The demise of the Schilling in 1938

An aspect of the "what happened in 1938" study is to consider the currency that was used to pay for postal services, as opposed to that in which they were denominated. It makes an interesting saga - collecting the information has been rather like doing a jigsaw puzzle; and until Dr Christine Kainz came to my rescue the pieces didn't even have parts of the picture on them!

I have as previously used "Land Austria" below to translate "Land Oesterreich", the post-Anschluß name of Austria; and "Germany" to mean "Das Reich", the country ruled by Hitler on 1st March 1938, sometimes referred to in the originals as "Altreich". Pre-Anschluß Austria is called "Austria".

From the transcript of the Nuremberg trial of Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, President of the Reichsbank: "On the 11th [of March 1938] someone inquired of me how the purchasing power for the troops in Austria was to be regulated if German troops should march into Austria - purely a matter of currency policy, whether it was necessary to have prescribed regulations. I told him that, of course, everything had to be paid for, everything that the troops might buy there, and that the rate of exchange, if they paid in Schillings and not in marks, would be one mark to two Schillings. That was the rate which ruled at the time, which remained fairly steady and was the recognised ratio of the Schilling to the mark".

However, it was announced on 17th March that "Legal tender in Land Austria is, as well as the Schilling, the Reichsmark, which has the value 1 Schilling 50 Groschen." [Ref 3I31]. At the same time, Ref 451 reports a decree, signed on 17th March by Hitler and others, that the Österreichische Nationalbank (the Austrian National Bank) was put into liquidation with immediate effect.

The Oesterreichische Nationalbank became the Vienna Hauptstelle of the Reichsbank. Its comparatively high gold and foreign exchange reserves, stated to be about 423 (DöW) or 471 (OeNB) million Schillings, were taken over by the Reichsbank and moved to Berlin. To the OeNB came also private handings-over of 1,700 million Schillings. By the end of the war in 1945, the liquidation of the OeNB was still incomplete. [Ref 2]

Therefore, the effective exchange rate until the 17th March decree had been 2Sch to 1Rm; this "political" exchange rate of 1Sch = 1Rm was (according to DöW; see Ref 2) determined by Hitler personally against the advice of the Reichsbank, and meant an upwards revaluation of the Schilling and an increase in Austrian real incomes.

On the 26th March, a new scale of the basic rates for letters and postcards was decreed, expressed in Reichsmark currency, to take effect from 4th April. [Ref 5I56]

On 1st April, the Land Austrian post switched to conducting its transactions (both postal and financial eg money orders) in Reichsmark; the entire financial transaction was carried out in Reichsmark, even though the payment could be made in Schilling notes and coins. [Ref 4I50.1,2] Austrian postage stamps were still sold; but the payment could be made in Schillings, or in Reichsmark at the official rate of 1RM = 1S. Postal forms etc preprinted with 'S' and 'g' were to have this manually amended to 'RM' and 'Rpf' by hand or with a suitable canceller [ref 4I50.3]

From the 4th of April, the basic rates were calculated according to the new German schedule and charged in Reichspfennig, while the ancillary charges for express, airmail, registered and pneumatic services remained at the Austrian rate and were calculated in Groschen. For both, either German stamps, or those Austrian stamps still valid, could be used (the latter at 1Gr = 1Rpf).

In a decree made on 23rd April, the Österreichische Nationalbank's power to issue banknotes was terminated. From Monday 25th April, Schilling notes were no longer legal tender and were withdrawn from circulation. They were still accepted at banks and Post Offices (until 15th May), and were exchangeable for Reichsmark at the Reichsbank and at the ÖNB-in-liquidation until 31st December [Ref 6I81.1a and Ref 73&4]. A reminder was issued in November [Ref 12161] that any residual ÖNB notes must by 31st December be taken to a branch of the Reichsbank for exchange; they could not be used or exchanged at Post Offices.

The position of coins is less clear! The 25Sch and 100Sch gold and the 2Sch and 5Sch silver ones were formally withdrawn (the 1Sch silver had been withdrawn around 1932). [See Ref 10I341&2, which publicises on 11th June a decree of 25th May effective 31st May.] The gold coins could be exchanged for Reichsmark up to 15th July, the silver up to 31st December.

The 1 and 2 Groschen became useable as 1 and 2 Rpf [Ref 75(2) and Ref 11306]. The others (5Gr, 10Gr, 50Gr bronze & 1Sch cupro-nickel, according to ANK) were declared "valid till otherwise stated" [Ref 75(1)] but seem to have faded away in May without a formal announcement.

It is typical of these times that the decree invalidating the Austrian currency is first announced in the Berlin Reichsgesetzblatt [Ref 7], signed by Generalfieldmarshall Göring. In Ref 8 (the Land Austria 'Legal Gazette') it is reprinted on 25th April, with an appended note from Seyss-Inquart that it had come into effect on 23rd April, 2 days before. And in Ref 9 (the Post Office Gazette) it is again reprinted, now 5 days in arrears!

From 15th May, Schilling notes were no longer accepted at Post Offices. All postage rates and also the sale price of the postage stamps had to be converted into Reichsmark.

From then on, ancillary charges although calculated and expressed in Groschen and indicated by Austrian Postage Dues could only be paid in Reichspfennig coins!

This anomaly lasted until the 1st of August, when a new postage rate table was introduced, with all rates in Reichspfennig. The use of Postage Due stamps was abolished.


Ref 1: The Oesterreichische Nationalbank's History on its website

Ref 2: The details of an exhibition "1938 NS Terror in Austria: text and pictures" by the DöW, which is the "Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes", the "Document Archive of the Austrian Resistance"; linked from their website at

Ref 3: "Post- und Telegraphenverordnungsblatt" 17/1938 dated Vienna 21 March [the PuTvob contained the decrees of the Vienna Post & Telegraph Ministry]

Ref 4: "Post- und Telegraphenverordnungsblatt" 23/1938 dated Vienna 29 March

Ref 5: "Post- und Telegraphenverordnungsblatt" 24/1938 also dated Vienna 29 March

Ref 6: "Post- und Telegraphenverordnungsblatt" 35/1938 dated Vienna 22 April

Ref 7: "Reichgesetzblatt I" 60/1938 dated Berlin 23 April

Ref 8: "Gesetzblatt für das Land Österreich" 30/1938 dated 25 April

Ref 9: "Post- und Telegraphenverordnungsblatt" 39/1938 dated Vienna 28 April

Ref 10: "Nachrichtenblatt der Abwicklungsstelle des Reichspostministeriums für das Lande Österreich" 14/1938 dated Vienna 11 June

Ref 11: "Amtsblatt des Reichspostministeriums, Ausgabe A" 85/1938 dated Berlin 29 July [this is the Official Gazette of the Berlin Postal Ministry]

Ref 12: "Nachrichtenblatt der Abwicklungsstelle des Reichspostministeriums für das Lande Österreich" 64/1938 dated Vienna 6 November

©Andy Taylor. Last updated 11 June 2023