July Revolt of 1927
|Date||15 July 1927|
|Participants||Austrian Social Democrats|
|History of Austria|
The July Revolt of 1927 (also known as the Vienna Palace of Justice fire, German: Wiener Justizpalastbrand) was a major riot starting on 15 July 1927 in the Austrian capital Vienna. The revolt was sparked by the acquittal of three nationalist paramilitary members for the killing of two social democratic Republikanischer Schutzbund members, and culminated with police forces firing into the outraged crowd, killing 89 protesters, while five policemen died. More than 600 protestors and around 600 policemen were injured.
The clash was the result of conflict between the Social Democratic Party of Austria and a right-wing alliance including wealthy industrialists and the Catholic Church. Many paramilitary forces had been formed in Austria during the early 1920s, among them the Nationalist Frontkämpfervereinigung Deutsch-Österreichs under Col. Hermann Hiltl and the Social Democratic Republikanischer Schutzbund.
On 30 January 1927, a Republikanischer Schutzbund group held a demonstration in the town of Schattendorf, in Burgenland. After the demonstration came to an end, The Frontkämpfervereinigung Deutsch-Österreichs attacked the Schutzbund members heading back to the train station, injuring several and killing Matthias Csmarits, a World War I veteran, and Josef Grössing, an eight-year-old boy.
The shooting provoked significant controversy, with the funeral of the two-victims on 2 February being attended by thousands and trade unions declaring a 15-minute general strike throughout Austria to mark the funeral. Several months later, On 5 July, the trial of three Frontkämpfervereinigung members accused of the shooting began in Vienna. During the trial, the three were defended by lawyer Walter Riehl, and pleaded self-defence. After nine days, on 14 July, the jury acquitted them.
This "Schattendorf Verdict" led to a general strike which had the aim of bringing down the government headed by Christian Social Party chancellor Ignaz Seipel. Massive protests began on the morning of 15 July, when a furious crowd tried to storm the main building of the Vienna University on the Ringstrasse. The protesters attacked and damaged a nearby police station and a newspaper building, before proceeding to the Austrian Parliament Building. Forced back by police, they arrived in the square in front of the Palace of Justice. At about noon, protesters entered the building by smashing the windows; they then demolished the furnishings and began setting fire to files. Soon the building was ablaze; the fire spread out quickly, as the Vienna fire brigade was attacked by several demonstrators who cut the hoses and so prevented its being brought under control until the early morning.
The former (and later) Austrian chancellor Johann Schober, then Vienna chief of police, suppressed the protests with force. He urged the Social Democratic mayor Karl Seitz to call for the Austrian Armed Forces, which Seitz rejected, as did the Christian Social Party defence minister Carl Vaugoin. In turn, Schober supplied the police troops with army rifles and publicly announced that the premises would be cleared by force if the fire brigades could not work unhindered, after Seitz and Schutzbund councillor Theodor Körner tried to persuade the crowd to surrender in vain. The police opened fire, which left 5 police officers and 89 demonstrators dead.
Significance and Remembrance
Twentieth-century philosopher, scholar, and social commentator Karl Popper was 24 years old and living in Vienna during the unrest. In his 1976 autobiography, he recalled the event as foreshadowing extremism: “I began to expect the worst: that the democratic bastions of Central Europe would fall, and that a totalitarian Germany would start another war.”
A memorial to the victims was erected in the Vienna Zentralfriedhof; a plaque at the Palace of Justice was unveiled by President Heinz Fischer in 2007. Several artifacts such as fire-damaged court papers and Schutzbund and Frontkämpfer uniforms are on display at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum.
- Brook-Shepherd, Gordon (December 1996). The Austrians : a thousand-year odyssey. HarperCollins. p. 260. ISBN 0-00-638255-X.
- "30 January 1927 - prologue of a fateful day".
- "Hardened Fronts, Anti-Parliamentary Forces | Austrian Parliament".
- Popper, Karl Raimund (1976). Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography (Revised ed.). New York: Fontana/Collins. ISBN 0006365922.
- G.R.E. Gedye, Fallen Bastions (London, 1939)
- F. Carsten, Fascism in Austria (London, 1977)
- B. Wenzl, Red's Visit to Riotous Vienna: Sinclair Lewis Reports on the July Revolt of 1927. In: Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter Vol. 30 (1), Fall 2021, pp. 5