Processing Finds – The Failed Coup: Visiting Austria, 1934

Posted on: September 29, 2016

One of the best parts of processing manuscript collections is the interesting and unique materials found in the process. This week, while processing the Blackley Family Papers, History Graduate Assistant Joel Webster found a 1934 letter written by Charles Blackley Sr. while traveling in Vienna. Read more for an interesting insight into the early years of the Third Reich.

By Joel Webster, History Graduate Assistant
As the month of August approached its end, a young American tourist from Staunton, Virginia was enjoying the sights and sounds of historic Vienna in 1934. This trip was not without its excitement. Just a month prior a Nazi sponsored coup had failed. A group of ten Austrian Nazis from the SS Standarte 89 stormed the Chancellery and succeeded in assassinating Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. Their victory was short lived, however, as police and military units loyal to Austrian government crushed the coup and arrested those responsible. They were tried and sentenced to hanging for their crimes.

Charles “Chas” Phillips Blackley, Sr., the American in our story, wrote of the world as it existed in the immediate aftermath. In this letter to his sister Mary from August 21st, we hear that the hanging of the Nazis had just occurred before his arrival and that it “has retarded history making considerably.”  Two other changes were mentioned by Mr. Blackley. The first being that the Heimwehr, the Home Guard, were now patrolling the streets with their rifles and “keeping a sharp to windward.” This paled in comparison to the second change: the fortification of the police barracks and chancellery.

Around the police barracks and the Chancellery fences of spike steel and barbed-wire have been erected just in case. People who pass the Chancellery, always at a distance, can look through the door the Nazis entered when they murdered Dollfuss and see a mounted and full-manned machinegun pointing into the street.

Even in the midst of chaos, Mr. Blackley would not let it stop him from enjoying his visit. Saying, “But this can’t dim the glory of this old city by the Danube.” His travels to Europe and the record of this are a rare treat as they offer not only additional first person accounts the events that transpired Austria in the late summer of 1934, but also they provide us with an American voice and personal experience. The life of Chas Blackley is fascinating and this is merely a glimpse of the world he experienced.

The Blackley Family Papers, 1830-2011, SC 0232 are still being processed but we are excited by the prospect of sharing them in their entirety in the near future.

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