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1945: Russians In Austria and Vienna: Second World War

The Soviet army entered Austrian territory on 30th March 1945 and captured Vienna on 13th April.


‘The rape chapter that we had previously– and even at the beginning of the occupation– lightly placed on the German propaganda ledger, had become stark reality.’ The victims were now reporting to the doctors. Neither age nor social status provided any protection. The Russians are reported to have raped women as old as eighty. Schöner heard a story from Ober St Veit that one woman had complained to the Russian commandant, who had laughed in her face. In general officers excused their men on the grounds of ‘long abstinence’. Even the ‘first victims’ were not immune: the Austrians were not going to enjoy the taste of liberation.

The Russians had located the rich stocks of alcohol in the Schöner cellars and the banging on their door never ceased. They thanked their God for the massive door on their old Viennese house. The women were naturally terrified. ‘Sleep was out of the question.’ On 12 April, Schöner found that the Russians had plundered their Café Fenstergucker, opposite the famous Hotel Sacher. Before setting it alight they had removed all the wine and schnapps. 

There were reports of plunder and rape on all sides, so much so that they were forced to admit that Goebbels had ill prepared them for the truth. The most awful revelation, however, was even harder to swallow: in almost every case of rape or plunder, the Russians had been guided to their quarry by foreign workers or by the Viennese themselves. The chosen victims were the middle classes. There were the predictable consequences too: women committed suicide after the event; many contracted venereal diseases; others became pregnant and had to seek abortions. Doctors who had refused to terminate pregnancies in the past were now prepared to waive their moral objections. The only women who would not hear of it were the nuns, who stolidly awaited their fate in a Viennese hospital. Women responded to the danger by dressing down: ‘allthe women are inelegant; most forgo hats or stockings. It is a lot safer on the streets than it is in the houses at night...’

From After The Reich By GILES MACDONOGH


(I apologise! The commentary is in Russia. The sub-titles in German! But do enjoy the visuals! )

These Viennese girls think it best to find Russian boyfriends


The Germans had been pulling out from the 6 April 1945 , and they took most of the police with them. They had been made up of elderly soldiers anyhow, mostly unfit for service at the front. The real Viennese police had been incorporated into the SS and sent to Russia. The departure of the ersatz police exposed the city to even greater dangers when the looting started. Later an auxiliary squad was formed by the Russians and issued with armbands, but by then the damage had been done. It was not only the police who had vanished: the prudent Nazis had also quit the city,leaving their homes at the mercy of the plunderers.

The Red Army appeared in the wake of the retreating Germans. The Viennese were in the dark. The wireless had ceased to function and the last newspapers appeared on 7 April– some were printed on the 8th, but they were not distributed. There was then a total news breakdown until communications were restored with the issue of the communist-backed NeuesÖsterreich on the 15 th. All that remained was Mundfunk– a play on Rundfunk or radio station, but meaning word of mouth, or gossip. 6 ‘On the 7 th the Red Army occupied the giant Anker bakery in Favoriten, cuttingoff the city from its main source of bread. For the next ten days the Viennese were reduced to 250 grams of bread each daily. It got worse: citizens had to make do with 500 grams to a kilo of bread a week: ‘A slice of bread was a considerate present.

Nazism had become a solely German commodity and Nazis were there-fore Germans, or honorary ones. Threatened with plunder, the Viennese had directed the soldiers to the homes of the Pgs (Parteigenosse- Party comrade of member of the Nazi Party). It was open season on the Nazis, and many of them who remained in the city tried to cast out the evidence as best they could. Large numbers committed suicide, like the coal merchant whose business was in the same building as Margarétha’saunt, or the banker Josef Joham’s friends, the Böhm-Bawerks. The husband had fled. His wife, sister and daughter all took their own lives. The Russians shot a neighbour, Christoph Bauer, son of a well-known architect, presumably because they believed him to be a Nazi. His mother hadto bury him in the garden. The Soviet secret police or GPU flushed out another called Hackmüller from the house next door. He was alleged to have been the Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach’s secretary. 25 Schöner prudently left his watch at home and went out in a curious combination of clothes that was meant to remove any suspicion of bourgeoisie: skiing trousers, hobnail mountain boots and a Styrian hat. Later he added an old coat made in the 1920 s and was careful to leave his tie at home. Wearing spectacles was also risky. The Russians saw all men in glasses as fascists or ‘burschuj’, and picked on them.


The fighting continued in the areas of the city that bordered the Danube. The Russians were across the canal in the Leopoldstadt– the 2 ndBezirk– which explained the terrible damage done to the quay as the two sides continued the shelling. On the 10 th the Russians moved into the Prater Park and occupied the race-track at the Freudenau without a fight.The Germans were only cleared from the Leopoldstadt on the 13 th. A day later they were flushed out of Brigittenau, and the city was finally at peace. 35 Schöner was free, however, to wander on towards the cathedral.On the corner of the Stock-im-Eisen Platz the Haas Haus was burning.No one attempted to put out the flames. Soldiers stood around watching.It was not known who had started the fire: German shells or Viennese looters. A third possibility was the Russians.

On one of his walks around the city Schöner was struck by the sight of a female Red Army soldier directing traffic in the Wiedner Hauptstrasse dressed in a very short skirt. Margaréthahad admired these women too, particularly the blondes. The traffic inquestion was Russian carts loaded with booty. These lined the Rennweg. Cows and foals were tethered behind and the vehicles were piled high withsuitcases, balalaikas, sewing machines, radios and gramophones: ‘it was thepicture of a gypsy train’. The Russians had even stolen the tyres andengines of the cars. As Schöner walked on he witnessed a horse being skinned on the Wollzeile. The Stephansplatz was all burned out from theHaas Haus to the Rotenturmstrasse. The Hotel Bristol near the Opera hadbeen gutted by fire. There were no fire engines to extinguish the flames.When the Viennese found a pump it was so weak that the water hardlymade it to the first floor. 48 Cardinal Innitzer’s palace had been pillaged, andthe primate had fled. Schöner doffed his cap at the sight of the cathedral, denuded of its roof. It had been set alight after the departure of theGermans. ‘It is a sight that grabs everyone by the heart.

It was only at the end of April that the Western Allies appeared at the Austrian border. The Americans took Innsbruck, Salzburg and Linz; the British came up through Italy on the 28 th and marched into Carinthia and Styria before meeting up with Soviet forces. That same day the Nazi fellow traveller Joham was rejected as a member of the provisional government. Loudspeakers played ‘O Du mein Österreich’. The Russians stood by and tacitly blessed the regime they had ushered in. The British, however, had had their worst fears confirmed, and promptly refused to recognise Renner’s government. The Americans followed suit. Renner responded by hailing Stalin as the ‘greatest military commander of all time’. Later Schöner met a friend who had just returned from suburban Weidling. There had been persistent raping at his country house. A seventeen-year-old girl who had tried to defend herself had been shot. ‘On the periphery it is much worse than it is in the inner city.

This Gestapo man killed himself and his family rather than fall into Russian hands

It was May Day, and a big parade was laid on for the Russians. Austrian flags had been made out of old swastikas, and the women had fashioned headscarves out of the same material. The people wore red carnations and greeted one another with the word ‘Freiheit’ or ‘freedom’, rather than theusual ‘Grüss Gott!’ The Russians made the city a present of tons of provi-sions. The Viennese said it was all food they had plundered from them in the first place. 70 The gift was supposed to last for a month. It meant a daily ration of 1 , 620 calories for heavy workers, 970 for white-collar staff and 833 for children. 71 The French arrived in Bregenz on Lake Constance that sameday. On 6 May they had established themselves in a small part of their zone, the Upper Tyrol. By the time of the German capitulation on 8 May, the whole of Austria was occupied. Just in case anyone was to forget, the French put up signposts for their own troops: ‘Ici Autriche, pays ami’ (This is Austria, these are our friends)

The Russian army officers watch. Their feelings then?

The Russians trying to prove that they were civilized?

Same again?

Grim end!

Vienna burns

This is all that remained of the Nazis

Removing the traces of the foe

This German soldier won't be fighting anymore

Remains of the day

They suffered the most. The common people of Austria


Downfall: The Gradual Obliteration Of the German Army

When Berlin fell in 1945

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wakawaka said...

comments for some photos on this particular page are really stupid and mean. I suggest they be changed.

Erethis said...

I agree completely. The Russians weren't civilized? Though there will be an underlying hatred by for each other by some in that generation of people, the Russians were people too, and were fighting for their lives, and their country. That doesn't mean they were all evil people. If you, as an archivist of photos, are going to post photos in this context, either make an educated statement, or leave the picture itself to tell the story.

Editors said...

There seems to be a misconception. How can one in their right senses say that Russians are not civilised? A land which has given great writers like Gorky, Tolstoy; musicians like Tchaikovsky and film directors like Tarkovsky can hardly be called uncivilised.

The aim of the caption was to say that the picture seems stage-managed (not unlikely considering that the Soviet state was a master at propoganda.)

Editors said...

Knowledgeable and informed readers are invited to write in appropriate captions. They will be published. Thank you.

Alexandra said...

One of the pictures was made in Budapest, Hungary, and not in Austria. It's the 12th from the bottom.
You can see the destroyed Chain Bridge.
This is how it looks now:

Julia said...

I would like to point out a couple of things. You keep refering to the soldiers as Russian, when in fact they were Soviet - the Soviet army was made up of numerous different nationalities. Also it consisted of literally evey Soviet male citizen, and even some female, who was of a suitable age and health. So there were the civilized and the uncivilized, the educated and those that could barely write and read, the peasants, the teachers, the factory workers, the artists, the doctors, the communists and those that hated communism, the atheists and the priests, the criminals and the honest people. It is deeply regretable that some of them committed those atrocities, but it wasn't all of the Soviet soldiers who took part in the looting and the rapes. Unfortunately, the actions of some seem to have stained every soldier's name and that is a painful truth. As for those photos, that soldier might be a professional musician for all we know, or just an educated person who appreciated music, maybe he learned to play the piano as a child, so he could actually know who Beethoven is. He could've actually been civilized, and not just pretending to be.

Anonymous said...

Regarding how civilised Russian soldiers were I wish to add that most soldiers did not come from civilised areas. My grandmother told me that when the Germans occupied her village the behaved like Gentlemen. When Russians occupied it they brought lice, stole animals and killed for a watch.

Tanmay Datta said...

I want to know about Emilie Schenkl. 'wife' of Subhas Chandra Bose, (Indian leader whose troops fought against The Britishalong side the Japanes in SE Asia in WWII)who lived in Vienna during 1944-46

Tanmay Datta said...

Doesn't any one of your viewers have some info on Emile Schenkl who lived in Vienna from 1943 onwards with her newborn daughter ? Being the wife of a prominent pro-Axis Indian leader she must then have been well--known socially.Grateful for any information

Tanmay Datta

Anonymous said...

According to German historians, the Germans raped up to 10 000 000 Sovjet women 1941-45, with 2 000 000 born children as result...This fact is not mentioned at all...why ? Russophobia ?

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