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Jewish U-Boote in Austria, 1938-1945
by C. Gwyn Moser
On 12 April 1945, just hours before the Battle of Vienna drew to a close, the Soviet Army crossed the Danube Canal to Leopoldstadt where the last remnants of the German defenders, mostly Waffen-SS, had been entrenched for a few days. Leopoldstadt, the second district of Vienna, is an island located between the Danube River and its arm, the Danube Canal. It had been turned into a quasi-ghetto for those Jews still in Vienna, and it was there that the Germans retreated for their last-ditch stand before fleeing across the Danube in the late hours of 12 April.1 During this retreat, SS soldiers discovered nine Jews in a Forstergasse cellar. All but one of them had been employees of the Altestenrat der Juden in Wien (Jewish Council of Elders in Vienna) and had thus escaped deportation. The remaining man was married to a non-Jew (a so-called Aryan). They had taken refuge in the cellar when the battle began. The retreating SS, raging against their imminent defeat, did not care whether Jews were married to non-Jews or had been employed by the Jewish Council. Ignoring the entreaties of the non-Jewish wife to spare her Jewish husband, the SS shot the five women and four men.2
It is commonly believed that it was impossible for a Jew to find shelter from the Nazis in Vienna because of the series of events culminating in the Forstergasse massacre; these included the whole history of the expulsion and destruction of Austrian Jewry; Hermann Goring's March 1938 boast to the Viennese that he would make Vienna judenrein by 1942;3 Adolf Eichmann's efficiency in implementing Goring's boast; the brutality of Eichmann's agents Alois Brunner and Anton Brunner in rounding up the Jews; and the Gestapo's pursuit of individual Jews between 1943 and 1945. In fact, not all of the approximately 5,800 who survived in Vienna were Jews in protected mixed-marriages who had not been deported to Theresienstadt at the end of the war because of the rapid advance of the Red Army.4 Hundreds of Jews had been living in hiding for periods ranging from only the last few days to the entire duration of the Nazi presence in Austria, 1938-1945. Such Jews in hiding were called U-Boote. The term U-Boot comes from the German word for submarine, because the German idiom "to go underground" or "to go into hiding" is untertauchen, to submerge oneself in society, to hide beneath the masses of humanity like a submarine hides under the sea's surface. I have compiled a list of 619 Jews who survived the war in Austria in hiding; they either hid during roundups, thus escaping deportation, or went into hiding at the end of the war. However, in ten instances these Jews passed by disguising their Jewish identity completely or faked their way into the category of Mischling; moreover, seven children survived in foster homes. Until recently, the usual estimates of U-Boote in Austria had ranged from a low figure of 120 to 150 5 to a high figure of 200 to 300 Jews.6 In fact, there were probably more than 600 U-Boote based on the documents for this study.
These documents come from three collections: first, the KZ-Verband questionnaires now located in the basement of the Dokumentationsarchiv des osterreichischen Widerstandes (Documentation Archives of the Austrian Resistance, DOW) in Vienna; second, the registration slips of the Office for the Central Registration of Victims of Nazi Terror now deposited in the Archiv der Stadt Wien (Municipal Archives of Vienna, ASW); and third, pension applications submitted under the provisions of the Opferfursorgegesetz (welfare laws aiding former victims), some of which are also located in DOW.
The majority of the cases studied, 476 (77 percent) of the total 619, come from the files of the KZ-Verband. The KZ-Verband was an umbrella organization, a collective name for a number of self-help organizations of former inmates of concentration camps and prisons and other victims of Nazi oppression, formed spontaneously in the late summer of 1945. These ad hoc organizations demanded proof of past persecution before accepting an applicant as a member among their ranks. Not everyone, however, felt it was worthwhile to register with these groups; thus they administered only about 14,500 case files. Those who did register were required to provide detailed information about how, when, and why they had been persecuted. They were also required to provide information about their families, their religious and political backgrounds, and their family and property losses under the Nazis.
The KZ-Verband was not the first organization to solicit registration or to help former victims. Immediately after liberation, the Municipality of Vienna opened the Central Registration of Victims of Nazi Terror. Between the end of April 1945 and the beginning of April 1946, over 36,000 persons registered. Whereas the KZ-Verband required applicants to fill out at least a two-page questionnaire, and sometimes a supplementary two-page form, the Central Registration's questionnaire, due to lack of paper and organization, was only one half page, although it was later expanded into mimeographed or printed two-sided forms. These forms contain less data than the KZVerband questionnaires. All applicants were accepted and there was no attempt to check veracity. The third collection, consisting of applications for pensions under the Opferfursorgegesetz (OFG), provided the smallest number of Jews in hiding who had not previously been located in the KZ-Verband files. (See Table 1.)
TABLE 1: Documentary Sources for Jews Hidden in Austria, 1938-1945
Jews in hiding shared certain characteristics that may have aided their chances for survival. For example, almost one-half were between the ages of 40 and 59 when they went into hiding, and if one includes those between 30 and 39, this accounts for two-thirds of all U-Boote in Vienna. (See Table 2.) There were only 13 children under the age of 13 and only four persons 70 or older. In other words, those individuals (the very young and the very old) who ordinarily required supervision or care from another person did not survive as U-Boote. Several other factors may account for the absence of children. Earlier rescue missions by a number of European countries as well as the Youth Aliyah after the pogrom of 9-10 November 1938 led to the emigration of thousands of children without their parents.7 Thirty one (5 percent) of the U-Boote in the KZ-Verband files were parents of such emigrated children. In addition, there had been a constant decline in the Austrian birth rate from 1922 to 1937 8 and of all the UBoote in the KZ-Verband files only 106 (17.12 percent) had ever had children.
The absence of children among the U-Boote is obviously related to the marital status of those in hiding. The KZ-Verband files show that the majority of U-Boote 265 persons (or 57.6 percent) of the sample were unattached when they went into hiding, and almost one-half of these (132 persons) were not or had never been married.9 The other 133 fell into one of the following categories: divorced or widowed but childless, childless with a spouse who had emigrated and in one case, been deported. (See Table 3.)
Jews who were attached when they went into hiding often hid with only a part of their family; 113 individuals reported being together with their spouses and of these only 29 had children. In the KZVerband files there is evidence of only 15 couples who hid together. Of these, only three hid with children, and these were all commonlaw marriages. In one family with three preschool children, the youngest was born in hiding. The wife was non-Jewish and lived in a cellar
TABLE 2: Hidden Jews in Austria, by Age
*Includes one case of disguised identity.
TABLE 3: Family Status of Hidden Jews*
from 1942 to 1945, together with her Jewish husband, her mother-in-law, and the three small children. In the second family, where the wife was also non- Jewish, there was a daughter of primary school age. In the third family, the parents were Jewish, spoke only Yiddish, and had been in hiding since 1938; the wife gave birth to a son in 1944 while hiding. There are only two cases of U-Boote who hid in their own apartments because their wives had registered their husbands as "missing." In other cases, mothers and children (irrespective of age) hid together, and in one rare case, four adult siblings were able to hide together. In general, if more than one member of a family went into hiding, they went to different addresses.
Assimilation was another prerequisite for survival. Finding shelter and a protector required good contacts with non-Jews. It is important to note that almost one-half of the U-Boote listed in the KZ-Verband files had either converted, were nonpracticing (konfessionslos), or were Jews only under the racial classification of the Nuremberg laws. (See Table 4.) Still, over one-half of the U-Boote, had continued their affiliation with the Jewish religion, and had still found protectors.
The overwhelming majority of U-Boote hid in Vienna. Of the 459 in the KZ- Verband files, 367 hid in Vienna. The remainder were to be found throughout the Austrian provinces: 36 in Lower Austria; 3 in Burgenland; 8 in Upper Austria; 3 in Styria; 3 in Carinthia; 2 in Salzburg; and 2 in the Tyrol.10 Successful hiding required finding lodging in someone's apartment, home, or summer house, or possibly in a shop, cellar, or attic. A few wandered from place to place, living in
TABLE 4: Religious Affiliation of Jews Among the U-Boote*
*Compiled from the information given by the 460 U-Boote in the KZ-Verband files.
TABLE 5: Number of Hiding Places of U-Boote*
*Based on information supplied by the 460 U-Boote in the KZ-Verband files.
ruins and cemeteries. Many tried hiding by wandering the streets during the day and sleeping in train stations or closed shops at night, but these people were usually caught and deported.11 Living unregistered without ration cards for food made it impossible for these Jews to support themselves. Hunger drove them back to the Jewish ghetto and its periodic roundups.12 Thus, successful hiding required selfimposed incarceration in a benefactor's home. Almost one-half of the U-Boote stayed at only one address. (See Table 5.)
For most Jews in hiding, the period of confinement lasted at least three to four years. (See Table 6.) The years 1941 and 1942 were the years in which the Austrian Jews were deported to the East; in 1943, occasional small transports went to Theresienstadt, whence, however, numbers of Jews were sent to Auschwitz.13 People went into hiding when they knew they were about to be picked up for a transport. A few were able to escape from a transport already underway and return to Austria to hide. Others who had been living under the protection of a non-Jewish spouse, went into hiding if their spouse died because
TABLE 6. Duration of Hiding*
*Exclusive of the children in foster homes and the ten cases of disguised identity.
TABLE 7. Length of U-Boote Hiding: Mischlinge of the First Degree
such deaths would make them eligible for deportation. One-half of those who went into hiding in 1945, most of them in January or February, were Mischlinge of the first degree, who had gone underground rather than risk being drafted to dig defense trenches against the awaited Soviet Army. (See Table 7.)
Jews were often able to find someone who would help them hide; once hidden, it was more difficult to maintain secrecy for both protector and his charges from curious and malicious neighbors, who believed it their duty to report anything suspicious. Nevertheless, in one documented case, a woman hid five unrelated Jews in danger of being deported, possibly because her own husband had been deported to Poland.14 But informers were everywhere. For every U-Boot
TABLE 8: Non-Jews Punished for Helping Jews
*Includes one case found in the ASW files, making a total of 99.
TABLE 9. Hidden Jews by Gender
*Includes one case of disguised identity found in the ASW files.
who survived the Third Reich, there were most certainly at least two who were caught and immediately deported. Most of these Jews did not survive. The Nazis severely punished anyone for helping Jews. In the KZ-Verband files there are 98 individuals arrested for helping Jews; 60 were sent to concentration camps, where two perished. (See Table 8.) One woman was sent to Auschwitz because after the Anschluss (incorporation of Austria) she had followed her Jewish fiance to Belgium in order to marry. When the Germans occupied Belgium, she was arrested and deported. Another woman was sent to Ravensbriick for Judenfreundlichkeit as well as providing food packages to Jews. But most of these documented helpers were prosecuted for either hiding Jews or helping them cross the border.
Gender does not seem to have played a role in survival. (See Table 9.) There were slightly more women than men who survived in hiding. However, in the age group of the U-Boote, this ratio of women to men follows that of the population at large.15
These figures show that the Jews in hiding were not as rare in Vienna as had been previously thought. It is curious that almost nothing has been written about this aspect of the Holocaust in Austria. This may be attributed to a failure to understand the problems of hiding or to prejudices, dating from the early postwar years, that UBoote were "spoiled" victims, who, though they had endured selfimposed incarceration, hunger and exposure, and fear of capture, had nevetheless been spared the Nazi prisons and concentrations camps. These 600 survivors in hiding show that there was, here and there, a "golden Viennese heart," and also that the Jews did try to escape, that not all waited placidly for their deportation. 16
1. Ferdinand Kas, Wien im Schicksaljahr 1945 (Vienna, Frankfurt, Zurich, 1965), p. 21; Erika Weinzierl, Zu wenig Gerechte. Osterreicher und Judenverfolgung 1938-1945 (Graz, Vienna, Cologne, 1969), p. 90.
2. Dokumentationsarchiv des osterreichischen Widerstandes, Widerstand und Verfolgung in Wien 1934-1945: Eine Dokumentation, vol. 3 (Vienna, 1975), p. 310. (Hereafter cited as Widerstand und Verfolgung, Wien. 3.)
10. These figures are based on where the U-Boot was at the end of the war. Many counted as having survived in Vienna spent some time in provincial Austria and some wandered from province to province. For 36 cases, there is no information as to just where in Austria they hid.
16. Many non-Austrian Jews lived and worked in Vienna as quasi-U-Boote during the war, but because they were not Austrian citizens, they could not register with the KZ-Verband. These Jews had been able to flee Poland with false papers and worked as Fremdarbeiter in the war industries. If one includes these individuals, plus a margin for error, one can probably estimate the number of U-Boote in Austria to be 750.