The Exhibit

The Interwar Years

On October 21, 1918, before the end of the war, the ethnic German deputies to the Austrian parliament (Reichsrat) elected in 1911 met and proclaimed themselves to be a "Provisional National Assembly for German-Austria." The Emperor abdicated on November 11, when the armistice was signed, and tolerated the proclamation of the new German-Austrian Republic on November 12, 1918. The Treaty of St. Germain with Austria, however, prohibited Anschluss with Germany. The U.S. only recognized the new Republic in the summer of 1921 and resumed diplomatic relations.

The Americans and Woodrow Wilson’s principle of “self-determination” served as the principal architects of the break-up of the Habsburg Monarchy. Yet, under Herbert Hoover’s America Relief Administration the hungry Austrian population and the children of Vienna were saved from starvation with food shipments from the American Relief Administration from 1919 to 1923 (“Hoover Aid”). Food aid was used to immunize Austrians against the Communist virus and contain communism from spilling over from Hungary (Bela Kun administration) to Central Europe.

In spite of growing xenophobia during World War I vis-à-vis migrants, the United States remained the principal attraction for would-be immigrants. Some 24,000 people from the Burgenland—the territory of Western Hungary that became Austrian in 1920—migrated to the U.S., mainly for economic reasons, continuing the mass migration from this part of the Dual Monarchy before the war. Most of them settled in the industrial centers of the Midwest, especially in Chicago, where today 30,000 Burgenländers and their descendants live. In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act and introduced a quota system in U.S. immigration law. The law was designed to staunch the flow of “new immigrants” from Southern and Eastern Europe who were perceived to be “non-whites.” Austria, being considered an “Eastern” European country, received a small quota. This slowed down the flow of immigrants from Burgenland considerably. While in 1922 and 1923 10,255 people from the Burgenland came to the United States, only 3,408 persons were admitted from 1924 to 1934.

 

Sources:

Philipp Strobl, “…um die Notlage dieser Tage zu entfliehen”: Die burgenländische Amerikawanderung der Zwischenkriegszeit. Innsbruck: Studia, 2015.

Franz Adlgasser, “The Roots of Communist Containment: American Food Aid in Austria and Hungary after World War I,” in: Günter Bischof/Anton Pelinka/Rolf Steininger, eds., Austria in the Nineteen Fifties (Contemporary Austrian Studies 3) (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1995), 171–188.

Destination Chicago

Chicago, shown here on September 9, 1930, was one of the primary destinations of Austrian migration to the United States during the interwar period. Today, some 30,000 Burgenländers and their descendants call it home.

Library of Congress