Austria is Free!

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The signing of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955, by one who was there.

Salvatore J. Rizza

Note. This article was adapted for the web by A Taylor from S J Rizza's original version and the biographies in POAS. Some general Austrian historical background has been added. Biographical details are provided in separate windows: click the name, close when finished. The Picture Gallery now includes location shots from June 2000. Further reading: 'AUSTRIA' by Karl R Stadler, London 1971, Ernest Benn.

Collectors of Austrian philately are not always aware of the history of the people portrayed on this country's postage stamps (unless, of course, they belong to the APS). In the spring of 1955 I had the occasion to work closely with many individuals who later were honoured on commemorative postage stamps. This is how it all happened.

I had been working since November 1952 as a Department of the Army Civilian, employed as a Shorthand Reporter, with the Headquarters, United States Forces in Austria [USFA], stationed in Salzburg. The work consisted in taking verbatim notes of Army courts-martial, conferences, investigations, etc. I lived in Parsch, a suburb of Salzburg. Starting in 1953, when Dr. Julius Raab took over the leadership of the Austrian Government, I would sometimes see the Austrian Federal Chancellor on his visits to Salzburg. At other times I would see him as he alighted from his Mercedes limousine to enter the Gasthaus Eder in Parsch. This inn served excellent food, and I had heard that Mr. Eder and the Chancellor were good friends.

USA Overrun series: AustriaGreat Britain, Russia, and the United States had agreed in the Declaration of 1st November 1943, that 'Austria, the first country to fall victim to Hitlerite aggression, shall be liberated from German domination'. Tiny Austria, under this declaration, was not to be considered a defeated enemy country at the end of World War II. Indeed, the USA had included the Austrian flag in its Over-run Countries stamp set issued in 1943. Notwithstanding this, the Russians always insisted on linking this nation's fate to that of Germany. The western allies, in their public statements, never had any objection to a free Austria, whatever misgivings they may have had in private (eg, Austria plus Switzerland forming a long 'neutral wedge' between Germany and Italy, which in later years was to hinder the movements of NATO troops).

At the end of WWII, Austria was occupied by the victorious Powers. This map shows the four occupation sectors; the central district of Vienna was jointly run.

occupation sector map

Austria is a federal country, made up of Laender (provinces) - like the USA's States. The solid lines are the boundaries between the zones of occupation. These did not coincide with the Laender boundaries, and the dotted lines are the Laender boundaries within the occupation zones. From the left:

F is France which occupied all of Vorarlberg and all of Tirol apart from East-Tirol [East Tirol was physically separated from Tirol proper when South Tirol was given to Italy at the end of WWI]

B is Britain which occupied East Tirol, Carinthia, and Styria

US is USA which occupied Salzburg and most of Upper Austria up to the Danube

R is Russia (USSR) which occupied the rest of Upper Austria, all of Lower Austria, and Burgenland.

The idea that Austria should regain its independence, and thereafter remain permanently neutral in foreign affairs, had first surfaced in public in Jan 1947, when Dr Karl Renner, then President of Austria, suggested it; and the Socialist Party had formally adopted it as their policy.

In 1951, Dr. Theodor Körner, elected as President of Austria when Renner died in 1951, again proposed, in a speech that had been written for him by Dr. Bruno Kreisky of the Foreign Ministry, 'A free and independent Austria, removed from all rivalries and not tied to either side, but only devoted to the cause of peace, will be an asset for Europe and the world.' (reported in Neues Österreich (Vienna) 13 Nov 1951). It's an interesting comment on the Austrian Constitution that Körner remained President until 1957, but it was the State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who wrote his speech and the Chancellor who signed the State Treaty.

Dr. Leopold Figl had served as the pro-western Chancellor (ie head) of the Austrian Government from 1945 to 1953. In an election held on the 22nd of February 1953, the Austrian People's Party lost seats in parliament to the Socialists. Figl resigned as Federal Chancellor, and his good friend, Dr. Julius Raab, took over the leadership of the Austrian Republic. Chancellor Raab then continued to seek the evacuation of the occupation forces.

In November 1953, Leopold Figl was named as Foreign Minister. In the meantime, Raab's government swung sharply from a pro-western orientation to a more neutral mode, and the Chancellor again pressed the Russians for Austria's freedom. There was still no response from the occupying powers, who didn't even discuss it until the Berlin conference of January 1954. Although Austria participated in this conference, agreement was not possible as the Russians saw a strategic advantage in having troops in Austria while Germany was not 'neutralised'.

At MoscowIn 1955, political changes made it expedient for the Russians to seek an agreement, and Dr Raab was invited to Moscow for negotiations. The Austrian delegation, including Dr Figl and State Secretary Bruno Kreisky, flew to Moscow on 11 April 1955. (The photograph shows Molotov (with hat) and Raab at Moscow airport.) Four days later Raab’s talks with Molotov and Kruschev ended in success with the signing of the Moscow Memorandum, 15 April 1955, and the Austrians returned to Vienna.

A minor functionary in the travelling party, immediately upon landing in Vienna late at night, telephoned an American civilian friend who worked for the U.S. Army's Public Affairs Office in Salzburg and told him what had happened. This was the first news of the results of the conference to reach the Americans. At once, through Army and U.S. State Department channels, the word went out from Salzburg to Vienna, and then on to Washington. As far as I know, this is very likely the source of the American knowledge of the outcome of the Moscow conference. This story was related to me two years later by the person who received that phone call. [However Stadler (p. 276-7) says "Even before leaving Moscow, the Austrian government delegation sent a message to the Austrian people: 'Austria will be free..' which ensured them an enthusiastic reception on their return".]

The Big Four Ambassadors Conference opened in Divided Vienna on Monday, 2 May 1955. The United States High Commissioner for Austria, Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson, Jr., led the American delegation. Austria's delegation was co-chaired by Dr. Figl of the People's Party and Dr. Kreisky of the Socialist Party of Austria.

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passSince November 1952, I had been in Salzburg. That Monday morning, as I reported for work at the Judge Advocate's Office, my supervisor called me in and asked if I would like to go to Vienna to assist the two State Department conference reporters. I accepted the assignment, and that night boarded the U.S. Army's 'Mozart Train' to Vienna. On Tuesday, 3 May, I reported early in the morning to the American Embassy, was given the necessary instructions, issued with a conference pass, and then proceeded to the Four-Power Command Building.

My assignment was to sit next to our American Ambassador, and take down verbatim on my Stenograph shorthand machine what was being said by the participants for 20 minutes; then I would be relieved by one of my reporter colleagues. I would leave the room and type up my notes. Forty minutes later I was back in the conference hall. Each day's conference transcript was completed no later than 20 minutes after the close of each session. Everything that was spoken had to be translated into four languages, one after the other; so it sometimes was slow going. At one point Ambassador Thompson, who was fluent in the Russian language, stopped our interpreter who was translating his remarks into Russian to correct him.

The conference itself, as I remember it now after these many years, ran rather smoothly. The Russians attempted to get all they could from the Austrians, with the Americans and the British co-ordinating their efforts to diminish the Russian demands. The French wanted to help the Austrians by agreeing to everything that the Austrians and Russians had agreed to in Moscow, sometimes to the consternation of Ambassador Thompson. Whenever the conferees could not agree on a particular paragraph of the proposed state treaty, the ambassadors and the Austrian Foreign Minister and Dr. Kreisky would withdraw to another room, along with the translators, and there, off the record, matters would be resolved.

figl and kreisky arriving

Dr Figl and Dr Kreisky arriving at the 4-Power Building for a session of the conference.

I had seen that Dr. Figl had been closely watching me work with my Stenograph machine. At the end of one of these discussions, as Dr. Figl approached, he nodded his head in a greeting - thus becoming the only person shown on a postage stamp to have ever personally and directly said 'hello' to me.

One circumstance that I noted during the 10 days that I attended this international conference was the fact that every time a question was addressed to Dr. Figl, he would turn to his Austrian colleague at his side, and they would converse. Thereafter, Dr. Figl would respond to the question. At the time I did not know what Dr. Kreisky's position was, and I thought it rather odd that the Austrian Foreign Minister would take advice from a much younger man. Later I learned that Dr. Kreisky was the Socialist Party's representative, at the Ministry as well as at the conference, and that the Austrian position had to be co-ordinated between the two political parties.


Figl's seal on the State Treaty, as shown on the '1000 Years of Austria' sheet.


The Belvedere Palace

The State Treaty negotiations were concluded on the 13th of May 1955. On the 14th, the foreign ministers of the Big Four (Dulles, MacMillan, Pinay, and Molotov) arrived in Vienna, and their signatures, along with Dr. Figl's and the Ambassadors were placed on the Austrian State Treaty at the Belvedere Palace, in Vienna on Sunday, the 15th of May 1955. The document is actually signed by 'V Molotov, J Ilyitschow, Harold MacMillan, Geoffrey Wallinger, John Foster Dulles, Llewellyn E Thompson, Ant. Pinay, R. Lalouette, Leopold Figl' and its official title is 'State Treaty for the Re-establishment of an Independent and Democratic Austria, BGBl. No. 152/1955' (BGBl is Bundesgesetzblatt). Note also that the Russian, English, French and German versions are all defined as authentic - the treaty was concluded in all four languages.

the signing ceremony

The signing ceremony in the Belvedere Palace

the signed treaty

The signed treaty

At approximately twelve noon on Sunday, the 15th of May 1955, Dr. Leopold Figl, along with the foreign dignitaries, stepped out on the balcony from the signing room of the palace and held aloft the signed treaty. He proclaimed to the huge crowd below, 'Österreich ist frei!' [Austria is Free!].

display of treaty

The Treaty is displayed

ANK1026 A special stamp (ANK 1026) was issued on that day. The overprint reads 'STAATSVERTRAG 1955', ie 'STATE TREATY 1955'. The design is that of the 2Rm stamp (ANK734) issued in the Russian Zone on 21 Nov 1945, with the colours changed and overprinted. First Day Covers exist. ANK734

And there was enough time to organise celebrations - this postcard was sent from Kitzbühel to England. It has a 1S45 Costumes stamp cancelled 16.5.1955 and the message "Sunday 15th: I arrived here at lunchtime but constant rain spoiled what would have been an interesting trip through lovely country. Kitzbühel seems to be a real old mountain town. Today it is all decorated because of the signing of the 'Freedom' pact in Vienna with Russia, GB and USA. Adele".

kitzbuhel postcard

By 19 October 1955, all the members of the foreign armies had withdrawn from Austrian soil. Stadler says that, under the treaty, the last foreign soldier was to leave on the 25th of October. And indeed, Article 20 para 3 says 'The forces... shall be withdrawn... within 90 days from the coming into force of the present Treaty' - ie its ratifying, which was complete on 27 July 1955.

So on the 25th the Austrian National Assembly were able to enact the 'Federal Constitutional Law of 26 October 1955 on the Neutrality of Austria' concerning Austria's permanent neutrality. This had been previously adopted as a motion on 7 June. The 26th of October has been celebrated as Austrian Independence Day since that time.

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©Andy Taylor. Last updated 12 Feb 2002