Everyday life


A tourist visited Vienna in 1938 and made this short home movie. It is intriguing to watch the people hurrying about, not realising what the next few years held in store.

Vienna 1938 amateur film footage

As war approached rationing was introduced, a blackout and other air raid precautions imposed, there were curbs on the use of petrol and restrictions on restaurant menus. After the invasion of Poland, dances were banned and articles began to appear in newspapers advising on how to (for example) save soap by not washing out shaving brushes, or re-cutting women’s clothes to make them more fashionable.

Heavy penalties, including the death penalty, were introduced for black marketeering, yet a variety of ways of getting around the restrictions were nevertheless possible. People who had contacts in the countryside, for example, could sometimes obtain fresh produce from them - game, butter, wine.

From 1941 there was a sharp deterioration in food supplies and hoarding food became a crime. The downturn was partly due to shortages of labour in the countryside as younger people moved to the towns to work in Austrian industry, revived by Göring’s investment programme and an important part of the Reich’s war production. Forced labourers, initially from Poland, were used to work on the farms to remedy the situation.

In 1943, after Stalingrad a visitor to Nazi Vienna commented on the changes to the city: “The trains were even more worn and creaking, the taxis were more rattling, and the railway stations were even dirtier than last time. On public buildings the plaster was flaking… “ (quoted in Bukey, 2000, p. 186)

The same visitor noted that, in contrast for the overwhelming enthusiasm for Anschluss there had been in 1938, there was a hostility towards the Germans “that extends through Austrian society from top to bottom [although] it was not so much National Socialism they disliked as things German in themselves.”

If you were well connected, though, life could be good. Sarah Gainham’s book Night falls on Vienna describes numerous restaurant and café meals enjoyed by a well-known Viennese actor favoured by the regime and her circle: beef (‘velvety, delicate in flavour’) with creamed spinach and chopped potato browned slightly with butter, followed by cherry strudel and coffee for lunch; chicken in champagne sauce with peaches in the evening. As late as 1944 she is served smoked trout, followed by a platter of roast pork from an illegally slaughtered pig, in a restaurant where such delicacies are kept ‘for special customers.’

The Viennese bourgeoisie resented the conscription of their women into the workforce and many wanted to hang on to their servants, doing their best to circumvent an order that all domestic servants should register with their local Arbeitsamt (labour office) for work under ‘total war’ measures begun in 1943.

Working class Viennese, though, unprotected by wealthy employers, forced to work longer and longer hours for low wages, were discontented, many remembering their socialist and trade union roots and engaging in (relatively small) acts of sabotage. Occasionally, too, there were strikes prompted by changes in payment rates or other worsening of conditions.

Towards the end of the war, there was open dissent in some working class areas of Vienna. Nazis who entered them were cursed, threatened and even stoned. Women were to the forefront in demonstrations, organising protests and protecting rioters from the police.

At the same time, Nazi repression of dissent increased as the tide of war turned against Germany and the guillotine in the basement of Gestapo headquarters in the Hotel Metropole in Morzinplatz was kept busy, with hundreds of death sentences being meted out by the People’s Court, under its notorious president, Roland Freisler. Bodies and heads were taken in lorries to an open mass grave in the Central Cemetery.

Gestapo HQ medley

Naschmarkt - the main Vienna street market - in 1938

Naschmarkt - the main Vienna street market - in 1938

Vienna 1940s at the Prater amusement fair

Vienna 1940s at the Prater amusement fair

Kirchengasse, Vienna

Kirchengasse, Vienna

Sentiments reported by officials tasked with writing reports on the state of public opinion in Austria during the war (Source: Kirk pp. 124-7):

“The Fuhrer is a Mason and should stick to masonry instead of bothering himself with things he knows nothing about. The Poles should have put out more eyes and cut more of our soldiers’ throats, and then we might have a bit of quiet."

"the Russians will win the war yet. The Germans have always been barbarians. Since the Piefke[slang for Germans] have been here we get shit. What do we need the Nazi scoundrels for anyway? I don't want to know anything about them. I feel sick when I see them. What we ever got from Hitler? He’s only brought us poverty and misery.”

"What Goebbels says his idiocy. A worker who already works 14 to 16 hours a day is hardly in a position to go to the cinema or theatre. So what good does it do to go on about more cinemas and other entertainments being provided. It's just the usual eyewash. After all you have to sleep sometime if you've been grafting all day."


Roland Freisler, president of the Peoples' Court

Roland Freisler, president of the Peoples' Court

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