Paris Peace Conf. 184.011102/607

Mr. Albert Halstead to the Secretary of State51

No. 146

Subject: Present conditions in Vienna.

Sir: I have the honor to furnish the following information regarding the present situation in Vienna, that the latest phases may be understood:

The gravest anxiety prevails into Vienna’s immediate future.

Without coal, with reduced food rations, and therefore hungering and cold, and knowing that some people are well fed and warm, it is apprehended that the population in desperation may proceed to plunder and rob those who have something left. The police themselves [Page 585] are apprehensive though they hope their well disciplined force which still remains loyal, may be able to control the difficulty. But when newly-born children have died in the hospitals from pneumonia from want of heat, when the stomach is empty and the body is cold, when clothing is short and no hopes appear, it is but natural to fear that people who have been amazingly long suffering and patient may seek to solve the problem by seizing the means of existence from those who they think have more than they deserve.

Despite the strenuous efforts that had been made to procure sufficient coal for Vienna, the coal outlook to-day is not better and is even worse than in the recent past. It has been necessary to deliver to the electric light works coal originally assigned to the gas works. Private houses are absolutely unable to obtain coal except in an underhand way. In the poor quarters it is reported that the furniture is being burned for heating purposes. The woods in the vicinity of Vienna have been invaded by thousands of people and without police interference have been devastated. Throughout the summer and autumn much of the timber in the Wienerwald, the forest surrounding the city, was cut for fuel and it is expected that every accessible group of trees will be cut down by people who fear to freeze to death. If a heavy snow storm should come it is almost inevitable that it will be necessary to close both the gas and the electrical generating works. This would not only necessitate the closing of many of the kitchens that furnish meals to children, but it would also make the city absolutely dark with all the dangers that such darkness would involve.

It has become necessary to cut the bread ration in two. The bread is nutritious but not appetizing, potatoes are scarce and almost impossible in price. As a meat ration the public is supposed to obtain a few ounces every fortnight and this is not a good meat. Neither real coffee nor real tea is obtainable, except by illegal methods and then at prices which are impossible for nine tenths of the population. There is absolutely no fresh milk. Up to the present fresh vegetables have been plentiful but costly. Yesterday, however, none was available because the peasants were asking too high prices. Butter can only be purchased indirectly and costs 202 Kronen a kilo. Even making some allowances for the reduced value of the crown in Vienna itself, this makes the butter thus obtained twenty five an ounce. There is practically no fat. Some fruit is still to be had.

With these conditions it can be seen how serious will be the reduction of the bread ration upon people who have had their vital energies seriously impaired by short rations and many of whom are really half starved. The Volkswehr and members of the workmen council and those who have connections with them are better off than others. The middle classes that were before the war comfortable and envied are [Page 586] the ones who perhaps suffer most. Many persons formerly prosperous are now living on the proceeds of the sale of jewelry and family treasures. The majority of the poor are in a desperate state.

In this situation there are strikingly interesting contrasts. In the large hotels at high prices one may obtain plenty of meat, vegetables, potatoes, in fact excellent food. The hotels are filled with people who made money during the war or who are living on their jewelry, or come from abroad and who can pay the prices because of the advantage they gain through the rate of exchange. The rooms are not heated and are dark because only one burner may be used. In many private houses the table is not bad. The hotels and these houses obtain their food by what is called “Schleichhandel”—clandestine trading. It is said that this food would not reach the city were it not for the high profits obtainable. This is the reason given for not preventing this traffic. It is argued that by permitting such Schleichhandel the available food is not drawn upon. It is reported that in the country, peasants are feeding their pigs and cattle with food that otherwise could come to town because they do not regard the money as worth having.

There is fortunately a better side. The preliminary report of the temporary reparations sub committee—a document by the way, with the conclusions of which I fully concur and which is remarkably complete—suggests a method of solving the problems, temporarily at least. In my judgment it is the only method.

Again there is a probability that the city kitchens will shortly be able to feed a million people at prices within the reach of most, and then to furnish some meals to those who are pennyless. There were established during the war so-called “Kriegsküchen” (war-kitchens). These expensively handed [sic] had been continued up to the present, but they have not fed sufficient people nor have they been practically efficient. Accordingly the government, some weeks ago, asked Dr. Geist who has been in charge of the Child Feeding for Vienna, to take over this work. At first it was popularly assumed that this work would be supported by American funds, but Dr. Geist has succeeded in disabusing the people of that opinion. The question arose as to the financing of these kitchens, that is of providing capital for the purchase of food. It was calculated that eighty million Kronen was the minimum sum needed. To arrange for this money a meeting was held yesterday under the presidency of the Finance Minister, Dr. Reisch, at which were present the Vice-Burgomaster Emmerling, Dr. Geist and members of his staff and representatives of the leading banks. The banks came prepared to furnish the eighty millions. The finance minister finally offered ten million crowns from the state funds if Vienna would furnish a like amount. The vice-burgomaster declared it impossible but finally agreed to furnish the ten millions crowns if the bankers would furnish 100 millions. Agreement was [Page 587] finally reached on this basis and a limited company is to be formed the finances of which will be under the control of the bankers. Both the finance minister and the vice-burgomaster insisted that their burocrats [sic] should have nothing to do with the management. Dr. Geist will be the director without financial responsibility. Professor Pirquet of the Kinderklinik will arrange a ration that is the most nutritious possible and on Monday the first kitchens will be taken over. It is hoped gradually to extend this work until a million people may be fed daily.

The money is sufficient, it is believed, to buy food on the best terms possible and it is hoped that the charges for the meals will ensure a sufficient profit to prevent loss and meet all the emergencies. It is further hoped that by encouraging people to go to the kitchens for the meals which they can carry home, the consumption of gas and coal for cooking in the houses will be markedly reduced, thus helping in a measure to solve the coal problem.

Fortunately to-day the weather has moderated, for the first time in a fortnight.

I have [etc.]

Albert Halstead
  1. Copy transmitted to the Commission by Mr. Halstead under covering letter No. 481, November 7; received November 10.