Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Scars of War, Vienna 1947

Flak Tower, now Haus des Meeres

Reminders of World War II in Vienna

If you walk around the older parts of Vienna, you can see a few artifacts from World War II.  For example, when walking down Gumpendorferstrasse between the Gürtel and the Ring, you cannot miss a huge concrete tower, now a public aquarium (Haus des Meeres), that was built as a control tower to combat WWII air raids. Nearby is a shorter, but still massive, concrete structure that housed anti-aircraft guns. Three of these flak towers were built in Vienna with walls up to eleven feet thick, and they still exist.

For more about the Vienna flak towers, see this Wikipedia article:

Among other artifacts of World War II are small reminders of the destruction it caused. They are small plaques attached to the front of many buildings. They typically say that this building was damaged or destroyed during the war and was rebuilt in some year that followed.  Here is an example:

Sign attached to a building located on Raniergasse
This sign says: This house was damaged in the war years 1939/45 and was rebuilt from the resources of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Reconstruction, under Chancellor Julius Raab, in 1955.

These signs are most frequently seen in neighborhoods around train stations, though they are scattered in a seemingly random pattern throughout the rest of the city. For example, a building next to the Laudongasse building (9th district) where I had a room in 1971-72 had a sign showing it had been rebuilt following the war, but no other nearby buildings had such a plaque.

Without such reminders as these plaques, it would be difficult today to remember that Vienna suffered extensive bomb damage during the war years. The rebuilding started right away, and when I was in Vienna during the 1967-68 academic year, I saw few physical reminders of the destructive war that had ended twenty-two years earlier. (However, Austria in 1967-68 had not yet achieved the affluence that was to come. Many buildings, such as the one I stayed in, had apartments lacking individual toilets and bath/shower facilities. And most were still heated by wood or coal. That has changed.)

World War II Destruction in Vienna

In thinking about what Vienna looked like in 1945, I have read enough and heard enough stories to know that the conditions were grim as Soviet soldiers attacked in early April 1945, and they became grimmer soon after that. Hitler had issued a "stay or die" order, and German soldiers fought fiercely, and to the end, for a lost cause.

Even before the Russians came, the city had suffered intensive bombing, and though the bombs were aimed at strategic targets, they managed to destroy some of the city's most important buildings, including the Staatsoper and half of the Parliament building. They also heavily damaged the ancient and monumental St. Stephens church located in the center of the city. (The damage to St. Stephens can be seen in a book, Der Wiener Stephansdom: Nach dem Brand in April 1945 [St. Stephens: After the Fires in April, 1945], prepared by Anton Macku soon after the end of the war; I took at art history course from this fine gentleman in 1968 through the Institute of European Studies.)

A book published in 1995 has chilling documentation of the Russian battle for Vienna. It includes over 400 pictures taken by Russians that had not previously been published. The book is titled Die Russen in Wien, Die Befreiung Oesterreichs (Russians in Vienna, the Liberation of Austria). It contains pictures of the battle for Vienna and the occupation that followed. It shows the devastation that came with the liberation.

Title:  Russians in Vienna, the Liberation of Austria
Last year when I was in Vienna, my friend Jörg, whom I first met in 1971 when I a rented room in a large flat occupied by him, his wife, and his mother, took me to a street in Döbling, an outer district, and pointed to the apartment building where he was living in 1945 as the Russians fought their way into Vienna. He told me this story:  
He was a young kid living with his grandparents. As some Russian soldiers approached the street where the apartment was located, they were fired upon by German soldiers from the roof of his building. After an exchange of gunfire ended, the Russians ordered everyone out of the building and lined them up in front of it. Jörg was in his grandfather's arms. As his grandfather saw that the Russians were preparing to shoot everyone -- they suspected that some of the residents had shot at them -- he tossed Jörg to one of the Russian soldiers standing nearby. About this time, German soldiers, who had moved to another building, starting shooting again at the Russians. The Russian soldier who had caught Jörg tossed him back to his grandfather, and the Russians turned their weapons toward the shooters, sparing the group in front of the apartment.
Such stories make vivid the situation in Vienna as Russians drove the German military from the city. Many stories of suffering, survival, and recovery can be found in the memoirs of people who lived through the Russian liberation of Vienna and the desperate months that followed. Unfortunately, most such memoirs have not been translated into English.

Pictures of Vienna, 1947

In my curiosity about the post-War situation in Vienna, I bought on eBay some pictures taken in Vienna in 1947. According to information on the envelope, they were mailed by K. Redl, who lived on Döblinger Hauptstrasse (not far from the Döbling apartment where Jörg was staying with his grandparents) to S. J. Darling in Appleton, Wisconsin. A stamp on the front of the envelope shows that they were cleared by Austrian censors. The post office cancellation stamp is dated July 4, 1947. They reached Appleton on July 14th. The postal stamps have been removed from the envelope, probably by a stamp collector.

The letter included 20 photographs. The location where each photo was taken is shown on its back. These pictures show that in 1947 much of the bombing damage in Vienna had not repaired. Much work remained to be done.

The following are a selection of the 1947 photos sent in the letter:

Photo of the Ring near the Schottentor (the edge of the University building is, I think, on the left)

Photo of Währingerstrasse, close to Schottentor

Photo of Kärtnerstrasse; the edge of the Staatsoper building is on the left

Two photos of  Kärtnerstrasse between the Staatsoper and St. Stephens Church

Photo of Stephensplatz: St. Stephens Church (without a roof)

Photo of Neuer Markt; St. Stephen's Spire in the background (1st District)
Photo of the Augustiner Rampe near the Staatsoper. Present site of the Augustiner Museum
Photo of Tegetthoffstrasse, between the Augustiner Rampe and Neuer Markt.
The Spire of the Augustiner Church is in background

Three Photos near the Danube Canal (Kai)

Photo Captioned on Back:  "Döbling View from my House"

These pictures were taken at locations that I have often passed since I started to visit Vienna in 1966. They both remind me of a sad chapter in Vienna's history and make me appreciate even more the present beauty of Vienna 


  1. I lived in Vienna as a boy from 1963 to 1968---my father was the head librarian of the IAEA. We lived in an apartment on the Hofzeile about halfway between Billrothstrasse and Doeblingerhauptstrasse. I often played in and explored the catacomb-like cellars of some buildings there that had vanished during the bombing. I used a flashlight to navigate and it was fascinating to see artifacts from the war period and the time before. That is a vanished world!

    1. Sorry for no responding to your comment earlier. Our time in Vienna overlapped a bit. I was there during the 1967-68 school year at the Institute of European Studies. I lived in the 1st District, near Judenplatz, but never found cellars to explore.

    2. I was in Wien at IES during the academic year of 1970-1971; lived first in Hietzing, not far from Schonbrunn, then in Poetzleindorf. In Hietzing, in the garden of our building on Wattmangasse there were the remains of some sort of gun emplacement, so neighborhood kids told me. It was a favorite play spot for them.

  2. Hello Dan, I am Chen who is living in Vienna at the moment. I am very interested on the repairing of the damaged apartments in Vienna, and am writing a blog for it. I wonder if it is possible for me to cite one of the photos in this blog, to show the damaged streets in Vienna? For sure I will make it clear that the photo is cited from you and K. Redl who delivered the photos. Please let me know what do you think, thanks a lot!

    1. Thanks for your note. Please feel free to use any of the photos for your blog. I hope you are enjoying life in Vienna. I am looking forward to spending some more time there in late October - early November.

    2. Thanks a lot Dan! I have cited one of your photos in my blog here:, as well as my Chinese blog:

  3. Thank you for posting the historical information about Vienna.

    I'm an author doing research for the background of a character whose grandparents were wealthy, assimilated Jews living in Döbling between ~1905 and 1939. I'm trying to locate the putative family villa through maps and photos of the area in that period. I'm not having a lot of success finding such things, though.

    Alas, a research trip to Vienna isn't in the cards anytime soon. Do you have any ideas where I could find helpful sources? Thanks in advance.

  4. Good luck in your search. Do you have the Dobling address of your grandparents? If the main problem is that you are missing the address, you might try the following website, which has names and addresses in Vienna for several years in the 1930s: Also, you might want to look at this posting by someone who was also looking for their grandparents last dwelling in Vienna:
    If I can help with your search let me know. I will be Vienna during November and if it would be helpful I could take a picture of the dwelling at any address-- assuming you find one and will not soon be in Vienna yourself. L

  5. Thank you for your very interesting post

  6. All, This all makes very interesting reading. I stumbled across these articles whilst researching an Austrian stamp from the period that shows the bomb damaged St Stephens church and spire. If you'd like to view the stamp then please explain how to upload images onto this site ?

  7. Interesting article. It should be noted that much of the heavy damage was not caused during the siege (by the Red Army) but by aerial bombing (Anglo-American) prior to it. Of course, it was war.

  8. Thank you for these photos. I go back to Vienna at least once or twice a year and always look for the areas that have been bombed out. I've been by almost all of these areas and will enjoy seeking these out again on my next trip.

  9. Thank you for these pictures. My grandfather lived in Vienna and from what I understand, owned the electric company. He died at the Eastern Front in Russia. I’m writing a book about it. Your pictures help me visualize the times then.

  10. Thank you for these pictures. My grandfather lived in Vienna and from what I understand, owned the electric company. He died at the Eastern Front in Russia. I’m writing a book about it. Your pictures help me visualize the times then.

  11. Most interesting article. Referring to World War 2, I am trying to establish where in Vienna most bombing damage occurred, where in civilian areas most bombing damage occurred, and then also where combat among German and Soviet armies was most pronounced and where the damage was greatest. Again civilian areas are of most interest. Also especially interested in damage in the Innere Stadt and Dobling. If there are sources you can refer me, I would be most grateful. I do not speak German or Russian, but I can make sense of maps and photos. I have 1945 maps from the Library of Congress. I am trying to write a novel, which is to dignify the progress of an amateur.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I do not have other information about WWII damage in Vienna, but I'm sure detailed information can be unearthed. Good luck in doing so. In conversations some fifty years ago with a Viennese woman who had lived there during the war, she told me a few anecdotes that have stuck with me. One, she told me after I bought an old Cuckoo clock at a used goods store. She said she hated such clocks because the Cuckoo clock sound interrupted regular radio broadcasts before warnings were given of impending air raids. Another story, the family had a Czech maid who lived with them. After Russians occupied the city, everyone, including the maid, holed up in their dwellings, but after a while got tired of being cooped up. So one day, against the entreaties of her employers, the maid ventured to the Vienna Woods for some recreation. She never returned and, as far as they knew, her body was never identified. The final anecdote was about a time when the Russians were taking the city street by street. The family was hiding the basement of a multi-story building (either in Doebling or the 8th district) and remembered they had left their valuable jewelry in their apartment. Despite, fighting going on around them, she -- then a very young woman -- and her aunt crawled up the dark stairs to their bedroom to get the items but their movement attracted rifle fire from the soldiers outside. Fortunately, both got back to the basement without harm. The woman who told the stories has been dead for many years, and few Viennese with WWII experiences remain. Good luck with your novel.

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  13. Stumbled upon your page while seeking information about damage to Vienna in WWII. Thanks so much for this. I lived there with my family during the Cold War (1965-'69), and your comments and photos add quite a meaningful layer to my understanding. -- Erica Smith