Austrian Nationalist Groups: Heimwehr Youth Movement

Figure 1.--Here Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg is inspecting a Heimwehr boys camp. The photograph was taken August 30, 1933, some place in Austria. He is accompanied by some Italian visitors.

We do not have much information about Austrian nationalist groups. We believe that the Heimwehr had a youth movement. The Heimwhr was similar to the post-World War I Freikorps in Germany. While we have some information on the Heimwehr, we do not yet have any information on its youth movement, except that they organized youth summer camps.

Austrian Political Developments

Austra for several centuries was one of the major European powers, dominating much of Germany and after the Austro-Prussian War (1866) the center of a large-multi-ethnic empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire desintegrated in the closing months of World War I (1918). The Central Power's defeat in World War I left Austria a small, Germanic state and European backwater. The Austrians declared a republic and Emperor Karl was forced to abdicate. Austria was now the much reduced territory of German-speaking Austria. The Republic of Austria was forced to recognise the independent states of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. The economy suffered from the separation from the former territories of the Empire. This helped engender economic strife. The political and economic dislocation gave rise to fascism. Many Austrians after the War wanted to join Germany, but the Allies prohibited this with the Versailles Treaty (1919). This was a perfect breeding ground for fascism and the Heimwehr was one manifestation of this. The Heimwehr, similar to the German Frei-Korps, was used to supress left-wing groups and striking workers. Austrians elected Fascist leaders. The Heimwehr was merged into the Fatherland Front (1934). Austrian fascists were divided as to wether the country should join Germany. After Hitler's seizure of power in Germany, the Austrian NAZI Party grew in membership, but was restricted by the Government, especially after the assaination of Chancellor Dolfuss (1934). The Austrians NAZIs led by by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, (the future NAZI occupation head in the Netherlands) agitated for union with Germany. Hitler finally accomplished union with the Anschluss (1938) which was accompanied with an unimaginably outburst of violence against Austrian Jews.


The Heimwehr would translate something like the Austrian Home Guard. It was a right-wing formation which appeared after World War I. It was primarily composed of World War I veterans and similar to the para-military German Frei-Korps. The were essentially right-wing mercinaries used to supress left-wing groups, including trade unions. The Heimwehr in the 1920s was a grouping of local units without any central structure or leadership. There was no real political problem beyond a general opposition to Communists and Socialists. Local Heimwehr units in Upper Austria were used to break strikes, attacking striking workers. . The Heimwehr was also involved in a massacre (July 15, 1927). After Mussolini seized power in Italy, he began to secretly support the Heimwehr, both because of their ideological orientation and his interest in maintining an independent Austria separate from Germany. Heimwehr leaders decided to enter the politicl system (1930). The Heimwehr adopted the Korneunberg Oath creating a Fascist political party. The Party adopted a right-wing Austrian nationalist position, differentiating itself from some other right wing groups committed to pan-German nationalism. They rejected parliamentary democracy while competing in elections. They also rejected Marxism and favored establishing a dictatorship, The Party won about 6 percent of the vote (250,000 votes) in the first election that they contested (1930) obtaining eight seats in Parliament. This was less than they expected, but established them as a real political party. The Heimwehr did not remain united very long. Walter Pfrimer who led the Styria contingent staged a coup attemp, attempting to seize Vienna (1931). He was not, however, supported by the central organization. This factured the organization and it reverted largely to a loose grouping of local units. Many disaffected Heimwehr members turned to other parties, particularly the NAZIs with their pan-Germanic ideology. Engelbert Dollfuss established the Fatherland Front (1934). The Front drew a lot of the remaining support for the Heimwehr. As Mussolini moved closer to Hitler, the Heimwehr lost the support it once had from Italy. Dollfuss was assainated by a renegade NAZI. His replacement, Kurt Schuschnigg, brought the remaining Heimwehr units into the Fatherland Front (1936).

Heimwehr Youth Movement

We see here a Heimwehr summer camp (1933). We have no detailed information on the organization.

Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg (1899-1956)

Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg was a right-wing Austrian politicn during the inter-Wars period (1920s-30s). He was born Ernst Rüdiger Fürst von Starhemberg in Eferding, Upper Austria during 1899. Austria at the time was the the German prt of the Austro-Hungrin Empire. Ernst was born into the Austrian nobility. Fürst means prince in Germn. His family was related to the 17th century Austrian Fieldmarshal Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg. His parents were Princess Franziska von Starhemberg and Prince Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg. During World War I as a young man served with the Austrian Army on the Italian Front. After the War with the disolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the new Austrian Republic abolished the nobility. Starhemberg thus lost his titles (1919). He joined the Freikorps "Oberland" (1921). He became involved in right-wing politics and joined the Heimwehr and quickly became a branch leader. He was very impressed with Mussolini's seizure of power in Italy. He traveled to Germany and joined the NAZI Party and like other early NAZIs thought that they could seize control of Germny just as Mussolini did in Italy. Aristocrats like Starhemberg were useful to Hitler as they helped give the NAZIs dominated by men of low social standing, a veneer of respectability. The Party needed to attract men of substance who coyld help finance it. Hitler also persued the German nobility, including the former Kaiser's family. Starhemberg participated in the abortive NAZI Beer Hall Putsch (1923). He became, however, disenchanted with the NAZIs and returned to Austria. He rejoined the Heimwehr nd rose to become its national director (1930). He played a role in turning the Heimwehr into a centralized organization and political party. The goal was to create a Fascist Austria. The Heimwehr's rising influence resulted in Starhemberg being apponted Minister of the Interior (September 1930). The Heimwehr's disappointing political performance and an attempted coup by some of its members caused Starhemberg to lose his position. Engelbert Dollfuß became Chancellor of Austria (1932). Dollfuß with his fascist leanings was favorably disposed toward Starhemberg. Dollfuß’s used Starhemberg to bring together right wing groups like the Heimwehr into a unified political organization to support his government. The result was the Fatherland Front. Dollfuß appointed Starhemberg vice chancellor (May 1934). A renigade NAZI assasinated Dollfuß 2 months later. Starhemberg became the leader of the Fatherland Front as well as his vice chancellor position. The new Chancellor, Kurt Schuschnigg, also appointed him Minister of State Security. This made him a commanding person in the Austrian Government. Starhemberg attempted to build a fascist Austria, but one independent of Germany and the NAZIs. He struggled with the NAZis in Austria, Schuschnigg and Starhemberg both wanted to kieep Austria independent, but they disagreed on a range of political issues. In particular Starhemberg was a more fervent fascist. Schuschnigg dismissed him (1936). When the NAZIs launched the Anschluss, Starhemberg had the good sence to flee the country. Schuschnigg did not and was arrested by the SS. Starhemberg served brirfly with the British and Free French air forces in the early years of World War II. He then emigrated to Argentia (1942). He eventually returned to Austria (1955).


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Created: 9:04 PM 10/18/2007
Last updated: 9:46 PM 9/19/2009