Chaos in Styria - Part One
Republic of Austria
Simon Golmayer looked over the accounting books in distaste. He frowned because something was wrong. The numbers weren’t adding up. He looked up at Fritz Hanke.
“Well you’re right. Someone is stealing money from the bank.”
“Damn.” Hanke rubbed the bridge of his nose furiously. “Do you have a guess?”
Simon almost wanted to lie but knew he couldn’t. “I think it’s Diana.”
“Teller Diana?!” Hanke said, surprised, followed by a slew of curses. “How?”
“From what I can see it seems she was slipping a few hundred schillings here, a few hundred schillings there. Like stuffing banknotes in a hidden compartment of her purse, her shoes or maybe even her brassiere. She was careful never to take more than she could hide in the books. It would have been months before she was caught, maybe even a year or more. But over the past month she has nabbed almost twenty thousand schillings.”
“How much in total?”
“A rough estimate, I’d say thirty-seven thousand.”
“Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph,” Fritz ran his hand through his hair. “How could this happen? I thought you had them all straightened out.”
“I do and my tellers are good, Fritz, damn good and reliable, but Diana, well you know who her father is. It’s half the reason you hired her.”
“Don’t blame this on me, Simon. Don’t you dare. She stole Herr Rothschild’s money out from under your watch.”
Simon bit back a retort. Fritz might be his friend but he was also one of his bosses. Better to bite the bullet and take responsibility.
“She must have done it when I wasn’t up front. Perhaps during my lunch or during meetings. I would have caught her if she tried anything while I was there.”
Hanke sighed. “I don’t blame you, Simon. I hired her after all, like you said. I regret doing that.”
Simon nodded as his friend pulled out some papers from his desk drawer. Simon could read the word TERMINATION
in bold on the heading. They had a moral and legal obligation but firing Diana would lead to… complications. Her father was the cousin of a major government figure. A Minister’s second cousin stole almost forty thousand schillings in less than a year. It would make headlines, of that he had no doubt. Herr Rothschild wouldn’t like the publicity as Creditanstalt was the government’s largest lender and any rumblings of a strained relationship between the government and the nation’s largest bank could send shockwaves through the markets, leading to a plunge of investment and other, more painful effects.
But it had to be done, the only thing worse than firing Diana was keeping her employed with bank management knowing she had stolen from them. It was a lose-lose situation. It was Simon’s and Hanke’s job to ease Creditanstalt through the storm of public scrutiny to come.
Hanke was signing some paperwork when he began speaking. “We will need to call the police and have a trustworthy detective come out and-”
The door to Hanke’s office slammed open and another manager stood there, breathless.
“What the hell is going on?” Hanke demanded, face purpling from anger at the interruption.
Simon was calmer. “What happened, Alois?”
“There was a shooting between the Sozinats and Sozis over in Villach.”
“Generally they just pummel or stab one another. A shooting is an abnormality but not unheard of,” Simon commented.
“No, you don’t understand. Hitler was there and he was shot.”
Simon was shocked and saddened that he felt relief at the news. “Is he dead?”
“No idea, it just came over the radio a few minutes ago.”
Simon shrugged and turned back to Hanke who looked startled. “Don’t worry, Fritz, those extremist groups, they’re no loss.”
“If you say so,” his friend muttered before shaking head and going back to what they were talking about before the interruption. “As I was saying, we need a detective with a strong record whom the public can trust. Don’t want anything that could be misconstrued as shady or backdoor-”
Simon sat there, nodding along, adding comments when necessary. From the surface, he was all business, professional in his work. But inside, in his private thoughts, a question kept coming back:
Is the bastard dead?
And privately he answered, God Above, I hope so, all the while muttering a prayer for forgiveness.
Republic of Austria
Jakob Kuhr stared in numb silence as two paramedics worked on the unconscious Hitler. Blood poured down the Führer
’s chest, pooling on the cot with some dripping onto the floor of the ambulance. The sirens wailed, wanting people to make way through the city streets.
He had failed… that was the thought that went through his mind. He had failed and now Adolf Hitler lay dying. Not even half a year into his command of the Stoßtrupp-Adolf Hitler
and the one individual it was tasked with protecting had slipped into a coma and was quickly approaching death’s door.
The paramedics swapped out the bandages, already stained and heavy with blood, and discarded them in a bin nearby. They poured white powder on the wound and applied pressure, trying to stem the bleeding.
When the ambulances had arrived at the city square, there had been a dozen dead on both sides. When the shooting had started Kuhr and the SAH contingent, aided by the Villach Sturmwache
had responded in kind, killing several of the Republikanischer Schutzbund
before the confusion stopped the fighting, police cars and ambulance vans arriving soon after.
Kuhr remembered clearly the chaos, the shots fired. He had rushed to Hitler, dodging bullets and bodies, and got there in time to shoot the man aiming at the Führer
. He killed the Sozi but not until two rounds had slammed into Hitler, both in the chest. Kuhr had applied pressure until the paramedics arrived, and now he found himself here, beside the man he adored… beside his greatest failure. Hitler was the Party and without him... the Party would die. Everything would have been done in vain. The war, Carinthia, South Tyrol and the years since. A life of futility. And it would be his fault.
It did not take long to reach the hospital. Orderlies, nurses and a doctor stood in the front, ready to receive their patient. The ambulance screeched to a halt, doors were thrown open, and Hitler was carried out, placed on a gurney and rushed inside. Kuhr tried to follow but the nurse shook her head.
“I’m sorry, sir. Medical personnel only.”
Kuhr wanted to fight the issue but he didn’t have the heart, the drive. Hitler was on death’s door and it was his fault.
Shoulders slumped, body fatigued in more ways than physical exhaustion, he stumbled to the front of the hospital. Two cars pulled up, tires screeching on the concrete. Eight SAH men in Sturmwache
blue-gray ran out, hands on holstered pistols and eyes darting about.
Kuhr held up his hand.
is inside, in surgery.” Another van pulled up and the Social Nationalist guards reached for their weapons but it wasn’t the Sozi paramilitary but reporters, their camera bulbs flashing bright-white, pencil and pads at the ready. “I want four in the lobby, four around the perimeter. Don’t do anything stupid or antagonistic.” Kuhr gestured to the encroaching reporters. “We can’t afford to look bad right now.”
“Jawohl, mein Herr
,” the guards said, coming to attention, arms shooting out in salute, before taking their positions.
Kuhr sighed and walked towards the phone booth on the street corner, ignoring the calls of the newsies. Arriving at the booth, he reached into his greatcoat pocket and pulled out a 2 groschen coin.
Inserting the coin, Kuhr bit his lip. Starhemberg was going to be apoplectic at his failure... and it would be deserved.
Republic of Austria
The city was silent. Not the true silence of oblivion, but rather a pregnant pause. It was a hesitance that inhabited a city of two hundred thousand souls that had not truly stirred from its slumber. Graz was akin to a crypt in that early pre-dawn morning, unmoved, filled with chilled air and all-encompassing stone cold to the touch. Most citizens were comfortably asleep in their beds while others readied themselves for the day. Mothers cooked breakfast, while fathers read newspapers as they sipped coffee, all the while their children enjoyed the bliss of sleep, sheltered by the innocence of youth.
That silence of peaceful serenity was shattered by the rumbling of truck engines and the shouting of men, whistles blared, high and screeching and the sound of hobnailed boots echoed in Graz’s streets and alleyways. The few that heard the commotion approaching the Hauptplatz looked out their windows before quickly retreating, some terrified though even more were confused by what they saw.
Some believed it was a military garrison carrying out a poorly-timed urban exercise, while some thought it was a high-ranking government official arriving before the city streets became flooded with people going about their day. But a handful, those very few who could comprehend what was about to happen, guessed correctly.
Trucks and cars, with the Kruckenkreuz
symbol haphazardly painted on their sides, began to screech to a halt in the Hauptplatz, Graz’s city center. A sole policeman stood sentry at Town Hall, smoking a cigarette, when the men in blue-gray arrived. The officer pulled out his pistol, ordering them to stop, but was quickly gunned down, sending shouts of alarm in the nearby residential buildings as the sharp crack and boom of gunfire soon erupted across dozens of spots throughout the city in the following hours.
Walter Pfrimer exited the car, the Sturmwache
guard who opened his door saluting with arm outstretched. Pfrimer moved past him, moving to join the half-dozen SW officers standing before Town Hall.
“Report,” Pfrimer said.
“We have secured Town Hall, the Schlossberg and the Clock Tower, as well as two police stations and the Bundesheer
quarters and armory.”
“Excellent. Make sure to get those weapons distributed to the men. Ours take priority, but there should be enough for Hiltl’s men. I want the other police stations and government secured with the hour. Go.”
,” they said, clicking their heels as they came to attention before dispersing to carry out his orders.
Pfrimer walked up the steps of Town Hall, eying the cooling corpse of the attending policeman. Such a shame, but Pfrimer would brook no resistance. The Führer
was on death’s door, and his inaction of seizing power through force now laid with him. A flicker of doubt passed through him but he quickly shrugged it off. Now was the time to strike, both to rally those to his side and to cement his power grab before the Central Committee could respond.
Turning back, seeing his Sturmwache
and Hiltl’s Frontkämpfervereinigung
setting up a perimeter, keeping civilians away from the Hauptplatz, he nodded in satisfaction. The sharp crack of gunfire originated from not too far away, maybe two or three blocks, quickly followed by return fire. It was not the first shots to be fired and it wouldn’t be the last either.
The city would submit to him, of that he was sure. Once Graz was secured and the Party recognized him as their new leader, throwing themselves to enter his good graces and giving him a major boost in manpower, then he would proceed to his next target.
He had heard some of his men murmur what their next step would be but it should have been obvious.
+ + +
News of Hitler being shot in Villach quickly spread through Austria. From newspapers to radio to people shouting it on street corners, word of Hitler lying in a coma became far-reaching.
Many rejoiced, notably those in the government coalition, the Communist Party and Social Democrats, whilst many others lamented. The SDAPÖ found itself conflicted. Many amongst the rank-and-file felt that the Villack skirmish was a victory, despite their own losses, while the Party leadership feared they would be outlawed due to what could be argued was an assassination attempt against the leader of another political party.
Yet no recrimination came from the Chancellery, nor that of President Miklas‘ Office, and the Republikanischer Schutzbund
was allowed to remain, with nothing but a formal complaint lodged against them by the National Council, pushed through by Sozinat Councilmen, joined surprisingly by several disillusioned members of the coalition government. The highest ranking member of the government to voice an official complaint was Engelbert Dollfuss of the Christian Socials Party, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.
While many experienced shock or joy at the news, the Sozinats, as could be expected, became angry and violent. Throughout the small unstable republic, Sozinat Sections in their respective cities lashed out in a variety of ways. Some sealed off entire neighborhoods with barricades patrolled by armed guards, entrenching themselves, waiting for an attack that never came. Others took to mass protests in front of town halls, with looting and vandalism frequent in the following hours and days until the Party’s hierarchy was able to reestablish discipline. Unsurprisingly Jewish businesses were a target in many towns and cities, barring Vienna where Hitler’s right hand man, Deputy Party Chairman Franz Olbrecht, kept his fascist thugs in check so as not to be seen as antagonistic. As a precaution, Chancellor Seipel had ordered police and military units to protect government institutions and the Creditanstalt Bank.
By far the most extreme action was that undertaken by Walter Pfrimer, Kapitelleiter
of the Graz Section and the ÖSNVP Provinzialchef
of Styria. When word reached Pfrimer of Hitler’s incapacitated state, he assembled the entirety of his four hundred strong Sturmwache
, bolstered by nearly five hundred allied Heimatschutz
, many belonging to Hermann Hiltl’s Frontkämpfervereinigung
. Armed, trained and bloodthirsty, Pfrimer led his collection of jackboot murderers into seizing the city of Graz by storming the Hauptplatz and securing City Hall.
The mayor and the entire city council were arrested. Those who were affiliated or registered members of the Communists or Social Democrats were quickly put through a public show trial and executed within forty-eight hours, hung like common criminals. The other city councilmen, an ad-hoc mix of Christian Socials and National Liberals, were imprisoned, as was the sole Social Nationalist councilman Anton Rintelen. Rintelen, an ardent supporter of Hitler and his policy of Führerprinzip
, decried Pfrimer as a traitor to Social Nationalism and that his takeover of Graz constituted a coup against not only the government but the Party as well.
Within an hour of securing Graz, Pfrimer declared himself the interim leader of the Sozinat Party and that Graz was but the first step of a national revolution against the ‘decadent and traitorous government’ of Vienna. It is believed Pfrimer was planning to imitate an Austrian version of the March on Rome.
The rest of the ÖSNVP leadership, spearheaded by Olbrecht and the Central Committee, stripped Pfrimer of his position and authority within the Party and the Sturmwache
, causing cracks among Pfrimer’s support base but a majority stayed true to Pfrimer. The Graz Section was notoriously more loyal to Pfrimer than Hitler, many having served under Pfrimer for years prior to the formation of the Sozinat Party. In the following days the Bundesheer
was deployed to the cities of Bruck, Wolfsberg and Gleisdorf, straining the ability of the small Austrian military as they established a defensive cordon to keep Pfrimer and his insurrectionists holed up in Graz.
The following days were heightened with tension and brief exchanges of gunfire between the Pfrimerists and the Bundesheer
, as all eyes through the country turned to the developing situation as both sides readied for the next phase, though few suspected the manner things would come to a conclusion within weeks.
Blood and Steel: The Rise of Austrofascism
by Dr. Richard Newell