Talk about history repeating itself. This is where I am in Two Suitcases now:
Café Rüdigerhof, Brigitennau, Vienna
March 7, 1933
Fritz closes the shop early to meet with the others at the coffee house. The news that Chancellor Dollfuss eliminated the parliament hit the press earlier that week, and today it was announced that the Wartime Economy Authority Law, an emergency law passed in 1917, would be used as a basis to rule.
Every day that week brought what seemed like earth-shattering news. First the National Council couldn’t agree on how to settle the railway workers’ strike. When an agreement was finally reached, irregularities were found in the vote, and Karl Renner, leader of the SDAP, resigned as Chairman of the Council.
Rudolf Ramek, a Christian Socialist, then became Chairman. He declared the previous vote invalid and asked for a new vote. Another uproar followed. Ramek then resigned, and Sepp Straffner of the Pan-Germans became Chairman, but he also stepped down immediately. The resignations of Renner, Ramek, and Straffner left the house without a speaker, so the session couldn’t be closed and the National Council was incapable of acting. The members left the chamber as a consequence.
Chancellor Dollfuss declared a constitutional crisis. The parliament had “eliminated itself,” a crisis not provided for in the constitution. He then set up an authoritarian government without a parliament. The establishment of wartime rule gave him complete authority.
“It’s what he always wanted! He wanted to be head of a fascist state from the beginning!” Gert is saying as Fritz comes into the coffee house.
“That’s not true. He wanted to make peace between the parties at first,” Fanny answers.
“What does it matter what his intentions were?” Karl asks. “We have a completely authoritarian government now. Democracy is dead.”
“It’s as bad as Italy,” says Hugo. “Dollfuss always admired Mussolini.”
“That’s why I said he always wanted to be a dictator,” Gert points out.
Fritz adds, “It’s a coup d’état, really. Renner, Ramek, and Straffner fell right into his hands.”
“At least he won’t let Austria merge with Germany,” says Erwin.
“Small comfort when one man now controls the power over all economic activities and over war and peace indefinitely,” Fritz says.
Fanny wonders, “Do we continue our new education program? Having Dollfuss as dictator doesn’t diminish the rising power of the Nazis and the dangers of demagoguery.”
“Dollfuss isn’t a Nazi. Or a demagogue. It’s possible the rule of a strong hand will calm things down a little,” Erwin says.
“One can hope,” says Gert, “but I think the Nazis are far too pleased with how fast their ideas are spreading to stop now.”
“I think they’ll be more dangerous than ever. And Dollfuss’s party, the Christian Socials, are barely less anti-Jewish than the Nazis anyway,” Karl says.
Erwin adds, “I wonder if it will soon become too dangerous for us to even hold meetings or give talks.”
“Especially in the beer halls. I already find them frightening,” Fanny says.
“We shouldn’t be driven by fear of what might be!” Fritz answers. “I say we go ahead with the talks as scheduled. I think it would be a big mistake to let ourselves be intimidated.”
“I agree!” “Yes.” “You’re right,” the others say.
“Alright. We’ll go ahead, but I think we all need to keep our eyes and ears open to gauge the response of the groups we address. Dictators use spies to keep the peace. It’s more important than ever that we aren’t seen as rabble-rousers,” says Hugo. “We’ll meet on Tuesday then, and listen to Karl practice his speech for the beer hall.”