Wallace Rogers

An Eye Witness on Vienna's Riots

American Youth Tells of Workers' Revolt

July 26, 1927

Source: Labor Age, Vol. 16, No. 9, September 1927, pp. 11-12.
Transcribed: by Zdravko Saveski.
Online Version: 2023.

Geneva, July 26, 1927.

Dear Mr. Hopkins:

NO doubt you read all about the General Strike over in Vienna. I didn't see the newspaper version of it, but I am sure they made a mess of it. I was right in the middle of the whole thing, shot at twice and chased all over the place. So perhaps I could tell you something about it.

About 9:30 on Friday morning July 15, I went out to see the Art Museum in the middle of Vienna. My brother Rob was working on a bust of Freud, so he didn't come with me. On the streets there seemed to be a sort of subdued murmuring among the crowds. Little groups of men were gathering on the corners, like clouds before a storm. As I was walking past the Parliament building the fun began. There was a ring of policemen around the Parliament and an immense crowd mocking and jeering them. The policemen tried to keep as calm as possible under the circumstances. The crowd kept getting more and more excited and I saw one mob-crazed woman repeatedly slapping a cop in the face. If the cop had weakened in his self-control and grabbed the woman the mob would have had an excuse and would have torn the little group of cops to pieces. The policemen represented the law and as the law had just done the people an injustice, the people decided to revenge themselves by attacking the agents of the law; i. e., the cops. There would have been many more policemen killed and perhaps all Vienna burned, if they hadn't handled the situation so well.

I never saw such an enormous crowd in all my life. They stretched down the streets as far as the eye could see. There must have been at least 150,000 people that surged about in mobs wrecking things. I went around a corner and there saw a cop get beaten to death by a blood-crazed mob. This poor old cop was down on his knees begging for his life. But you know what mob-spirit is. He was beaten down on the street and trampled on. When next I saw him through the many legs, he was nothing but a shapeless, inert mass with most of the clothes torn from his body.

Attack on the Camp

I have gleaned information here and there and will here attempt to give you the reasons for this riot! It seems that there was a perfectly peaceful camp of Communists out in the woods near Vienna. One day about three weeks ago, a crowd of Reactionaries, calling themselves Nationalists (polite name for Fascists), Aristocrats before the Revolution, went out in the woods and started target practice with rifles right near the Communists' camp. They shot very recklessly and a small party of Communists went out, unarmed, to protest.

The Nationalists, pretending they were attacked, opened fire and killed two Communists and wounded three others.

The trial came up on Thursday, the 14th, and the Fascists Supreme Court judge of the so-called Socialistic Austria acquitted the Nationalists.

On Friday morning the 15th the news got out and the Communists and Socialists decided to make a demonstration to protest against the verdict and show the government the strength of their unions. It seems that they had done that several times before, but it had never gotten out of their control the way this one did.

To get back to the mobs, they were getting more and more unruly. They had tried to enter the Parliament building and had been repulsed by the police so that incensed them all the more. Woe betide the policeman they caught alone.

I was getting rather scared and started for home when, I saw another crowd standing around some inanimate object on the street. I elbowed my way to the middle and there before my eyes lay a gory battered form with its two gouged out eyes lying beside it on the street. (It had once been a policeman). I started for home as fast as I could go, but I had only gotten about half a block through the mobs when I was violently seized from behind and whirled around thus bringing me face to face with four great big guys with barrel staves as clubs. At the time I had on a white shirt and collar and was obviously not one of the crowd. A yelling group began to gather around me. God knows what might have happened, but by pure luck I had a Communist pin with me. So I pulled it out and waved it on high. They all shouted and let me go. My heart has not gotten back to beating normally yet. I could see myself lying there in the street and I didn't like the prospect.

I went back home and got Rob, and we went out on the street again. Not until I had changed my shirt and looked a little bit more of a proletarian, however.

Into the Flames

When we got back to the scenes of action the crowds had shifted over to the Court House. First they started bonfires in the street and then they got bolder and began to swarm through the windows and break down the doors. They threw desks, bookcases, waste baskets, telephones, documents, chairs, typewriters, everything out into the street where the mob seized upon them and threw them into the fires which had by this time caught the building.

Rob and I had drifted around to another corner when the first shooting began. I sure was scared. Right down the street came a line of cops with rifles on their shoulders. When they were about a hundred feet from the mob they, rushing their guns, and without any warning, fired point-blank into the mass of people? Did I run? Rob and I got separated in the flight and I didn't see him for about two hours. As I went running down the street a little guy next to me whipped out a bugle and started playing the Internationale. Several crowded around and started yelling "Zusamen, Zusamen". So they all charged back at the police.

I went around on another corner from where the police with guns were and there was another crowd yelling and pushing back the fire-engines, keeping the firemen from getting at the by this time roaring blaze in the Court House. A troup of mounted police came charging down to disperse the mob. Their swords were out and flashing in the air and they were followed by a veritable hail of clubs, sticks and assorted stones ranging in size from pebble to paving bricks, all thrown by the people. I saw one cop knocked off his horse and stabbed with his own sword. I climbed up a telephone post to get a better view of the proceedings and there Rob saw me. About that time more shooting commenced and we thought it would be best to go home. So we legged it. We went over, to the Hotel Regina where Miss Potter was staying and there we waited for nightfall. We went out again about nine o'clock but kept well out of the danger zone. The cops by this time had the situation pretty well in hand although there was an occasional shot and the streets were full of death wagons, ambulances and Black Marias. In one place on the street was a pool of blood and written on the wall in blood was "Rache ist Rache" [Revenge is Revenge].

Getting Out

The next day I went over with Miss Potter to the house of Elizabeth Windescratz, the grand daughter of Franz Joseph and now a socialist and a friend of Miss Potter. She told us it was best to get out of Vienna as soon as possible because there was a rumor of Hungarian soldiers coming. Besides I had already applied for a Russian visa and was with this T. F. Meade, a Communist, and as Communists were being daily arrested in the street it was best to get out.

All the trains had stopped running so the next day Miss Potter arranged with Thomas Cook and Son for an auto to take us to Salzburg. We stayed in Salzburg a day, got German visas, and then Tom, Rob and I hit for Munich. Miss Potter went on to Geneva. We stayed in Munich a couple of days and then started for Geneva where Tom thought we could try again for our visas. On the train trip to Geneva, we had to go through a little neck of Austria. At Bregenz on the Boden See we got on the wrong train and were taken out into the woods a little ways from Bregenz to a place called Tauterach where we were dumped off the train. Tauterach was so calm and peaceful we decided to stay a couple of days. We made a boat trip around the beautiful Boden See and then our money ran out and we had to go down to Geneva where Miss Potter is. I started this letter in Geneva but I am finishing it here in Berlin. We found out there was no consulate in Geneva so we came here yesterday and got our visas started. At the Russian Consulate they tell us we will have to wait six weeks for a visa, but Tom has friends in Moscow whom he is writing to and we expect the visas in a week or ten days.

Berlin is about the worst place I've struck so far. The German middle class are an awful bunch to get along with.

It seems as though this place is more apt to have riots than Vienna. There are plain clothes men everywhere on the streets. Tom and I got off a third class car early yesterday morning. It had been a twenty hour trip from Geneva and we looked like a couple of bums. Tom hadn't shaved and I had no collar on. We had not gotten more than three blocks from the station when we were stopped by three detectives and asked for our papers. We showed our passes and went on. It makes me sore. These guys go around in crowds singling out the working men and those who don't look rich and questioning them. If a Communist falls into their hands it's all up.

I am not going to mail this letter until I get out in some little village somewhere. If I mailed it here it might be opened.

If you get time write me how things are going at the Chateau.

Cordially yours,
(Signed) Wallace Rogers.