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Engelbert Dollfuss

Engelbert Dollfuss

Dollfuss, Engelbert, 1892-1934, Austrian chancellor. A Christian Socialist, he rose to prominence as leader of the Lower Austrian Farmers' League and became minister of agriculture in 1931. Appointed chancellor in 1932, he obtained a badly needed international loan in return for a renewal of the pledge to maintain the full independence of Austria. In Mar., 1933, he assumed quasi-dictatorial powers. The increasingly powerful Austrian National Socialist party, backed by Nazi Germany, was the chief threat to the Dollfuss regime and to Austrian independence. Dollfuss dissolved the party in June, 1933. Unwilling or unable to cooperate with the Social Democrats, he relied more and more on alliance with the native Austrian fascists under E. R. von Starhemberg. In foreign policy he lacked adequate support of the Western powers and staked the preservation of Austrian independence on friendship with Italy. Pressed by Starhemberg and Mussolini, he enacted provocative measures against the Social Democrats, and in Feb., 1934, he ruthlessly suppressed a Socialist uprising. In Apr., 1934, Austria became a corporative state with a one-party, authoritarian system. Dollfuss was assassinated (July 25) by Austrian Nazis, who made an unsuccessful attempt to seize power.

See W. Maass, Assassination in Vienna (1972).

Engelbert Dollfuss (October 4 1892July 25 1934; in German spelled Dollfuß) was an Austrian Christian Social and Patriotic Front statesman, who was chancellor of Austria from 1932 and dictator of Austria from 1933 until his assassination by Nazi agents in 1934.

Early life

Born in Texing in Lower Austria as the child of the single and deeply religious mother Josepha Dollfuss by an unknown father, Dollfuss was educated at a Roman Catholic seminary before deciding to study Law at the University of Vienna and then Economics at the University of Berlin.

Dollfuss had difficulty gaining admission into the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I due to his short stature – according to The New York Times he stood at 150 cm (4'11"), but was eventually accepted and sent to the Alpine Front. He was a highly decorated soldier and was briefly taken prisoner by the Italians as a POW in 1918. After the war he worked for the Agriculture ministry as secretary of the Farmers' Association and became director of the Lower Austrian Chamber of Agriculture in 1927, and in 1930 as a member of the conservative Christian Social Party was appointed president of the Federal Railway System. (One of the founders of the CS was a hero of Dollfuss's, Karl Freiherr von Vogelsang.) The following year he was named minister of agriculture and forests.

Chancellor of Austria

Dollfuss became Chancellor on May 20 1932 as head of a coalition government, with the pressing goal of tackling the problems of the Great Depression, in a state (post-Versailles Austria) that was economically disadvantaged by the loss of a large part of its manufacturing industry situated in Bohemia. Much of Austria-Hungary's industry had been situated in the areas that were separated into Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia with the Treaty of Versailles, and thus this manufacturing power was lost to Austria after World War I. Dollfuss's majority in Parliament was marginal (he had only a one-vote majority); deflationary policies implemented by his chief economic advisor, the famous Ludwig von Mises, would prove unpopular among the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria (SDAPÖ) .,

Dollfuss as dictator of Austria

In March 1933, an argument arose over irregularities in the voting procedure. The president of the National Council (the lower house) resigned to be able to cast a vote as a parliament member. As a consequence the two vice presidents, belonging to other parties, resigned as well to be able to vote. As a consequence, the parliament could not conclude the session due to formal reasons. Dollfuss took the resignation of all three presidents as a pretext to declare that the National Council had become unworkable, and advised President Wilhelm Miklas to issue a decree adjourning it indefinitely. When the National Council wanted to reconvene days after the resignation of the three presidents, Dollfuss barred entrance to parliament by police force, effectively eliminating democracy in Austria. From that point onwards he governed as dictator by emergency decree with absolute power. One motive of Dollfuss' actions was that with Adolf Hitler becoming German Chancellor in 1933, it looked increasingly likely that the Austrian National Socialists (DNSAP) would gain a significant minority in future elections. On the other hand, the Soviet Union's influence in Europe had increased throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. Dollfuss thus banned the DNSAP in June 1933 and the communists later on. Under the banner of Christian Social Party, he later on established a one-party dictatorship rule largely modelled after fascism in Italy, banning all other Austrian parties including the social democrats.


Due to Austrofascism's modelling after Italian fascism, Dollfuss looked to Italy in support, especially also against Nazi Germany and gained a guarantee for Austria's independence by Italy in August 1933. He also exchanged 'Secret Letters' with Mussolini about ways to guarantee Austrian independence. Mussolini was interested in Austria forming a buffer zone against Nazi Germany. Dollfuss always stressed the similarity of Hitler's and Stalin's regime, and was convinced that Austrofascism under his reign and Italofascism under Mussolini could counter both national socialism and communism in Europe.

In September 1933 Dollfuss merged his Christian Social Party, the Nationalist paramilitary Heimwehr (Home Guard) (which encompassed many workers who were unhappy with the radical leadership of the socialist party) and other nationalist and conservative groups to form the Vaterländische Front. Dollfuß escaped an assassination attempt in October 1933 by Rudolf Dertill, a 22-year old who had been ejected from the military for his national-socialist views.

Austrian civil war and new constitution

In February 1934, Nazi agents in the security forces provoked arrests of social democrats and unjustified searches for weapons of the social democrat's already outlawed Republikanischer Schutzbund. Due to the steps of the Dollfuss dictatorship against known social democrats, the social democrats called for nationwide resistance against the Government. A civil war began, that lasted from February 12 until February 15, with partly fierce fighting primarily in the East of Austria, especially in the streets of some outer Vienna districts, where large fortress-like municipal workers' buildings were situated, and in the northern, industrial areas of the province of Styria, where Nazi agents had great interest in a bloodbath in between security forces and worker's militias. As a consequence of the resistance, that was put out by police and military power, the social democrats were outlawed, and its leaders were imprisoned or fled abroad.

New Constitution

Dollfuss staged a parliamentary session with just his party members present in April 1934 to have his new constitution approved as well as made all the decrees already passed since March 1933 "legal". The new constitution became effective on May 1, 1934 and swept away the last remains of democracy and the system of the first Austrian Republic.


Dollfuss was assassinated in July 25, 1934 by eight Austrian Nazis (Paul Hudl, Franz Holzweber, Otto Planetta and others) who entered the Chancellery building and shot him in an attempted coup d'état, the July Putsch. It was only thanks to the Heimwehr which attacked the forming units of Nazi agents that the coup did not succeed . Another reason for the failure of the putsch was Italian intervention. Mussolini assembled the Italian army on the Austrian border and threatened Hitler with a war with Italy in the event of a German invasion of Austria as originally planned. The assassination of Dollfuss was accompanied by Nazi uprisings in many regions in Austria, resulting in further deaths. In Carinthia a large contingent of northern German Nazis tried to grab power but were subdued by the patriotic Heimwehr units. Similarly, the Nazi assassins in Vienna surrendered and were executed. Kurt Schuschnigg became the new chancellor of Austria.

Dollfuss is buried in the Hietzing cemetery in Vienna, alongside his wife Alwine Dollfuss and two of his children, Hannerl and Eva.


Dollfuss was a very short man and his diminutive stature (155 cm = 5' 2") was the object of satire, among his nicknames were 'Millimetternich' (referring to the autocratic imperial chancellor of Austria from 1815 - 1848, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich), and the 'Jockey'. The New York Times also reported a series of jokes, including how in the coffee houses of Vienna, one could order a 'Dollfuss' cup of coffee instead of a 'Short Black' cup of coffee (black being the colour of the Christian Democratic political faction). In contrast to his own diminutive stature, his personal assistant and secretary Eduard Hedvicek, who later played a significant role in the unsuccessful attempt to save his life was very large and tall man (200 cm = 6'8").

Notes & References

  • Assassination in Vienna, Walter B. Maass, published by Charles Scribners's Sons, New York
  • The Order of the Death's Head: The Story of Hitler's SS, by Heinz Zollin Höhne and Richard Barry
  • První zemřel kancléř, Vladimír Bauman a Miroslav Hladký, Praha 1968
  • Na dne byla smrt, Otakar Brožek a Jiří Horský, Praha 1968
  • Bußhoff, Heinrich, Das Dollfuß-Regime in Österreich (Berlin: Duncker & Humbolt, 1968)
  • Carsten, F. L., The first Austrian Republic 1918-1938 (Cambridge U.P., 1986)
  • Dollfuß, Engelbert, Dollfuß schafft Arbeit [Pamphlet] (Heimatdienst, 1933)
  • Ender, D, Die neue österreichische Verfassung mit dem Text des Konkordates (Wien/Leipzig: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1935)
  • Gregory, J. D., Dollfuss and his Times (Tiptree: Hutchinson & Co. Anchor, 1935)
  • Maleta, Alfred, Der Sozialist im Dollfuß-Österreich (Linz: Preßverein Linz, 1936)
  • Messner, Johannes, Dollfuß (Tyrolia, 1935)
  • Messner, Johannes, Dollfuss: An Austrian Patriot (Norfolk, Virginia: IHS Press, 2003)
  • Moth, G., Neu Österreich und seine Baumeister (Wien: Steyrermühl-Verlag, 1935)
  • Österreichischer Bundespressedienst, Der Führer Bundeskanzler Dr. Dollfuß zum Feste des Wiederaufbaues 1. Mai 1934 (Österreichischer Bundespressedienst, 1934)
  • Sugar, Peter (ed.) Native Fascism in the Successor States (Seattle 1971)
  • Tálos, Emmerich & Neugebauer, Wolfgang, Austrofaschismus (Vienna: Lit. Verlag, 2005)
  • Walterskirchen, Gudula Engelbert Dollfuß, Arbeitermörder oder Heldenkanzler (Vienna: Molden Verlag, 2004)
  • Weber, Hofrat Edmund, Dollfuß an Oesterreich, Eines Mannes Wort und Ziel (Wien: Reinhold Verlag, 1935)
  • Winkler, Franz, Die Diktatur in Oesterreich (Zürich/Leipzig, Orell Füssli Verlag, 1935)
  • Zweig, Stefan, Die Welt von Gestern, eines Dichters von Morgen (Frankfurt am Main/Bonn: Athenäum, 1965)

External links

Preceded by:
Karl Buresch
Chancellor of Austria Succeeded by:
Kurt Schuschnigg

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