Heimwehr march in Wiener Neustadt, 1931

The Heimwehr (German: [ˈhaɪmˌveːɐ̯], Home Guard) or sometimes Heimatschutz (German: [ˈhaɪmatˌʃʊts], Homeland Protection)[1] were a nationalist, initially paramilitary group operating within Austria during the 1920s and 1930s; they were similar in methods, organisation, and ideology to Germany's Freikorps. Although opposed to parliamentary democracy, the Heimwehr maintained a political wing known as the Heimatblock, which cooperated with Engelbert Dollfuss' conservative government. In 1936, the Heimwehr was absorbed into the Fatherland Front by decree of Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg and replaced by a militia supposedly less inclined towards uproar against the regime, the Frontmiliz.

Origins and reorganization

Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß wearing the Heimwehr uniform (1933)

Formed mainly from demobilised soldiers after World War I, the Heimwehr were initially formed as loosely organized militias to defend the borders of Austria. As with Germany's Freikorps, there was no formal national leadership or political program at the beginning, but rather local groupings which responded actively to whatever they considered to be ideologically unpalatable. In Carinthia, for example, they formed to protect their region from Slovene and Yugoslav troops.[2] Ignaz Seipel, Christian Social Austrian Chancellor at the time, reorganized the Heimwehr as an "answer to the Socialist Schutzbund"[3] in an attempt to curb socialist power. The increasing politicalization of militias led to the Heimwehr involvement in helping the police suppress the July Revolt of 1927.

The most distinctive part of the Heimwehren uniforms was a green loden hat with the tail feather of a black grouse (which had earlier been the Symbol of the Tyrolean Kaiserschützen). Therefore, Heimwehr fighters were ridiculed by their opponents as "rooster tails" (Hahnenschwanzler).[4]


Heimwehr leader Richard Steidle (centre), Baron Hans von Pranckh (right) and Baron von Bachofen-Echt (left), September 1930

The Heimwehr continued to lack any real national coherence up to 1930, when Heimwehr leaders committed themselves to the Korneuburg Oath, which established an Austrian conservative nationalism base (as distinct from the pan-German nationalism of the Nazi Party), a rejection of liberal democracy and Marxism, in favour of a more autocratic government, and a rejection of "class struggle" (see Austrofascism).[5] This initiative was spearheaded by Richard Steidle, who was supported by German emigre Waldemar Pabst in his attempts to convince the Heimwehr to support the corporatist-state economic policy which Benito Mussolini was putting into practice in Italy.[6]

When Walter Pfrimer, regional head in Styria attempted a coup in 1931, he received no support from other Heimwehr leaders. After this, many Heimwehr groupings, including the Styrian section, increasingly defected to the Nazi Party.[7]

Tensions continued between Austrian section of the Nazi Party, who believed in a pan-Germanic state, which would bring Austria into a Greater German Empire and the Heimwehr, who believed that Austria should remain an independent nation. This led to low level violence, including one incident where Nazi Party members attacked a Heimwehr march with eggs.[8]


After Engelbert Dollfuss created the Fatherland Front in 1934, he gained control over and incorporated the Heimwehr into other right-wing militaries with the help of Heimwehr leader Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg. Politically, the Heimwehr suffered a decline in support and significance due to the pan-German, nationalist allure of the Nazis and Italy's gradual reorientation of its foreign policy towards Germany. As a result of these factors, Dollfuss' successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, absorbed the remaining Heimwehr elements into the Fatherland Front in 1936, and it ceased to exist as a political grouping. Ernst Starhemberg was left out of the new governmental order in an attempt to end rivalries between private armies.[9]

See also


  1. Jelavich, Barbara (December 1989). Modern Austria : Empire & Republic 1815-1986. Cambridge University Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-521-31625-1.
  2. Brook-Shepherd, Gordon (December 1996). The Austrians : a thousand-year odyssey. HarperCollins. p. 235. ISBN 0-00-638255-X.
  3. Brook-Shepherd, Gordon (December 1996). The Austrians : a thousand-year odyssey. HarperCollins. p. 261. ISBN 0-00-638255-X.
  4. Diem, Peter (1995). Die Symbole Österreichs: Zeit und Geschichte in Zeichen. Kremayr & Scheriau. p. 141.
  5. Brook-Shepherd, Gordon (December 1996). The Austrians : a thousand-year odyssey. HarperCollins. p. 265. ISBN 0-00-638255-X.
  6. R.J.B. Bosworth, The Oxford Handbook of Fascism, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 439
  7. Aicher, Martina (2012). "Heimwehren (Österreich)". Organisationen, Institutionen, Bewegungen. Handbuch des Antisemitismus. 5. de Gruyter. p. 310.
  8. Milwaukee Sentinel, May 15, 1933 https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=OE5QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OA0EAAAAIBAJ&dq=waukesha%20county&pg=3070%2C2306546
  9. "Mother's Helper". Time Magazine. 15 May 1936. Retrieved December 11, 2007.
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