the first chancellor of the new and democratic (second) Austrian republic. Having been in Dachau and other concentration camps gave Figl the personal authority to deal with the Allies on a direct level. What surprised me, was how pragmatic the Soviet commanders were. It was much more difficult for Figl to get the British and the French to agree to sensible measures.

Overall, a good account of Figl's crucial activities from 1938 to 1945. A good companion book would be Ian Buruma's Year Zero showing how post WWII reconstruction took place all across the globe. ( )
  jcbrunner | Jun 30, 2015 |
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