Home Guard

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A Home Guard is generally an armed paramilitary unit. However, this term specifically describes Austrian paramilitary “self-protection associations” from the interwar period of the 20th century. These were mainly close to the Christian social camp; but in some cases there were also connections to the German national camp.


In Austria, after the end of the First World War, home guards were formed in individual areas from various local resident guards and self-protection associations, which later also merged on a regional basis. From April 30, 1919, active paramilitary people's militias were approved and promoted by the Vorarlberg state government against socialist efforts and equipped with weapons ( rifles and machine guns ) or their equipment approved. These people's militias were under the direction of Governor Otto Ender . In the summer of 1920 these people's militias had around 3,000 members, while the federal army in Vorarlberg had only 800 soldiers under arms. These people's militias were primarily financed by industry in Vorarlberg, and they later became the home guard in Vorarlberg.

The first association of in Tirol so-called homeland defense was on May 12 in 1920 by Members of Parliament of the Tyrolean Christian Socialists , Richard Steidle founded. Between 1920 and 1935/36 Steidle was the regional leader of the Heimatwehr in Tyrol, and his deputies were supporters or mandataries of the Greater German People's Party . Four program points are mentioned in the statute, the first was "Protection of the constitution and defense against any attempt to change the constitution by force", then "Protection of people, work and property", "Support of the existing state authority in maintaining law and order" and finally " Intervene in the event of natural forces ”. Likewise, the "elimination of all party politics" is emphasized, and as a private association one deals "not with military matters". From this it can already be seen that the Heimatwehr was not an organization of a party, but an independent, politically right-wing unit that was part of " Marxism ", i.e. H. for Tyrol saw above all in the social democracy , their political enemy.

Initially, the Austrian Heimwehr groups were involved in border disputes with Hungarian and SHS-state troops (later Yugoslavia ). After Austria's state borders were finally regulated, the only apparent opponent left here was Austromarxism , from which, according to their opinion, the bourgeoisie had to be protected. This also led to the fact that the Social Democratic camp in Austria formed the Republican Protection League in 1923 as a defensive and democratic counterweight to the Heimwehr.

When the Vienna Palace of Justice went up in flames in connection with the protests against the Schattendorfer verdict in 1927 and more than 80 demonstrators died in the subsequent clashes with the executive branch - the social democratic side spoke of the so-called “July massacre” of the workers - the Home Guard movement was the main force in the federal states when social democratic traffic strikes were broken and the bourgeoisie, shocked by the “Marxist terror”, celebrated them as “saviors in need”. The Heimwehr movement experienced a tremendous upswing in Austria in the years up to 1930 and was instrumental in the fact that domestic political conditions became increasingly radical.

The Heimwehr march in Wiener Neustadt on October 7, 1928

In the years after 1927, the Heimwehr sought to be more than the - as Steidle put it - " chain dog " that the bourgeois parties let off the leash as needed. Many Heimwehr leaders began increasingly political profile to develop and demanded more and more vehemently a fundamental change of the political system of Austria in a corporative and authoritarian sense. For this purpose, the various regional associations of the Austrian Home Guard came together in 1927 to form an umbrella organization, the Federation of Austrian Self-Protection Associations. The Heimwehr leaders tried to implement the required system change both through constant agitation on the streets - mainly in the form of huge Sunday marches in markets and cities - and, so to speak, "behind the scenes" through political pressure on the federal government. In this way the Heimwehr managed to get Johannes Schober to become Federal Chancellor in 1929 . Schober, who had been the chief police officer in Vienna in 1927 and had the demonstrators shot, was seen by the Home Guard as a “strong man” and was in turn seen as a bearer of hope. However, it turned out to be a bitter disappointment, not only because in the dispute over the amendment of the Austrian constitution, which came about in 1929 and strengthened the position of the Federal President, he had worked out a compromise with the Social Democrats that was completely unacceptable from the point of view of the Home Guard officials, but also because he was unwilling to give in to her other demands.

The federal leader of the Austrian Heimwehr Richard Steidle (center), the deputy Styrian leader Reinhart Bachofen von Echt (left) and the Styrian district leader Hans von Pranckh (right back), photo on the Heimwehr grandstand on the Neuklosterwiese during the deployment of the Heimwehr and the Schutzbund in Wiener Neustadt on October 7, 1928

The failure in the constitutional dispute and the global economic crisis finally ushered in a phase of stagnation and the growing divergence of the Heimwehr movement, which Federal Leader Steidle hoped to overcome in May 1930 with the so-called Korneuburg Oath , whose anti-democratic thrust already points to Austrofascism . Even this attempt to impose an ideology on the home guard movement, which was heterogeneous from the beginning, and thus to ensure more unity, did not lead to its renewed strength. In order to finally win back the initiative and still enforce the required system change in the direction of an authoritarian corporate state, the Federal Leader of the Home Guard, Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg , who was newly elected in September 1930, fought for a government participation and enforced that the home guards, who always had been an avowed opponent of parliamentarism, participated in the National Council elections of 1930 under the designation home block .

However, the election result of the home bloc fell far short of expectations and further weakened the internal cohesion of the home defense movement. Starhemberg finally made room for Walter Pfrimer , who was a representative of a radical course within the Heimwehr movement and had already used violence several times in Styria to enforce political demands, as the new federal leader. In view of the fact that all the paths taken so far to implement the desired system change had failed, the disintegration of the home guards continued and they were also exposed to increasing pressure from the growing Austrian National Socialists, Pfrimer now put everything on one card: through a coup the demands of the Heimwehr are finally implemented and all problems are solved in one fell swoop. The Pfrimer Putsch in September 1931 failed miserably and ultimately ensured that the Heimwehr movement was now completely split up into a "loyal to the government" wing around Richard Steidle and Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg and an "anti-government" wing around Konstantin Kammerhofer , the leader of the Styrian Homeland Security , who largest segment within the Heimwehr movement fell apart.

Even when the corporate state under Federal Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss began to become a reality from 1933, the home guards remained a source of unrest. Beginning in Tyrol, where on January 30, 1934, there were large armed parades of the Heimatwehr in numerous places and the demand for the establishment of an authoritarian state committee with the participation of Heimatwehr members, a kind of "rolling [r Heimwehr] putsch" went through in the period that followed Austrian federal states, which caused a hitherto unseen domestic political "high tension" that finally erupted in the February battles against the Social Democrats.

Badge of the Heimwehr in memory of the February fighting in 1934

After the dissolution of the Social Democratic Party on February 12, 1934, the NSDAP became the new enemy of those Heimwehr associations that supported the political course of the federal government, while the associations of Styria and Carinthia moved more and more in the direction of the NSDAP and finally merged organizationally with it.

In the Austro-Fascist corporate state (1933–1938), the Home Guard had, among other things, police and security tasks within the protective corps . During the February fighting and the National Socialist July coup , they not only took on reconnaissance, guard and security tasks, but also carried out smaller combat missions independently, which significantly relieved the other formations fighting on the government side (gendarmerie and armed forces). When all military associations were disbanded in 1936, the home guards were largely absorbed into the Fatherland Front and the Front Militia .

Political assignment

The Heimwehr was close to the Christian Social Party and the German National Camp , and they were supported by Ignaz Seipel and other Christian Social politicians. The home guards were soon concerned with playing an independent political role. The Korneuburg program took a counter-position to the Linz program of the social democrats, which was aimed at a democratic takeover of power, but which contained formulations that could be interpreted as striving for a dictatorship of the proletariat .

Attempts to unite the Heimwehr nationwide under unified leadership were made several times, but failed in the long term due to the differing objectives of the individual Heimwehr associations and groups and the rivalries of their main leaders (Walter Pfrimer, Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, Richard Steidle). In particular, the Styrian Homeland Security and the Carinthian Home Guard rejected the federal leadership's Christian corporate state course and increasingly approached the NSDAP. The Heimwehr therefore never became the strong, united and non-partisan “popular movement” that it happily pretended to be.

The Carinthian and Styrian part of the Heimwehr in particular appeared openly anti-Semitic , for example they called for a boycott of Jewish shops, and from 1933 onwards Jews were not admitted as members. The attitude of the rest of the home guards was less clear. Although they did use anti-Semitism as a political weapon, for example against refugees from the East or against the supposedly “Jewish” social democracy, overall these reservations were more opportunistic than ideological and played at least no dominant role as an integrative element of the movement.

The home guard groups were financially, logistically and financially, logistically and by the Italian fascists, the Hungarian regime and groups of the Bavarian right (e.g. Organization Chancellor ) by industrial circles (e.g. Österreichisch-Alpine Montangesellschaft ) and large landowners, especially from Styria supported with arms deliveries. Numerous front-line officers of the First World War (including Ellison , Gallian, Hülgerth , Lustig-Prean, Polten and Pranckh ) acted as military "advisers" and functionaries . Since Mussolini was of the opinion that the Heimwehr would not achieve their goal of making Austria fascist, he stopped his financial contributions to the organization in October 1933. Starhemberg also approached right-wing circles in Great Britain - including Sir Oswald Mosley - which, however, did not provide any financial support. Kammerhofer's Styrian Heimatschutz received money from the German government until mid-1932 .


Members of the Heimwehr in Wiener Neustadt on October 7, 1928

Because of their headgear, a hat or a cap with a "game cock thrust" (hunted expression for the tail feathers of the black cock ), which was adopted by the Tyrolean riflemen , they were also called "cocktails". The mocking verse circulated among their opponents:

“Hahnenschwänzler, Hahnenschwänzler are a poor man.
You proudly wear what the rooster has on its backside. "

In principle, uniform uniforms were intended for the members of the Home Guard, but this was rarely observed, as the members generally had to pay for their own clothing. Therefore the Heimwehr men were provided with both military and civilian clothing of all kinds. Only the mobile home defense formations, known as Jäger battalions , which were supposed to function as a kind of rapid reaction force, were completely and relatively uniformly uniformed, which was made possible not least by the fact that Starhemberg also financed its equipment with its own resources.

Museum reception

In the Vienna Army History Museum there are uniforms from female members of the Heimwehr and the Ostmärkische Sturmscharen . As a special piece, Schattendorf's murder weapon, a hunting rifle made from an Austrian infantry weapon, is on display.



  • Wilhelm Chraska: The Home Guard and the First Republic of Austria. Reflections on becoming an Austrian state after the collapse of the monarchy in 1918. Kiel 1981.
  • Earl C. Edmondson: The Heimwehr and Austrian Politics 1918–1936. University of Georgia Press, Athens 1978, ISBN 0-8203-0437-9 .
  • Andreas Fraydenegg-Monzello: People's State and Estates. The economic policy of the Styrian Home Guard 1927-1933. (= Research on the historical regional studies of Styria, vol. 65). Böhlau Verlag, Vienna 2015 ISBN 978-3-205-79599-5
  • Lothar Höbelt: The Heimwehr and Austrian Politics 1927-1936: From Political "Chain Dog" to "Austro-Fascism"? Aresverlag, Graz 2016 ISBN 978-3-90273-266-8
  • Josef Hofmann: The Pfrimer Putsch. The Styrian Home Guard Trial in 1931 . (= Publications of the Austrian Institute for Contemporary History, Vol. 4). Stiasny-Verlag, Vienna-Graz, 1965.
  • Lajos Kerekes: Dusk of a Democracy. Mussolini, Gömbös and the Heimwehr. Europa Verlag, Vienna / Frankfurt / Zurich 1966.
  • John T. Lauridsen: Nazism and the Radical Right in Austria 1918-1934. (= Danish Humanist Texts and Studies, Vol. 32) Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen, 2007, ISBN 978-87-635-0221-4
  • Walter Wiltschegg: The Home Guard. An irresistible popular movement? (= Studies and sources on Austrian contemporary history. Volume 7). Verlag für Geschichte und Politik, Vienna 1985, ISBN 3-7028-0221-5 .

Articles in magazines and compilations

  • Earl C. Edmondson: Home Guard and Other Military Associations. In: Herbert Dachs, Ernst Hanisch, Anton Staudinger, Emmerich Tálos (eds.): Handbook of the Austrian political system. First Republic 1918–1933. Manz Verlag, Vienna 1995, ISBN 3-214-05963-7 .
  • Martin Prieschl: The Home Guard . In: TRUPPENDIENST - magazine for training, leadership and engagement. Issue 313, pp. 43–50, Vienna 2010.
  • Martin Prieschl: Homeland Security in Upper Austria. In: Upper Austria 1918–1938 III. (published by the Upper Austrian Provincial Archives). Linz 2015, ISBN 978-3-902801-23-4 , pp. 187–229.
  • Lothar Höbelt: Italy and the Home Guard 1928–1934 . In: Maddalena Guiotto, Helmut Wohnout: Italy and Austria in Central Europe of the Interwar Period / Italia e Austria nella Mitteleuropa tra le due guerre mondiali , Böhlau, Vienna 2018, pp. 349-370, ISBN 978-3-205-20269-1 .

Web links

References and comments

  1. Werner Dreier: Between Kaiser and 'Führer' - Vorarlberg in transition 1918–1938. Fink's Verlag, Bregenz 1986, ISBN 3-900438-18-8 , p. 44.
  2. ^ Statutes of the Tiroler Heimatwehr, In: Franz-Heinz Hye & Josefine Justic, Innsbruck in the Tension of Politics 1918–1938. Reports - pictures - documents. Innsbruck: Publications of the Innsbruck City Archives, New Series, Volume 16/17, 1991, p. 401.
  3. Earl C. Edmondson: Home Guard and Other Military Associations. In: Dachs Herbert, Hanisch Ernst, Staudinger Anton and Tálos Emmerich (eds.): Handbook of the political system of Austria. First Republic 1918–1933. Manz Verlag, Vienna 1995, ISBN 3-214-05963-7 , p. 274.
  4. The discovery of such a support campaign, which was carried out by the Hirtenberg cartridge factory, led to the Hirtenberg arms affair in early 1933 .
  5. ^ C. Earl Edmondson: The Heimwehr and Austrian Politics 1918-1936. University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1978, ISBN 0-8203-0437-9 , pp. 308f. Note 66
  6. Quotation from: Gertrud Rama: The Unfinished. Books on Demand GmbH, 2000, p. 9. Online here .
  7. Army History Museum, Military History Institute (ed.): The Army History Museum in the Vienna Arsenal . Verlag Militaria , Vienna 2016, ISBN 978-3-902551-69-6 , p. 135.