Dollfuss, Engelbert

(1892–1934)
   Chancellor of the First Austrian Republic from 1932 until he was murdered in his office building on 25 July 1934, Dollfuss came from the peasant community of Texing in Lower Austria. Born out of wedlock, he was subsequently adopted by his stepfather. His full height as an adult was not quite five feet. Dollfuss was decorated several times for bravery during World War I, when he served in Italy. After the conflict ended, he became active in the Christian Social Party (CP), in which he concentrated on agricultural questions. He was secretary of the Lower Austrian branch of the Agrarian League (Landbund), which spoke for peasant interests and participated in coalitions with the Christian Socials. In 1927, Dollfuss was made director of the Lower Austrian Chamber for Agriculture. He became federal minister for agriculture and forestry in 1931 and served in that capacity under three governments, before he took over the chancellorship. Dollfuss also acted as his own foreign minister.
   Dollfuss assumed these offices in 1932 at a chaotic moment in Austrian history. Only the previous year, the failure of the Creditanstalt Bankverein had sparked a worldwide bank panic that set off the Great Depression of the interwar years. Operating in the Austrian parliament in coalition with the Agrarian League and the Homeland Bloc (Heimatblock), the political arm of the right-wing Heimwehr, the new chancellor had little room to maneuver. Under pressure from the Austrian Nazis and the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) to hold elections, which he feared the CP could lose, Dollfuss used a temporary leadership vacuum in the Austrian parliament to shut it down altogether in March 1933. Freedom of speech, the press, and assembly were sharply restricted; the Nazi and Communist parties were outlawed, as was the Republican Guard, the paramilitary arm of the SDAP.
   Dollfuss justified these measures on the basis of the Economic Empowering Act. Issued in World War I, it gave the government extraordinary leeway in dealing with emergencies. However, the real instrument of the chancellor’s authority in Austria was his control over the police and the army, along with his cooperative relations with the Heimwehr and substantial aid from fascist Italy. In May 1933, Dollfuss announced the creation of the Fatherland Front, an ideological umbrella for those who supported some or all of his program. Both the Communists and Nazis went underground; important members of the latter movement found their way to Germany, where they continued to work toward a takeover of Austria by their party.
   Under continued pressure from Benito Mussolini in Italy and the local Heimwehr, Dollfuss continued to narrow the freedom of the SDAP. Police searches for caches of socialist weapons became more frequent. Continued provocation led to armed, but unsuccessful, socialist resistance in February 1934. Once this was put down, Dollfuss outlawed the SDAP as well.
   A Concordat Dollfuss reached with the papacy in 1934 tied Austria even more explicitly to the Roman Catholic Church. The Rome Protocols, signed in the same year with Italy and authoritarian Hungary, obligated Austria to consult with both countries on foreign and domestic affairs. In May 1934, Dollfuss put forth a new constitution. It was based on Catholic and corporative principles, which were to encourage greater cooperation between labor and management. The Catholic church, the Heimwehr, and the Austrian peasant organizations supported the arrangement. However, it was never fully implemented. On 25 July 1934, Austrian National Socialists, many of whom had former ties with the army and had been cashiered for their ideological leanings, staged an uprising in Vienna. Their goal was to capture the government for their party. Though their hopes to find Dollfuss and his ministers together were dashed, putschists did locate the chancellor, whom they shot. Denied either medical help or a priest to perform the last rites, Dollfuss died over two hours after he had been mortally wounded.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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