Bischof on Kuzmany and Garstenauer, 'Aufnahmeland Österreich: Über den Umgang mit Massenflucht seit dem 18. Jahrhundert'

Börries Kuzmany, Rita Garstenauer, eds.
Günter J. Bischof

Börries Kuzmany, Rita Garstenauer, eds. Aufnahmeland Österreich: Über den Umgang mit Massenflucht seit dem 18. Jahrhundert. Vienna: Mandelbaum Verlag, 2017. 262 pp. EUR 19.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-85476-816-6.

Reviewed by Günter J. Bischof (University of New Orleans) Published on HABSBURG (August, 2018) Commissioned by Borislav Chernev

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This is a timely volume on coping with mass refugee crises in both the Habsburg Monarchy and post-1918 Republican Austria. During a time when the current Austrian government serves in the presidency of the European Union and drives the EU-European agenda against “illegal immigration” across the Mediterranean to the European continent in the wake of  the summer 2015 refugee crisis in Europe, it is important to hear that there were times when migrants were welcomed in Austria.

The editors present eight case studies of refugee crises and the respective “migration regimes” worked out to deal with them over the longue durée of the past three hundred years. These case studies by young Austrian (and one American) scholars deal with refugees from the Bulgarian and Transylvanian parts of the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century to Bosnian refugees following the Yugoslav Wars of Dissolution in the 1990s. The papers were originally presented at a conference at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in September 2016.

Migration regimes changed dramatically between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when “patrimonial” authoritarian local rulers who decided about accepting immigrants—usually for reasons of regional economic development—were replaced by constitutional governments and citizenship determining the relationship between rulers and their subjects. In the new nation-states constituted after World War I and the collapse of the old European empires, citizenship was usually granted along ethno-confessional lines, which usually meant exclusion of refugees (especially Jews). Starting in the late nineteenth century, states tended to shift support of refugee populations to the charity of private citizens. The eight case studies in this volume compellingly explain this process from state-sponsored to private charitable support of large refugee populations.

Timothy Olin’s study of Bulgarian Catholic, Rascian, Wallachian, and Roma refugees/border-crossers from the Ottoman Empire to the Habsburg Empire’s southwestern frontier is based on a wealth of new Austrian, Serbian, and Hungarian archival sources. The Habsburg emperor welcomed Catholic Bulgarians and Rascian (Serbian) refugees for populationist reasons in settling the Banat of Temesvár region as a military borderland vis-à-vis the Ottomans. The Banat was reconquered from the Ottomans in 1716. Orthodox Wallachian and Roma “border-crossers” (nomadic Grenzgänger) were deemed “economic migrants” and were less welcomed by the local population, also for religious reasons. While the former were termed refugees, the latter were seen as transmigrants. Olin carefully defines these terms, whose meaning has changed over time. The Banat acted like “a magnet for unhappy subjects of the sultan” (p. 43).

While the term “refugee” is contested in Olin’s contribution, thousands of people fleeing the French Revolution clearly were refugees, as Thomas Winkler argues in his contribution. As French revolutionary turmoil lasted longer than expected, the changing process of the integration of these refugees is the focus of this chapter. Initially they were eagerly welcomed as sojourners (guests) in the western provinces of the Habsburg Empire (the Netherlands, Vorderöesterreich) and expected to return home soon, but by the mid-1790s more restrictive rules and distribution schemes were implemented by the central government for what now looked like a sizable émigré population that might stay. Immigrants needed documentation and means (so as not to become a burden to the state, what in the American immigration regime during World War II would be called the “no charge” principle). Wealthy nobility began to purchase land and start businesses, skilled intellectuals served as language instructors, Catholic clergy began to get involved in pastoral care. One-quarter of the clergy and three-fourths of the officer corps emigrated from revolutionary France. Winkler stresses the interaction of these migrants with the local populations, which did not always welcome them. What was considered a “provisional exile” (p. 83), grew longer and longer as the revolution lasted. Only with Napoleon’s Consulate did the majority return to France. A few noblemen, clergy, and officers stayed and were integrated.

Börries Kuzmany's contribution deals with the tsarist Russian pogrom of Jews in 1881-82 and the flight of some 25,000 of them across the border into the Habsburg province of Galicia. Initially these Jewish refugees fled the violence of their Russian neighbors legally. As more and more refugees left for security and economic reasons, they began crossing the border illegally. International Jewish relief organizations like the French Alliance Israelite Universelle took care of the refugees in Galician refugee camps, while the government in Vienna only provided some logistical support such as registering the refugees. The largely Jewish border town of Brody in Galicia, with assistance from  a local aid committee, became the hotspot for refugees. With the help of the Alliance, some 7,000-9,000 of these refugees emigrated to the United States (p. 101). In a fascinating section on public opinion, Börries analyzes the spectrum from liberal to conservative newspapers. While the liberal Neue Freie Presse appealed to common humanity and state support for these refugees, the conservative (often Catholic) papers argued against state support of “unproductive tradespeople” and “deadbeats who shy away from hard work” (p. 119). Clearly the tropes of anti-semitism were already at work in the late nineteenth century.

Such traditional Austrian anti-semitism among (especially Catholic) conservatives, is fully displayed in the next three chapters. Walter Mentzel covers the domestic refugee policy of Habsburg central authorities during World War I. The number of people forcibly evacuated by military authorities, or voluntarily fleeing the war zones vis-à-vis the Russian Empire (Galicia, Bukovina), was approximately one million (more than half of them without any means). Thousands were also evacuated from the southwestern war zones (from South Tyrol/Trentino to the Isonzo frontier), where the fighting started in 1915 with Italy's entry into the war on the Entente side (pp. 127f). These evacuations were deemed necessary for security reasons (suspicions of disloyalty among the local populations) and fear of ethnic tensions. Emergency decrees put the military authorities in charge, who in turn suspended civil rights. The military evacuated millions of people but had no plans for taking care of them. The central authorities in Vienna initially expected private charities and local communities to take care of them and refused to become involved in dealing with the welfare of these refugees (who were citizens of the monarchy). Only with the duration of the war did the state become involved in organizing an “internment camp system” (p. 144) and addressing the minimum welfare needs of these refugee populations. With 150,000 internees, these camps became known as “concentration camps” (p. 146). Public opinion became increasingly radicalized against refugees. After the collapse of the monarchy, some 100,000 refugees remained in Austria. Most returned to the southern border regions. As early as December 5, 1918, the new Austrian Republic passed a citizenship law excluding people from Galicia and Bukovina from Austrian citizenship—most of them Jews. The wartime legacy left to the First Republic was a rigid anti-semitism against “Jews from Eastern Europe” (Ostjuden) (p. 152). One might be more critical of the Habsburg (military) authorities than Mentzel is for suspending the rule of law and allowing atrocities (war crimes) to be committed with emergency decrees. Jonathan Deak and Jonathan E. Gumz come to the devastating conclusion: “The First World War claimed the Rechtsstaat as one of its silent casualties.”[1]

Hannelore Burger’s chapter deals with these Ostjuden who were left stateless and without a Heimat (homeland). Thousands of Jews were evacuated from Galicia and the Banat by the military or fled the war zones. In 1918, the Habsburg authorities still had to support some 68,000 Jewish refuges without any means. Public opinion in the late monarchy blamed these “Jewish freeloaders” (Schmarotzer) for the bad food supply situation, lack of housing, and the defeat of army on the battlefield. After the collapse of the monarchy, the new law did not grant Ostjuden citizenship in the new Republic of Austria. These stateless Jews were the first to end up in the death mills of the Holocaust. Ostjuden who ended up as displaced persons (DPs) after World War II were similarly not granted citizenship in postwar Austria. In other words, these Ostjuden remained “eternal foreigners” (ewige Fremde) in Austria (p. 171).

Some 1.65 million DPs ended up on the territory of reconstituted Austria after World War II, as the essays by Dieter Bacher and Niklas Perzi tell us. Among them was the refuse of war—civilian forced laborers, prisoners of war, and concentration camp inmates. Many among them were the German-speaking minorities (Volksdeutsche) expelled from eastern Europe and Reichsdeutsche stranded in Austria after the war. While Austria wanted all refugees speaking a foreign language (eastern European slave laborers and Jews) repatriated, some 400,000 German-speakers were integrated because they were needed in the scarce labor market. Austria considered itself a transit country and not one that would welcome and integrate refugees.

Maximilian Graf and Sarah Knoll deal with the refugee waves coming to Austria after crises in the communist bloc (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland 1980/81, the German Democratic Republic, and Romania 1989/90). Even though Austria has long claimed to have shown extraordinary humanitarian engagement vis-à-vis these refugees from communism, Graf and Knoll demonstrate that in all these crises “Austria never aimed at serving as a refugee’s haven but as a transit country only” (p. 207), thus shattering a cherished Austrian postwar myth. In all these cases domestic public opinion turned against refugees, the more of them that came and the longer they stayed (in 1956, Austria temporarily housed 180,000 Hungarians, p. 211). In 1980-81, some 22,000 Poles were seeking asylum in Austria. Public opinion considered them economic migrants looking for a better life and called for “sending the Poles home” (p. 219).

Hasan Softić’s chapter on Bosnian refugees coming to the town of Enns during the Bosnian War (1992-95) is a careful case study of chain migration patterns. Bosnian guest workers from the town of Orahova had been looking for labor opportunities in Enns, Upper Austria, since the late 1960s. By 1974, six hundred Orahovians had come to live and work in Enns. During the war in Bosnia, one-third of Orahova’s population fled to Enns. These new migrants brought a strong patriotism with them. Whereas Islamic identity had hardly played a role in the community of the first wave of migrants, it became very important to the newcomers. Instead of organizing in ethno-cultural organizations, now they gathered around their mosques. Unfortunately Softić does not address public opinion and how the people of Enns reacted to such religious organization.

All of the current issues in Austria and Europe related to migration crop up in these chapters as well: legal versus illegal migration; asylum-seekers versus economic migrants; state support versus private charitable support of refugees (today’s work of NGOs); populist politicians firing up anti-refugee public opinion; lack of willingness by European countries to participate in distribution schemes to cope with massive refugee flows (for instance Hungary refusing to deal with the refugee crisis during World War I, p. 136). What is missing is an analysis of war and revolution as the principal factors in producing huge and unmanageable refugee populations (as in Syria and Afghanistan today). That said, these essays are well researched and written and belong in every migration studies library. Every chapter comes with a brief abstract in English and a bibliography. The introductory chapter ties together the larger issues of migration regimes very well.


[1]. Jonathan Deak and Jonathan E. Gumz, “How to Break a State: The Habsburg Monarchy’s Internal War, 1914-1917,” American Historical Review 122 (2017): 1105-36.

Citation: Günter J. Bischof. Review of Kuzmany, Börries; Garstenauer, Rita, eds., Aufnahmeland Österreich: Über den Umgang mit Massenflucht seit dem 18. Jahrhundert. HABSBURG, H-Net Reviews. August, 2018. URL:

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