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Vienna Legation Files: Lot 55F74: Box 3161

The Minister in Austria ( Erhardt ) to the Secretary of State

[Extract]
confidential

No. 434

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 61 of January 29, 1948,1 concerning the status of denazification in Austria and to report that denazification is still very much an issue between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers in the discussions of the Allied Council for Austria.

On April 22, 1948, the Austrian Parliament passed a constitutional law concerning the termination of the atonement measures provided in the National Socialists Law (Constitutional Law 25/47) with respect to young persons. This law is known popularly as the Youth Amnesty Law. On June 6, 1948, the constitutional law concerning the early termination of the atonement penalties provided in the National Socialists Law for less implicated persons became effective. This law is popularly known as the Amnesty Law for Less Implicated Nazis. Five copies of each of these laws are forwarded as enclosures.

The Austrian Parliament passed both amnesty laws after the Allied Council had unanimously recommended such legislation to the Austrian Chancellor. In this same communication from the Allied Council was the further suggestion, included because of Soviet insistence, that further, more aggressive steps be taken by the Austrian Government to prosecute implicated Nazis. Chancellor Figl replied to this suggestion that the prosecution of implicated Nazis was proceeding satisfactorily and it was not necessary to take further action in this connection.

Since the Soviet element expressed dissatisfaction with this answer, the question of the effectiveness of the prosecution of implicated Nazis was referred to the Legal Directorate of the Allied Council which, in [Page 1438]turn, asked for the opinion of the Internal Affairs Directorate. Eventual consideration of the problem devolved on the quadripartite Denazification Bureau of the Internal Affairs Directorate.

A straightforward consideration of this problem has proved to be impossible owing to the larger conflicts that exist between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers. No one of the Western Powers’ representatives could ignore the possibility that the Soviet element hopes to use the question of the prosecution of implicated Nazis as a means of attacking the efficiency and integrity of the Federal Austrian Government. As the discussion progressed it became apparent that the Soviet element was using this opportunity to attack the Austrian Government as such and to obtain a strongly worded condemnation of the Austrian denazification procedures which they could use as a weapon of propaganda.

It therefore became necessary for the Western Powers to ignore the specific question before them in the Denazification Bureau. They were compelled to defend the Austrian Government against an attack of some bitterness and violence from the Soviet element. Since the Soviet element wished to introduce a resolution which distorted the facts and gave the impression that the Austrian Government was actively conniving to protect Nazism, the Western Powers’ representatives felt compelled to ignore the minor errors of the Austrian Government in prosecuting implicated Nazis which do exist and to concentrate on answering the Soviet charges against an Austrian Government whose continued existence we desire.

Specifically, an attempt was made to answer the Soviet charges and send forward a resolution to the Allied Council which would neither censure nor praise the Austrian Government. Since there are many instances where Austrian prosecution of implicated Nazis has not met with our approval, it was not considered that we could endorse their conduct of this prosecution. On the other hand, we could not join the Soviet Union, in an immoderate and unwarranted criticism of the Austrian Government which would serve long-range Soviet policy.

All attempts to compose differences failed and at Soviet insistence their resolution censuring the Austrian efforts at the prosecution of implicated Nazis was sent forward separately. Unfortunately, the Western Powers’ representatives also found they had areas of disagreement. The French decided that, while they would not condemn the Austrian conduct in general, they would forward a separate resolution criticizing the performance of the Peoples’ Courts, the five separate tribunals located in each zone of occupation and in Vienna, which try denazification cases. The British and American resolution merely acknowledged the receipt of the Chancellor’s communication. Our position was that no comment and no action was necessary.

[Page 1439]

On Friday, September 11, the question was again on the agenda of the Allied Council meeting. As was anticipated, the Soviet Union took the position that the Austrian Government was not enforcing the denazification law as it concerned implicated Nazis. They proposed that all implicated Nazis whose cases had been pending for three months or over be confined to camps. The Western Powers have taken the position that further deliberation on this problem be postponed until a special denazification report from the Austrian Government is received and studied. It is therefore apparent that the issue of denazification will continue for some time as a focal point of Soviet sound and fury since it offers an excellent subject for their developing theme that Austria is conniving to maintain fascist elements within its public life and that the Western Powers do not oppose that policy. The Austrian report on denazification and the discussion of that report by the Four Powers will be covered by a future despatch as the events unfold.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

John G. Erhardt
  1. Not printed.