Willi Weinert: »Mich könnt ihr löschen, aber nicht das
Ein Führer durch den Ehrenhain der Gruppe 40 am Wiener
Zentralfriedhof für die hingerichteten WiderstandskämpferInnen
Facing the Group 40 at Vienna´s Central Cemetary – part of the Honour Grove
where executed Austrian victims of ideological and political persecution during
the period between 1938 and 1945 have been interred1 – the viewer is
confronted with many small memorial stones, arranged irregularly in eight double
rows. Most of them are made of cast stone, installed at the end of the fifties
when the Group 40 was refurbished, and holding one to three names engraved at
the polished front. They replaced the temporary wooden crosses erected just
after 1945 by family members and friends. There are also some stone slabs
mounted on a metal stand, some of them having weathered the time, such as the
one for the couple Maria and Rudolf Fischer. In some cases family members and
friends erected individual grave stones, such as the ones for Rudolf and Oskar
Klekner, Georg Strecha and Hans Zeidler. On others only the family name has been
preserved (with not always the correct spelling). Sometimes the dates of birth
and death are missing or merely nicknames make identification extremely
difficult. In one case it was nevertheless possible. Some are but marked „Unknown
Victim“ and others briefly recount the story of life and death of the victims,
persecuted and eventually decapitated by a ruthless regime which denied even the
fundamental humanitarian rights. Here are some of the texts: Died for Austria´s
freedom – Your life was a continued struggle, Your death our commitment (Johann
Dragosits); You died so that Austria could be resurrected (Hedy Urach); You
suffered so that we could live (Friedrich Muzyka, 1945); You were everything for
us – husband, father, brother and comrade (Franz Bernert); He died for Austria –
may the people appreciate his sacrifice (Fritz Hedrich); What is preserved
herein was the whole world for me (Otto Rosenberger); He died for Austria (Otto
Kubak); For us you gave your life – we shall never forget you (Franz Neubauer);
He died for Austria´s freedom (Ferdinand Kosztelny); If the seed is embedded in
the soil, it dies but it bears many a precious fruit (H.G.Heintschl-Heinegg) On
a broken piece of stone, originally a commemorative plaque for Alfred Fenz found
amid the scrubs proliferating in Group 40 and detected in the course of our
investigations, this message was identified: You fought and You died for
Austria´s freedom – we shall never forget You. There is still space where a
medallion must have been – bearing his photograph . However, on the cast slab
later erected there is no trace of it and the text was reduced to Died for
In Group 40 there are almost 400 gravestones – in memory of about 500 persons.
In this paper more than 570 names are mentioned that were associated with Group
40 because in the biographies names of persons were also included which appear
in the list of persons in Group 40 with allocated numbers though no stones or
plaques were found. There are also stones for persons who (according to the
Administration of the Cemetary) were exhumed and at the request of their
relatives transferred to other cemetaries. It has turned out that in some cases
the location of the gravestones does not correspond to the numbers allocated by
the Registry. Often up to four persons were allocated to one grave, buried in a
pit-like structure, indicating Roman numerals I – IV in the records. We also
have to bear in mind that most of the dead were sent to the Anatomical Institute
for purposes of autopsy (mostly the head was used) and only parts of the remains
of different persons were interred together (as confirmed by contemporary
witnesses); this implies that the memorial site has more of a symbolic character
than other sites where the name corresponds to the person interred therein. (cf.
Chapter Zum Umgang mit den Leichen der Hingerichteten , p. 27)
In contrast to all those buried in Graves of Honour at Vienna´s Central Cemetary
who are listed painstakingly in a catalogue, only older people, friends or
comrades or those especially interested in this part of history know exactly
whose grave may be found where in Group 40. For all others the chances are slim
for obtaining more precise information as to details concerning this Grove of
Honour. Since up to now there has been practically no information available to
identify the names chiselled into stone (except to specialists), the idea took
shape that perhaps a kind of catalogue or small booklet might make it easier to
find one´s way through the Grove of Honour in Group 40.
This booklet therefore is addressed to generations who were born and raised
after the Fascist era. The short biographies were thus complemented by
quotations from indictments and sentences, by facsimiles of contemporary
documents, by excerpts from last letters and messages secretly smuggled out of
prisons, by poems about and from these victims of Nazi terror – resistance
fighters in the broadest sense of the term; readers are supposed to get an
impression of this very special chapter of Austrian history and should be
reminded that the fight and the death of these men and women paved the way
toward a free and independent Austria.
The scope of all those buried there ranges from Hans-Georg von
Heintschel-Heinegg, student at a Catholic Theological Seminary who was to become
a priest, to the revolutionary socialist Eduard Göth and to Hedwig Urach, member
of the Central Committee of the Austrian Communist Party.
This „catalogue“ should ensure that these brave people must not be forgotten.
Though their approaches differed, they all had one common aim: to actively fight
the Nazi regime. And since in those days no legal resistance was possible, they
had to act in secrecy, violating the laws of the Third Reich, laws that were
brutal and inhuman. They were observed, arrested, indicted and murdered.
Execution was the technical term to describe the ultimate punishment, a
successful attempt to turn injustice into a twist so as to give it a legal
justification. Humanitarian help and solidarity (e.g. in connection with
activities of the Rote Hilfe) were considered high treason against the regime.
This gave the Nazi courts of justice the possibility to pass a death sentence
even where it concerned very young people (some of them were not even 19 years
when they were sentenced to death and decapitated, such as J. Machac or L. Sicka).
On the other hand the regime also executed F. Heger who was 75 years old.
Friedrich Heer, the famous Austrian historian, writer and humanist who was
closely associated with Alfred Rabofsky during the Resistance, spoke at a
memorial ceremony on September 18, 1954 at the Federal Courthouse in Vienna
where Rabofsky had been executed. The key issues in Heer‘s speech were the many
memorial services held at that time where official Austria tried to convert the
horrible and senseless deaths suffered by masses of young soldiers on the
battlefield into acts of heroism. We want to learn from their death, said Heer.
We want to learn that turning these dead of World War II into heroes will in no
way enable us to cope with the future. What we need, he exclaimed, is a new
birth, a new world, a new Europe, a young Austria. This new Austria cannot be
built up on the senselessly sacrificed masses of war dead. The gate to the
future is embodied in those who died a lonely death – victims of a terrorist
regime. And Alfred Rabofsky was one of them. From this young typesetter we can
learn what our foremost needs are today: Strength and hope without illusions,
power to resist an apparently omnipotent machinery and the knowledge that there
will always be people for whom their conscience is more important than fear and
And this attitude is still valid – even after half a century. If the biographies
of all those mentioned were complemented by all the existing information about
their lives and their struggle against Fascism and the Nazis, it would turn out
to be a large tome – a useful one – even though it would in no sense be an
equivalent for what these people were willing to give ... their lives.
This small handbook of course cannot do justice to all this. It is merely based
on material already in print, it adds some excerpts from documents, tries to
complement and correct in some instances. There are no detailed references as to
sources and quotations. They were all taken from the literature indicated in the
annex or from documents supplied by archives as listed.3
At the end of October 1943 the Foreign Ministers of the Allies met in Moscow and
consented to a brief Declaration about Austria. Herein it said: „Austria is
reminded, however, that she has a responsibility, which she cannot evade, for
participation in the war at the side of Hitlerite Germany, and that in the final
settlement account will inevitably be taken of her own contribution to her
Many of the persons reported about in this booklet had taken up their struggle
in all its manifold aspects against Hitler Germany and for a free Austria long
before this Declaration; and while they did not represent the masses, they were
the heralds of a better Austria, standing upright in their fight against the
grave diggers of the Republic of Austria, against the highly decorated Air Force
fighter pilots, the Austrian SS officers, the thugs operating in the
concentration camps, the judges pronouncing death warrants, etc.
This brochure should contribute toward retaining the memories of those opposed
to a seemingly invincible dictatorship and who were on the right track as a
minority determined to fight. Their lives and their deaths should enlighten
future generations, encourage them to uphold the noble principles of our heroes
and themselves live a life worthy of human dignity.
1/ In Group 40 there are also the graves of Czech victims that had been
arrested during a resistance operation and subsequently executed at the Federal
Courthouse in Vienna. There are also memorial plaques for Franz Schuster and
Rudolf Klekner the elder who were murdered in the Buchenwald concentration camp,
for Arthur Schnierer who survived the Oswiecim and Buchenwald concentration
camps but died soon after his liberation as a result of the inhuman treatment he
suffered as an inmate. The stone of Franz Strohmer also reminds us of his
brother Hans with his wife Ida who were transferred from a forced labour camp at
Oberlanzendorf to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Hans was shot by the SS
during the transfer, his wife reached Mauthausen but was murdered there. Another
memorial is dedicated to Karl Trtilek who was also murdered at Mauthausen. The
Grove was also the burial place for soldiers who were tried at a military court
and then sentenced to death and executed either at the Federal Courthouse in
Vienna (on June 16, 1944 three deserters from the German Army were not
decapitated but hung on special order) or at the rifle range Kagran such as
Hermann Plackholm and Johann Zak. Between 1940 and 1945 at least 129 persons met
their execution at this rifle range. In Group 40 there is also a memorial stone
für Josef Horsky who died of tyohoid fever at the Federal Court House I. Since
no number of the grave is known, he was probably not buried in the Group. Marie
Reder also died at the Prison Hospital. A. Brunner (Nr. 223) was not executed (cf.
p. 39, Footnote 1 as well as his personal history p. 49f).
It is rumored that in Group 40 also victims from the bombings were interred.
Possibly these are persons with no other records than what could be deciphered
from the commemorative stones.
Those who met their death sentence at the Federal Courthouse in Vienna were also
interred in other burial sites of the Vienna Central Cemetary, such as a large
group of railway men who were executed on June 30, 1941. They were buried in
Group 37 together with another group put to death on September 30, 1942. After
1945 some were transferred to Group 40, others such as Michael Esmann, Andreas
Waste, Ludwig Höfnik (recte Höffernig), Josef Kuchler, Karl Zimmermann, Max
Zitter and Peter Schlömmer were exhumed on April 24, 1947, cremated and their
urns transferred to Villach.
From the records at the Administration of the Cemetary we may infer that Group
40 has been used as a burial site since 1890 (lowest layer). The second layer
has been occupied since 1891, the third one between 1909-10 and 1942-47. The
fourth layer was used between 1942 and 1947. May 10, 1947 was the final date of
occupancy. Afterwards until the fifties there were only transfers, such as from
those bodies originally coming from the Anatomical Institute who were interred
in Group 40.
2/ From »Der Neue Mahnruf«, 10/1954, Das Zeugnis eines jungen Menschen.
3/ It was not the author´s intention to present a complete history of Group 40
in this little booklet, in other words also publish a list of occupancies by
executed persons and by all those interred there including those exhumed in 1945
and transferred to other burial sites. Whether a few of the memorial stones in
Group 40 actually refer to victims of the bombs or perhaps to somebody who was
executed as a „criminal“ by the Nazi judicial system is irrelevant because of
its little significance . Many of those sentenced by military courts and shot at
the Kagran rifle range were also buried in Group 40. Most of them were deserters,
among them also persons from other countries who met their fate in Vienna. After
more than 60 years efforts are being made to rehabilitate those who were
sentenced as traitors to their country (even after 1945 no sentence was revoked
posthumously). Such rehabilitation has already been implemented in Germany. (W.
Manoschek, Opfer der NS-Militärjustiz, Vienna 2003)