Confessions of a Young Nazi
Dawn of the Reich
Confessions of a Young Nazi
by Wilhelm L. Kriessmann
copyright Carolyn Yeager 2013
I was a follower of Adolf Hitler without being a member of his party, the NSDAP. It started very early. Growing up as the son of a teacher in a village in Austria’s southernmost Bundesland, Kärnten [Carinthia], I was from a young age exposed to ethnic strife.
Feistritz, my hometown, had a Slovenian minority guided by the Catholic priest who also taught religion in our classroom. He taught it in the Slovenian language, a dialect of which was called “windisch” (pronounced vindish) that was spoken by our neighbours. I can still remember the first line of “Our Father” … Otsche nasch cateri si u nebesi. My mother was a native of the village [Feistritz] and so spoke and understood the language. My father, since his young student years, was a devoted “Deutsch Nationaler” and vigorously promoted the introduction of the German reading book Deutsche Fibel and church preaching in German. The clash with the priest was established and I was aware of it. That was one part of the strife.
The other clash was not ethnic, but political. The Steel Wire Work in the village employed over 100 workers at that time - the late twenties and early thirties. Most of the workers were politically oriented toward the Austro- Marxist SPÖ party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs). Quite a few of the men were organized in the semi-militant Republikanischer Schutzbund (Republican League) and marched through the village in their light grey uniforms on May 1st and other occasions They had their Naturfreunde (nature friends – hiking and wandering club), their Kinderfreunde (children friends – kids club) and their Arbeitergesangsverein (workers' singing club).
My father, together with most of the officers of the steel company, the village doctor, the two innkeepers, the two teachers, some farmers and shopkeepers were members of the right-of-center Heimatschutz (home guard), which was also a semi-militant league with grey-green uniforms and hats ornamented with the feathers of the Spielhahn (woodcock) – nicknamed the Hahnen-Schwaenzler (rooster tails).
That was the other clash, and I was well aware of it, also, because the SPÖ newspaper Arbeiterwille reported on May 2, 1931: “Der hoffnungsvolle Grünschnabel des Oberlehrers Kriessmann erlaubte sich anläßlich des Maiaufmarsches de Schutzbundes zu folgender Äußerung auszuarten diese Hunde müßte man mit Maschingewehren niederschießen…” (The promising whippersnapper of the teacher Kriessmann made the following outrageous statement during the May 1st march of the Schutzbund: “One should shoot those dogs with machine guns…”).
Needless to say, after a strong, forceful talk from the local Republican Schutzbund leader, they had to renounce the story. For me, it was a first political event and a first confrontation with a political lie, but by far not the last one.
* * *
The first four years of my Bundesgymnasium I spent at the boarding school Praeparantenheim in Klagenfurt. It was an institute where students of the teachers college or teachers' sons from all over the country lived together during the school year and every day attended their different schools. As it turned out, that “second home” was a hot bed of right wing nationalism. There gathered the fraternities Normannen, Staufen Arminen, Taurisker and Freyonen – all Teutonic to the roots. There was also the Lutheran Kreuzfahrer, the Wandervogel and the NS Schuelerbund (National Socialist Student Club). As an 11-year-old student, I was too young for the fraternities; the right age, however, for the Schuelerbund – and thus began my alliance with Adolf, in 1930/31.
History, geography, German and Latin were my favorite subjects at school and I excelled at those subjects. I was a poor student in mathematics and physics. We had exciting history and German teachers. We admired our Greek and Roman heroes Pericles and Demosthenes, the Spartan king Leonidas, Salamis and the Thermopyls, Cato and Cicero, and his fiery speech against Catalina, the first communist. We hated Scipio Africanus and liked Hannibal. We glorified, however, the early Teutons – Herman the Cherusker and the Visigoth kings, Allarich, Totila and Teja, the Hohenstaufen Konradin, Barbarossa and the Heinrichs, and all the way up to Wallenstein, Friedrich der Grosse, Queen Luise , Scharnhorst, Bismark and Ludendorf. We liked Luther and Ullrich von Hutten, hated Dr. Eck and the Spanish inquisitors. We hated the Habsburgs, Ferdinand and Philip, Karl and Matthias; liked Maximilian the last knight, the brave Maria Theresia, her liberal son Josef, and the venerable Franz Joseph.
From the Nibelungenlied to Gustav Freytag’s Ahnen, from Walther von der Vogelweide’s Minnelieder to Felix Dahn’s Kampf um Rom and Bruno Brehm’s Apis und Este, from Peter Rosegger to Kolbenheyer stretched our German literature.
The Versailles and St. Germain treaties we considered shameful enforcements of merciless victors. The denial of our joining Germany as “Deutsch-Österreich” in a Customs Union, and the same denial for three and a half million Germans in Bohemia in 1919, was considered a cruel edict by the victors. It was a government under President Dr. Renner and Bauer, both Social Democrats, who sponsored and signed it.
When Hitler became Chancellor in March of 1933 our prefect (headmaster) marched with raised-arm Hitler greeting through the double line of jubilant students. Our advanced students got involved in fierce discussions with communists at the Neue Platz, the center square in Klagenfurt. We marched through the rote Hochburg St. Ruprecht (the Marxist-communist stronghold of Klagenfurt) and were bombarded with rotten potatoes and foul eggs. Our first encounters took place with the black Sturmscharen, the centrist-Catholic, ultra-Montane-oriented group of the Christlich Socialist party.
The internal politics in the republic changed drastically. Through a rather shady legalistic move, Chancellor Dollfuß declared the self-dissolution of the parliament and introduced a new, one-party system, the Vaterländische Front, a Clerical Christian-Social dictatorship based on a papal encyclopedia. On June 19, 1933 all parties were banned and moved into the underground. From then on, illegal activities started and increased – smearing campaigns, damaging utility lines, paper canons at Vaterländische Front gatherings occurred often.
There were, however, hardly any political activities at school. The last four years I attended the humanistische (Humanities) wing of the Gymnasium. Greek was added to our curricula. New heroes we found at the Trojan War. I preferred Hector to Achilles. The major part of our student body consisted of students of the Marianum a boarding school run by the Jesuits. They were all selected by parish priests from the different valleys and were supposed to become future priests. Lots of pressure to make the grades was evident. Every morning the “Marianists” marched in closed ranks from their institute to the classroom and returned after classes. Strict obedience and tight discipline ruled. Only four of us were Staedter (city pupils). I commuted daily at that time from our home in the schoolhouse in Feistritz to the school in Klagenfurt, a trip of about thirty minutes by train. My father thought I was old enough to deal with that kind of stress and took me out of the boarding. My friend Rudi and I were well known to belong to the “wrong faction” and were watched closely.
* * *
It did not take long until the political pressure-cooker burst. In February 1934, the Social Democrats started their putsch and were gunned down at their Heiligenstadt Gemeindebauten (a fortress-like housing project of the city of Vienna which was controlled by that party).The army had to use artillery; it was a bloody affair in Vienna, some fighting at the industrial area in Styria and Upper Austria. The rest of the country stared with gloomy eyes at the mess. The first inmates of an Austrian concentration camp – the government called it Anhaltelager (detention camp) – landed in Woellersdorf /Lower Austria.
The smoky facades at Heiligenstadt were still visible when in early July 1934, the Nationalsozialists tried to topple the Dollfuss government. A strong group of the illegal SS, camouflaged as an Austrian police unit, stormed the offices of the Federal Chancellery at the Ballhausplatz in Vienna. Gunfire broke out and Chancellor Dollfuss was fatally wounded. There was heavy fighting in Kärnten and Steiermark, but that putsch also collapsed. Some of the insurgents were hanged, some of them were able to cross the border to Yugoslavia and ended finally as the Austrian Legion in Germany. Quite a few landed in Woellersdorf and jails. Kurt von Schuschnig became the new head of the government and Sicherheitsdirektoren (security directors) were introduced at each of the provinces. The Vaterlaenndische Front increased their Sturmscharen and tried to put a strong lid on speech, press and communications.
The shock in the country did not last very long. The underground, specifically the Nazi one, bloomed and extended. We looked across the border with admiration when, within a short time, full employment blessed Germany whereas the factory in our village had to close down. The Autobahn had started to be built and workers spent their vacation on the ships of KdF (Kraft durch Freude - Strength through Joy), while at home our unemployed collected their dole and tourism suffered. German tourists did not visit Austria because of the “1000 Mark Sperre” (money blocking). The great Olympic Games of 1936 increased Germany's reputation in the world and we were all enthused.
By that time we youngsters already had our own underground organisation, the Grenzland Jugend (borderland youth), the Landdienst (field service - farmers help), folk-dancing, folk-singing, puppet shows in the villages, harvest help for the farmers. Whenever there was an occasion to show our “presence,” we were there. We marched October 10, 1937 on St. Jakob in our white shirts and socks and short leather pants, and the girls in their traditional costumes, to celebrate the dedication of Abwehr Kaempfer Denkmal-1920 (monument for the defender 1920). On Hitler’s birthday, April 20th, we lit the fire signals on the mountain peaks; and marched silently on the night of November 9th, commemorating the fallen at the Hitler putch in Munich, 1923.
Then came the big break for Austria’s Nationalsozialists. On July 26, 1936, Schuschnigg's government signed the July agreements whereby emissaries of the Austrian NSDAP joined the Austrian government. Glaise-Horstenau and Dr. Seys-Inquart became members of the cabinet. Volks-Beauftragte (people’s deputies) were, from now on, sitting in each provincial government watching that members of the NSDAP were not persecuted. All the detainees of Woellersdorf were released. German papers were again available, the Hitlergruss (Hitler greeting) permitted, not at school but on the street. On the way home from school, little Hackenkreuze (swastikas) sparkled in our lapels. Officially, the NSDAP was still illegal; the underground, however, often showed its face quite openly. The country’s political climate boiled.
In summer 1937, a small group of Hitler youth leaders from Silesia visited Klagenfurt. We hiked the Hochstuhl, at 8000 ft. the highest peak of the Karawanken, right on the Yugoslavian border, and looked down at the King’s Villa on the lake Bled (Veldes) in Slovenia. For one reason or another, the two Yugoslavian border guards did not like our gathering and arrested my friend Franz and me. They took Franz down to Jesenice (Assling) and kicked me with a rifle butt down the slopes of the near-by saddle of the Kahlkogel Mountain. Some tense atmosphere at the Grenzland (Borderland)!
When Chancellor Schuschnig returned from his visit with Mussolini empty-handed, the first signs of political upheavals dawned. Shortly afterwards, in early February 1938, Schuschnig paid Hitler a visit at the Berghof in Berchtesgaden. After nine hours of obviously tough, apparently also very one-sided negotiations, our Chancellor had to agree to legalize the NSDAP in Austria and let it partake in the governing of the country. Dr. Seiss-Inquart became Secretary of the Interior. Then, events took a dramatic turn. At a meeting of the Vaterlaendische Front in Innsbruck in early March, Schuschnig called for a plebiscite to vote for Austria’s independence and appealed to Great Britain, France and Italy. His announcement caused immediate street demonstrations in Graz, Wien, Klagenfurt and other towns. There was no help coming from the Allies. On the contrary, Mussolini, for years Austria’s protector, assured Hitler of his friendly neutrality; France and Britain played the uninterested parties. Schuschnig was isolated, under tremendous pressure he resigned a few days later. Instead of an armed campaign, the German soldiers marched into Austria in a sea of flowers and jubilation. Hitler’s way to Vienna was a via triumphalis. From the historic Hofburg, he addressed over 100,000 jubilant and cheering people, saying “I finally bring my Heimatland back into the Greater Germany.” On April 10th the Austrian voters gave a 98% approval to the Anschluss.
* * *
In early January 1938 I had reported to the draft board of the Bundesheer, the Austrian army. Before I could begin my university semesters, I and all other graduates had to serve one year in the army. I was supposed to join a military mountaineering school in Fulpmes, Tirol but the Anschluss (annexion) changed everything. In early April 1938 I was asked to lay the foundation and do the groundwork for the Jungvolk (Hitler Youth 10 to14 years) in our valley. The following 6 months were very exciting and rewarding -- with my new “Steyr-Waffenrad,” the brand name of my no-gear black bicycle, I traveled up and down the valley, talked at schools and parental homes, and within a month I had the Jungstamm Rosental ( three Faehnlein, nine Jungzzugzz) – all in all around 110 boys happily together. We belonged to the Jungbann Klagenfurt Land, camped together in Moosburg, Mallestig and Ossiach, singing, hiking, marching, playing games and learning the history of our country. We received our uniforms: black corduroy shorts, white socks, brown shirts and caps. We were very proud kids with our Landsknecht drums and the waving flags.
I was one of about 400 Austrian Hitler Youth of the Illegale Zeit (illegal time) who attended the Nürnberg Parteitag, September 1938. We camped at Langwasser near the city, marched on the “Day of the Youth” and looked into Adolf Hitler’s eyes when he walked slowly along our white-shirted frontline. Even today, I can still see his very blue, probing eyes. Next day, Tag der Wehrmacht (armed forces day), we watched a powerful demonstration of Germany’s new Wehr. Heer-Marine-Luftwaffe (army, navy and air force) maneuvered for hours at the giant Mayfield. Very impressive, not only for all the foreign military attaches attending but naturally also for us youngsters.
Two weeks later I was called to the colours and found myself in the bootcamp at the brand new Kasernen (barracks) at the airfield in Straubing a. Donau, Lower Bavaria. Life changed – but that is another story. ~
Post Note: Well, Carolyn, here you got, together with the photos, the “confessions” and images” of a bad young “Nazi.” More pages than I thought and probably more questions to be asked. I was too young to become a party member and, once wearing the Luftwaffen uniform, one was not allowed party membership. Keep it in your files.
Regards and the best. Willi ... (2008)