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Exile Soldiers: Austrian Émigrés in the U.S. Army and OSS during World War II

As many as 6,000 to 7,000 Austrians in exile in the United States joined the U.S. military and/or the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the U.S. civilian intelligence service during World War II (the predecessor to the postwar CIA). These Austrians became Americans—“leaning on” the U.S. to participate in the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Among them were the soldiers who signed up for the aborted “Austrian Battalion”. It was Otto von Habsburg’s idea.

The War Department established the Austrian Battalion in November 1942, and President Roosevelt disbanded it in May 1943 due to a lack of recruits.

Many Austrians in exile were drafted into the 10th Mountain division, an elite unit in the U.S. Army that saw some heavy fighting in Northern Italy toward the end of the war. Among them was Friedl Pfeiffer, who had been a member of the Austrian National Ski Racing Team. A ski instructor from St. Anton, who first came to Sun Valley, Idaho, Pfeiffer ended up in the 10th and was wounded badly in Italy in April 1945. He was a founder of the Aspen, Colorado, winter resort after the war.

The 300

The U.S. Army recruited thousands of Central European exiles to be trained at the “Military Intelligence Training Center” in Camp Ritchie, Maryland. Known as the “Ritchie Boys,” most of them were involved in POW interrogations in the European theater of operations.

The approximately 300 Austrians in exile who served in the American intelligence unit “Office of Strategic Services” (OSS) may be the most distinguished group. Many worked in the propaganda division of the OSS “Morale Operations Branch” and utilized their many talents in propagandizing the Third Reich, among them the young Viennese Socialist and anti-fascist Rudolf Anzböck. The OSS’s Labor Section recruited the Social Democrat. He served as a research analyst in London, assessing everyday life in Nazi Germany.

Source: Florian Traussnig. Militärischer Widerstand von Aussen: Österreicher in der US-Armee und Kriegsgeheimdienst im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Vienna: Böhlau, 2015.