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Ernest's story

Life under the Russian occupation

Photograph of young Ernest Like Lotte Evans (the VIENNA SCHOOLGIRL), I spent the war years in Vienna Austria, going to school. I was born in 1931. Our part of town, like all of Vienna, was overrun by the Russians in May of 1945 and later occupied by the British. In contrast to Eastern Germany, Austria had a non-communist government even in the Russian occupied sector. This made it very difficult for Russians to "rule" and no doubt caused them to accept a final withdrawal of their troops from that country.

Much of the "restoration of society" after the war was due to the economic impact of the "Marshall plan" and in the case of Austria also to the ability of the then Bundeskanzler ( prime minister) Figl to hold his own in vodka drinking bouts during negotiations with Russian diplomats!

The frontline troops were the elite of the Soviet army. They seemed to be efficient, disciplined, did not loot and rape as is common, and were very generous to the civilian population, sharing their military rations, handing out bowls of soup etc. from their campsites in the streets.

These frontline troops soon advanced further into the city and were replaced by "regular" Russian troops, which were vastly different in many ways.

Russians soldiers were much more "humane" than German soldiers occupying foreign territory. For example, there was a curfew for civilians till about 9 a.m. By 5 a.m. we used to go out into the street and line up at a bakery to obtain some loaves of bread. If German soldiers had decreed a curfew and found people in the street they would have shot them. Russians might come around and ask what you were doing, but would not bother you once they saw you were only trying to get food.

Much of the benign treatment of civilians in Vienna and Austria by Russian soldiers was due to them being told that they were liberating Austria rather than occupying Germany itself. We were told that Russians in Germany proper, acted with much less restraint.

Most civilians with a Nazi past had either fled, or were smart enough to burn or remove any pictures of Hitler, any Swastikas etc. from their apartments or professional signs, before the Russian troops found them. Any time the Russians would find evidence of Nazi emblems, they would smash them and investigate further.

We soon found out that the soldiers' bosses were not so much their officers but rather "political commissars" which accompanied the army. They were also in uniform but easily distinguishable from soldiers (I think they had a red stripe on their caps, but I am not sure of my recollection on this). In any event, they were the real authorities. Let me relate two examples of what happened:

  • Just leaving my building, a Russian soldier on a bicycle came up to me, quickly handed me the bike and walked away. A minute later a comissar came around the corner. The soldier was very smart getting rid of the bike as he saw him approaching.

  • At one other time, as I watched it from my window, a Russian soldier came out of a grocery across the street with some loot in his arms. A comissar saw him, never spoke to him, just drew his pistol and shot him dead on the spot. Yet still at other times, you saw Russian soldiers, mostly of Asian origin (with mongolian features) who were wobbling around on bicycles, obviously just learning to ride them, with no interference from anyone.

Ernest Blaschke

Ernest is a member of the MEMORIES Panel of Elders.

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