From July 1944 everyone in Vienna expected the Russians to come soon. Conditions in the city worsened. American bombing began to hit the centre from September and there were constant air raid alerts. There were very few goods in the shops and the black market thrived. As winter came, it became clear that there was a coal shortage. The streets were choked with rubbish and gas and electricity were intermittent, with trams only operating at mid-day.
People came in to the city centre to shelter in the air raid shelters, flak towers and catacombs, pushing and shoving to gain entry when the air raid sirens sounded. If they could, people left the city to get away from the bombing, worrying about whether their apartments would be taken from them by the authorities. Their flight was hampered by the fact that the Westbahnhof had been damaged by bombing and there were stories of trains being machine gunned by Allied planes.
The BBC encouraged people to resist the authorities and ‘O5’, the symbol of one of the resistance groups, began to be scratched on walls. In the Auersperg Palace and in Nibelungasse, members of O5 met to prepare for their role in the fighting.
On March 31st 1945 Soviet troops crossed the border into Austria, at Kőszeg, about 70 miles south of Vienna. That day, private vehicles were banned from leaving the city and von Schirach ordered four battalions of Volksturm militia (mostly teenagers) to the front, dashing hopes that Vienna might be declared an ‘open city’ (as in Rome) and surrendered to the Russians without a fight. Their mothers and sisters took to the streets in protest.
Hearing Russian guns in the distance, people took down pictures of Hitler, hid or burned military artefacts and photographs of men in uniform. People living in districts 5 and 16, where social housing was numerous, gave their clothes to Wehrmacht and Volkssturm deserters. The police withdrew. The last newspapers were printed on 7th April.
People left in the city took shelter in cellars of buildings, taking bedding, food, water and candles.