DP Camps in Austria

In 1938 Austria with its Jewish population of 192,000 was annexed by Nazi Germany.  Almost immediately after the annexation, the Nazis started implementing strict anti-Jewish legislation. During the Kristallnacht (‘night of the broken glass’) in November 1938, most of the synagogues in Vienna were burned and thousands of Jews were deported to concentration camps. After the outbreak of the war Austrian Jews were deported to Eastern Europe and later to extermination camps. Approximately 70,000 Austrian Jews perished during the Holocaust, over 100,000 emigrated - mainly to the United States, South America and the United Kingdom.

Austria was liberated in April 1945. From May 1945 the country was occupied by the Allies and under the Allied Commission for Austria, divided similarly to Germany into four zones - American, British, French and Soviet. Vienna itself was also divided into four sectors and an international zone.

After the war a few thousand Jews returned to Austria and joined those who survived in camps and in hiding.  Additionally about 130,000 DPs passed through Austria between its liberation and the mass emigration of 1948.

The first DP camps in Austria were opened by UNRRA in 1945. They were administered by UNRRA (later IRO) and the US Army. There were altogether twelve camps for Jewish DPs in Austria. The majority of them were closed by 1952.

ORT’s work with Holocaust survivors in Austria started in the end of 1946, about a year after establishment of ORT vocational courses in the DP camps of  Germany. From the very beginning, work in the two countries was developing in a slightly different way. 

Firstly, according to ORT report: ‘Contrary to the development in Germany, ORT found in Austria no spontaneously created training workshop etc. Everything had to be planned and done from the very beginning. This fact, together with the lack of premises for training workshops, caused a delay in our work, but at the same time made for systematic procedure. The equipment for the various workshops was sent from Switzerland.'[1] Secondly, since most of the Jewish DPs in Austria were concentrated in camps surrounding larger cities, it was decided to organize central ORT schools and training workshops in the larger cities of Salzburg, Linz and Steyr rather than in the camps. This way the trainees could escape the atmosphere of the camp for the duration of the classes and finally feel fully liberated. The transitional character of Austrian DP camps meant that ORT’s training in Austria was based on accelerated training courses rather than more thorough, full time training.

In December 1946, the first ORT trade school in Austria was opened in Vienna. In March 1947, ORT institutions in Austria had an enrolment of 148, and only six months later, in October 1947, of 1065 trainees. 340 of these students attended the vocational school in Vienna.  By the end of 1947 additional schools were open in Ebelsberg, Steyr, Wels, Salzburg, Hofgastein, Hallein, Linz and Bindermilch. At that time the schools conducted programs in 50 trades ranging from dressmaking to technical chemistry, optics and building trades. Newly introduced courses included window glazing, upholstery, invisible-mending, pastry-making and engraving trades  

‘The DPs wanted to be trained primarily in modern technical trades, while in the needle trades-formerly one of the Jewish traditional male trades- 97 per cent of our students were women. This choice of modern technical and industrial trades was encouraged by our organization in order to facilitate the resettlement of its students in such industrial countries as the United States, Canada and Australia and also for Israel, where the need for highly qualified manpower was a vital problem for the future’-reported ORT.[2]

As in other countries, ORT’s work with Holocaust survivors in Austria came to end in late 1940’s.As emigration progressed and the DPs were leaving for Australia, Canada, United States and Israel ORT schools in Austria were closing down and by the end of 1950, only schools in Vienna and Hallein were still running vocational courses. Additionally, English and Hebrew language courses were held in Vienna, Hallein, Asten and Wels.

 

[1] World ORT Archive: d07a150: Partial Report: Illustrating the Expenditure incurred During the First Quarter of 1947 p.15

[2] World ORT Archive: d05a019: Three Years of ORT Activities. Report for the period August 1946- June 1949. Submitted to the Congress of the World ORT Union Paris, July 10th- 15th 1949 p. 79