Free Austrian Movement

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The Free Austrian Movement (abbreviated FAM , German: Free Austrian Movement ) was an organization founded by Austrians in exile in Great Britain during the Second World War . It was conceived in December 1941 as the umbrella organization for all Austrian exile organizations that had previously existed in Great Britain and, although dominated by Communists , had the backing of all political groups - with the exception of those of the Social Democrats - until around the summer of 1943 . The main tasks until 1945 were helping Austrian refugees who had come to Great Britain, coordinating the work of all organizations in exile opposed to National Socialism , looking after British troops fighting Austrians and especially working on BBC propaganda radio broadcasts that were broadcast into occupied Austria .

Prehistory 1939 to 1941

When war broke out in 1939, many Austrians in exile in Great Britain were considered to be citizens of the German Reich as enemy aliens , and from May 1940 they were partially arrested and interned. Because of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact still in existence at the time , this mainly affected left-wing exiles, while corporate and monarchist groups were spared. For fear of a German invasion, many of these prisoners were shipped overseas, for example to Canada. However, this changed after the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out in June 1941 and Great Britain was now allied with the Soviet Union. The interned Austrians have now been released, and some of those brought overseas have been able to come back.

The Austrian organizations in exile, which were divided into different political camps, now came closer to one another and the will to found a strong representative political representation of Austrians in Great Britain arose. The initiative came from the communists, who wanted to found a kind of popular front for all anti-fascist Austrians. In November 1941 a “Co-ordinating Committee of Austrian Women” was first founded, which was joined by eleven other organizations to form the “Working Group of Austrian Organizations - Free Austrian Movement in Great Britain”. The “Free Austrian Movement” emerged from this nucleus.

December 1941 to November 1943

The "Free Austrian Movement" was founded on December 3, 1941 in London as an umbrella organization, and Franz West was elected President. Initially, eleven previously existing exile organizations joined. The most important of these were the “Council of Austrians in Great Britain” (non-partisan body since September 1938), the “Austrian League” (since 1940 organization of corporate statesmen and monarchists), “ Young Austria ” (youth organization similar to the popular front), the “Austrian Office” "(Opposition Social Democrats who stood up for a free Austria) and the" Austrian Center "(first communist-run umbrella organization since February 1939). The Austrian Center also took over its seat in the London borough of Paddington , Westbourne Terrace 124, which had more than 70 employees.

Festival academy on the occasion of the
fifth anniversary of the Austrian Center , London, 7 May 1944

Later, 26 other organizations were added, which were also active in other cities, such as Manchester , Birmingham , Bournemouth , Leeds , Newcastle , Oxford and in Scotland . The most important group that did not join the umbrella organization, apart from a few individuals, were the Austrian Social Democrats organized in the London Bureau of the Austrian Socialists . Although these were also anti-fascist, they did not support the re-establishment of a state of Austria at that time. Numerous Jews who were Austrian citizens before 1938, but had turned away from Austrian patriotism and turned to Zionism since the anti-Semitic riots after the Anschluss, also stayed away . Nevertheless, there were numerous Jews in Great Britain, especially among the Austrian communists.

On January 24, 1942, the first major event of the “Free Austrian Movement” took place in the Porchester Hall in London, in which 1,500 Austrians in exile took part and expressed their readiness to support Great Britain in the war against Hitler's Germany. One of the demands was the creation of an "Austrian Legion" (not to be confused with the Austrian Legion of exiled National Socialists that existed until 1938 ), an idea that was only hesitantly accepted by the British government and would not be implemented until the end of the war should. Instead, numerous Austrians joined the British armed forces. From the beginning of 1942, the FAM also actively promoted the work of Austrians in the British war economy. Several hundred skilled workers and 300 Austrian technicians, chemists and researchers already worked in the armaments industry. In addition, 150 Austrian doctors and 400 nurses worked for the British. On February 18, a delegation from the Austrian Office handed over an ambulance financed by donations to Winston Churchill, who on this occasion described Austria for the first time as the “first victim of Nazi aggression”.

In addition, numerous cultural events were organized in England. Exiletheater staged pieces by Nestroy , Lessing and János Békessy and the Rosé Quartet played in the Wigmore Hall . In the summer of 1942, the Austrian Center organized a campaign for voluntary Sunday harvest work in agriculture, a home for young armaments workers ( War Workers Hostel ) was opened, as well as holiday accommodation at 132 Westbourne Terrace for Austrian soldiers in the British Army, as well as a Austrian Kindergarten ( Austrian Day Nursery ). In September 1942, the second “War Effort Conference” of the “Free Austrian Movement” found that 360 Austrians were working as doctors in Great Britain, 4000 to 5000 in the armaments industry, 2000 to 3000 in agriculture, and 1500 Austrians were in the Pioneer Corps of the British Army and 300 to 400 Austrian women in the Auxiliary Territorial Service .

After the Allied invasion of North Africa , numerous Austrians came to the Austrian Center in November 1942 and were liberated from concentration camps of the French Vichy government in Morocco and Algeria. Many of them are former Spain fighters . This was the first time battle-hardened Austrians joined the Pioneer Corps of the British Army . On April 22, 1943, the British Parliament approved the admission of refugees into all branches of service, which led to a new wave of recruits. The number of Austrians in British uniforms rises to 3,000.

In 1943, however, conflicts arose within the “Free Austrian Movement” due to the organizational dominance of communists in this umbrella organization. In July 1943 the group of opposition Social Democrats around Heinrich Allina ( Austrian Office and League of Austrian Social Democrats in Great Britain ) left the umbrella organization, as did the bourgeois "Austrian Democratic Union" around Friedrich Otto Hertz and Emil Müller-Sturmheim . The monarchist “Austrian League” followed in August 1943.

From the Moscow Declaration to the end of the war

On November 1, 1943, the Moscow Declaration was published, in which the foreign ministers of Great Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union declared the annexation of Austria to be invalid and from now on advocated the restoration of a state of Austria. As a result, the Austrian socialists in exile also changed their position and now, as before, stood up for a free Austria. In addition, they founded the “Austrian Representative Committee” in November 1943, to which all organizations in exile in Great Britain were to send delegates. Thus, parallel to the “Free Austrian Movement”, a new umbrella organization was created, which aimed to be recognized as the official representation of Austria before the British authorities. Two seats were also provided for the communists, but they remained vacant because they did not join the new organization.

The communist-dominated exile organizations Austrian Center and the youth association Young Austria as well as the rest of the umbrella organization of the Free Austrian Movement stayed away from this initiative and viewed themselves as legitimate representatives of Austria in exile. Due to the strength of personnel and the backing from Moscow, a world association of all Austrian organizations in exile, the Free Austrian World Movement, was founded on March 11, 1944, the sixth anniversary of the Anschluss, with like-minded organizations from Argentina ( Austria Libre ), Mexico ( Acción Republicana Austriaca en México ) to Palestine ( Free Austrian Movement in Palestine ), British India and Australia . German communist or left-wing exiles gathered at the same time in the Free Germany movement . In order to prevent identical names, the group called itself in Great Britain from now on "Free Austrian Movement in Great Britain". The British department was the Austrian exile organization with the largest number of members worldwide (7,000) and dominated the association, also because the sub-organizations overseas, with 25,000 members in 1945, could establish little contact with Europe.

In Great Britain the FAM continued its work until the end of the war. It organized numerous cultural events such as plays and revues for British audiences, it published numerous magazines (the main organs were: Free Austrian Movement in Great Britain and Austrian News from 1942 to 1946, study materials of the Commission for the Reconstruction of the Austrian Economy 1944, Österreichspiegel 1945, Austrian Center. Glasgow 1945 etc.). In addition, it operated its own publishing house ( Free Austrian Books ), in which over 40 publications appeared. Members of the Free Austrian Movement were also significantly involved in the design of Austrian radio programs on the BBC , which were broadcast into occupied Austria during the war years, such as the FAM Message by sociologist Hans Winterberg.


  • Charmian Brinson (Ed.): Immortal Austria? Austrians in Exile in Britain (Yearbook of the Research Center for German & Austrian Exile Studies. 8). Editions Rodopi, Amsterdam 2007, ISBN 978-90-420-2157-0 .
  • Marietta Bearman, Charmian Brinson, Richard Dove: Vienna - London, there and back. The Austrian Center in London from 1939 to 1947 . Czernin, Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-7076-0165-X .
  • Sonja Frank (Ed.): Young Austria. Austrians in British exile 1938 to 1947. For a free, democratic and independent Austria . 2nd expanded edition. with DVD. Verlag der Theodor Kramer Gesellschaft , Vienna 2014, ISBN 978-3-901602-55-9 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Alfred Klahr Society: Otto Brichacek / Robert Bondy: Exile in Great Britain: For a Free Austria.
  2. Reinhard Müller : The Austrian Center and its environment. A little chronicle. Great Britain 1938-1945. Lecture series Ueberblicke of the University of Salzburg , 2002.
  3. Reinhard Müller: - Some Austrian organizations in exile in Great Britain. University of Salzburg (PDF).
  4. Festival Academy (...). In:  Austrian Center. Affiliated to the Free Austrian Movement , year 1944, issue May 1944, p. 3 (unpaginated). (Online at ANNO ). Template: ANNO / Maintenance / ace.
  5. Evelyn Adunka: Franz Rudolf Bienenfeld: A pioneer of human rights laws.
  6. Reinhard Müller: The Austrian Center and its environment. A little chronicle. Great Britain 1938-1945. Lecture series Ueberblicke der Universität Salzburg , [2002].
  7. Interview with Alfredo Bauer : It was Austria's enemies who drove us out , Der Standard , October 23, 2009.
  8. Alfred Klahr Society: Gerhard Oberkofler - The Rostock honorary doctorate in medicine for the communist scientist and doctor Georg Fuchs from Vienna (PDF; 113 kB)
  9. Ulf Brunnbauer : The estate of Hans Winterberg in the archive for the history of sociology in Austria ( Memento of the original from June 4, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , University of Graz (PDF; 3.3 MB) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /