Military Courts Schwindgasse

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Schwindgasse 8 – Luftwaffe Court and Reichs Court-Martial (Reichkriegsgericht)

Beginning in 1938, a large Luftwaffe Court was located in the building on Schwindgasse 8, which was later joined by a branch of the Reichs Court-Martial. As courts within the National Socialist system of military justice, these courts were part of an unjust criminal regime that persecuted deserters, self-mutilators, saboteurs, conscientious objectors and others.

Letterhead on a letter from the Luftgau court to a prison in Vienna, 1942 (source: DÖW).

Letterhead on a letter from the Luftgau court to a prison in Vienna, 1942 (source: DÖW).

Establishment of the Luftgau Court
A ‘Luftgau’ or ‘aerial region’ was an administrative and supply organization of the Luftwaffe limited to a fixed geographical area. The Luftwaffe Court moved into the building on Schwindgasse 8 immediately following the Anschluss in 1938. The close physical proximity to other important Luftwaffe offices was advantageous (Air Fleet 4 or ‘Luftflottenkommando 4’) was located on Schwarzenbergplatz, while the Luftgaukommando XVII was located on Schillerplatz. Starting in 1938, the court began operating under the name „Feldgericht des Luftgaus XVII“, and was also known later as the „Feldgericht des kommandierenden Generals und Befehlshabers im Luftgau XVII“. (Court of the General and Military Commander of ‘Luftgau XVII’).

Jurisdiction and Size
The Luftgau XVII encompassed a large geographical region and was largely comprised of today’s Austria and Czech Republic. All Luftwaffe members – officers, soldiers as well as numerous civilians, were subject to the jurisdiction of the Luftgau Court, unless a more specialized court was competent for a particular case. The court also maintained branches, for example, in Linz and Brno. Up to eight judges worked at the same time at the court, which was led by a presiding judge. Judgments issued by the court had to be signed by the top officials of the court – the respective Luftwaffe commanders, who were generally located nearby in the above-mentioned garrison headquarters.

Excerpt from a notice of legal proceedings against members of a Styrian resistance group (OFF) regarding a court trial on Schwindgasse 8 (source: DÖW 21062/85C)

Excerpt from a notice of legal proceedings against members of a Styrian resistance group (OFF) regarding a court trial on Schwindgasse 8 (source: DÖW 21062/85C)

Reichs Court-Martial (Reichskriegsgericht)
The Reichs Court-Martial (RKG) was established in Berlin in 1936, and expanded its jurisdiction to include Austria following the Anschluss in 1938. Prior to the outbreak of war in 1939, it was primarily responsible for appeal proceedings, as well as proceedings related to treason and high treason. Some of its decisions served as directives, and were thus binding on other military courts. In mid-August, 1943, the court moved from Berlin to Torgau. The 4th Senate of the RKG was established in 1941, and beginning in the fall of 1944, it convened occasionally in the Schwindgasse in Vienna. The Reichs Court-Martial investigated over 10,000 cases, with charges being brought in about half of the cases.

Competence of the Reichs Court-Martial
The RKG was responsible for specific offenses, irrespective of whether they were committed by soldiers or civilians. It was primarily competent for offenses including treason, high treason, military treason, attacks on the Führer and Chancellor of the Reich, and in certain cases for undermining military morale. A particularly large number of cases involving religious and political conscientious objectors landed before the RKG.

Legal Practice of the Reichs Court-Martial
Of the 1,189 death sentences that were pronounced by the court, 1,049 were carried out, most related to espionage (340), high treason (313) and the subversion of the war effort (313); the judgments involved civilians more than military personnel (689 vs. 500). The majority of the military personnel served with the army (422).

The Bulgarian Embassy today. (Mathias Lichtenwagner)

The Bulgarian Embassy today. (Mathias Lichtenwagner)

Termination of Both Courts
At the end of March, 1945, the Luftwaffe Court was transferred to Upper Austria, where it moved into quarters located in Linz and Stadl-Paura near Lambach. The Reichs Court-Martial was probably transferred out of the Schwindgasse location at the same time. In 1945, a judicial inquiry pursuant to the War Crimes Law was launched against the judges and employees of the Luftwaffe Court located on Schwindgasse. By mid-1947, however, all the defendants were released and all proceedings were terminated. While the judges stated on record that they had passed dozens of death sentences against deserters and persons found guilty of subverting the war effort, there were never any consequences for their actions. Bulgaria’s diplomatic mission has occupied the building since 1957.

Case Study:
On 11th March, 1945, Karl and Edgar Ulsamer were sentenced to death by the Reichs Court-Martial located on Schwindgasse, but succeeded in escaping detention during the evacuation of the Wehrmacht Detention Center (Wehrmachtsuntersuchungsgefängnis or ‘WUG X’).

(Many thanks to Peter Rand for the translation.)

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