Franz REHRL was born in Salzburg (St.-Peter-Bezirk 10) on December 4, 1890 and was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. He was the oldest of the four children of Barbara Wallner Rehrl and Franz Rehrl, a carpenter in the St. Peter monastery who was the official »Monastery Master Carpenter« when he died at age 48. His widow was left to care for their four young children – Franz, Barbara, Josef and Maria – with only a very small pension.
The petty bourgeois origins and difficult financial situation proved not to be a problem for the social advancement of the oldest of the four half orphans: Franz REHRL graduated from the Humanistische Gymnasium (Academic High School) in Salzburg and was a member of the Catholic student fraternity »Almgau«.
He studied law at the University of Vienna and became a member of the Catholic student fraternity »Austria Vienna« [part of the österreichischen Cartellverband (ÖCV) which was (and still is) an extremely influential social network for Austrian academics, businessmen and politicians]. He graduated with a doctor of law degree in 1915 during WWI, but on medical grounds he wasn’t required to serve in the military. As a result he was able to enter the administrative apparatus of the Salzburg Crown Land without delay.
The 27 year old Dr. Franz REHRL held the title »Landeskommissär« in May 1918 – towards the ends of both WWI and the Habsburg Monarchy – when he married the 21 year old shopkeeper’s daughter Maria Opferkuch in Salzburg’s Nonnberg Cloister church. The couple had two daughters: Eleonore (b. 1920) and Erentrudis (b. 1925). The family lived in a house at 4 Bürglsteinstraße that Dr. REHRL owned.
After the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy the influence of the Catholic Church on Salzburg State politics remained undisturbed – which meant that membership in the Social Christian Party, with its clearly Antisemitic and German Nationalist principles – was important for making political careers. When the election for the Salzburg State Assembly resulted in a Christian Social majority in April 1919, twenty-eight year old Franz REHRL was chosen to be the Lt. Governor of the State.
Before REHRL made his next career leap, politics in Salzburg, which was in a serious economic crisis and strongly oriented towards Germany, became radicalized: Austrian and German Nazis held major meetings in Salzburg with appearances by Adolf Hitler; a plebiscite for annexing Salzburg to Germany carried despite the fact that it had been prohibited by the peace treaty ending WWI; racist activities of the Austrian Antisemitic League; and electoral alliances between the Social Christians and Nazis.
A Social Christian appeal for votes in the State Assembly election on April 9, 1922 called on:
Social-Christian-German Salzburgers! Rise up for an electoral victory for the homeland! No votes for a party led by Jews! [meaning the Social Democratic Labor Party] Jewish spirit corrupts our people and enslaves our honest work … Salzburgers stand together to elect the Christian-Nationalist electoral alliance.
Salzburger Chronik, April 9, 1922, p. 1
The Antisemitic Electoral Alliance won big: 16 assembly seats for them as opposed to ten for the Social Democrats and two for the Greater Germany nationalists. Of course none of them were Jewish. On May 4, 1922 an overwhelming majority of the State Assembly (including the Social Democrats) elected the 31 year old Dr. Franz REHRL to the governorship of Salzburg. He was a Christian Social democrat, federalist, and consensus oriented politician – until the destruction of democracy in Austria.
After the turbulent election in April 1932 REHRL continued to be Governor, but this was the last time with the votes of the Social Democratic representatives. The election marked a disastrous shift to the right: six Nazi representatives were elected who appeared in brown shirt uniforms and incited hatred against the Jews – especially against the »Schloss occupier« Max REINHARDT and his Jedermann productions on the Domplatz.
On June 13, 1933, after a series of Nazi bombings and attacks in Austria, many of the leaders of the Nazi Party were supposed to be arrested. That didn’t happen in Salzburg, because a police official warned the local Nazi leadership about the pending raid. One of these local Nazis was Adolf Eichmann (a neighbor of the Jewish family MORPURGO) who was able to disappear from Salzburg unhindered.
REHRL continued to serve as Governor of Salzburg after the Austrian Parliament was shut down and Austria’s democracy was ended. And he continued in office after February 1934 when the Austrian dictatorship banned the Social Democratic Party. Social Democratic representatives who had voted to re-elect REHRL as Governor were arrested on February 12, 1934 and prosecuted as »putschists«. Josef WITTERNIGG, one of those charged, defended himself saying:
I’m not a putschist, I’m a republican! I’m not a fascist, but a Social Democrat. The main program of Social Democracy was to defend the democratic republic against fascism of every sort.
Franz REHRL was neither a fascist nor an antifascist; he was a Social Christian practitioner of power politics. He was simply unwilling to let go of the reins under the Austrian “Austro-fascist” or »Ständestaat« dictatorship, especially when Salzburg was suffering under an Austrian tourism and Salzburg Festival boycott imposed by Nazi Germany.
Until March 1938 Salzburg State politics were dominated by Franz REHRL’s successful economic administration: crisis management, job creation and growth through cultural projects, tourism and infrastructure projects. These included: rehabilitating the ailing Salzburg Festival and building a stage area in the former Winter Riding School-Hofstallkaserne (1925); creating a National Tourist Office and Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (1926); constructing the cable car to the top of the Schmittenhöhe mountain at Zell-am-Zee (1928); building the road to the top of Salzburg’s Gaisberg (1929) and the Grossglockner High Alpine Road (1935); and finally the renovation of the Salzburg Festival theater (1937/38).
Without Max REINHARDT there wouldn’t have been a Salzburg Festival, but without Franz REHRL the Festival would have had difficulty surviving the economic crisis of the Great Depression. When in 1933 Arturo Toscanini refused to continue conducting at the Bayreuth Festival – »Hitler’s Court Theater« according to Thomas Mann) – the Salzburg Festival won enormous international prestige by recruiting him for Salzburg in 1934.
REHRL traveled to Italy for Toscanini’s 70th birthday on March 25, 1937 to show him the plans for a new Festival Center and to inform him that to express the thanks of the State of Salzburg: The Festival Center itself – and not the shady courtyard behind it – would in future bear the name »Toscanini-Hof«. (Salzburger Chronik, March 26, 1937, p. 1)
Construction of the new Festival Center began right after the end of the 1937 Festival – the Nazi press raged that it was a »vainglorious building« that would only serve international and Jewish festival hype.
On February 12, 1938, Austria gave into Adolf Hitler’s demand from Obersalzberg that Nazis be brought into the top ranks of the Austrian government. Toscanini responded promptly that he wouldn’t cooperate with a Festival under Nazi rulers. Instead, Toscanini conducted in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in solidarity with exiled Jewish musicians there.
The new rulers soon took over Salzburg. The police had already been infiltrated by Nazi party members well before March 1938. They had seen to it that their illegal party comrades were protected from Austrian prosecution – with their weapons if necessary.
The police were charged with protecting the offices of the Governor, but when on the evening of March 11, 1938 before even a single German soldier had marched into Austria, the still illegal Gauleiter (the Nazi term for a regional governor) Anton Wintersteiger arrived at REHRL’s office they greeted him with »Heil Hitler!« and stepped aside – allowing him to report a Nazi seizure of power on REHRL’s official telephone – an »Anschluss from inside« that showed that Salzburg was easy pickings for the illegal Nazis.
When REHRL was displaced as Governor he was still only 47 years old, but he was in bad health suffering from diabetes, blocked arteries, and heart failure. But the Nazi were determined to destroy his reputation and charged him with corruption – claiming he had enriched himself and evaded taxes.
On September 6, 1939, the Nazi regime announced that the former governor Dr. REHRL had been subjected to a tax penalty of 96,514 Reich marks. He was prosecuted and jailed for about a year, but was acquitted of the »crime of attempted fraud« charge in August 1941. While the initial charges were widely reported in the Nazi press, nothing was reported after his rehabilitation.
REHRL was no tax evader, he was simply a victim of Nazi revenge politics designed to destroy his reputation and ruin him financially. All of his money and property were seized in accordance with the order of November 18, 1938 seizing all property belonging to the »enemies of the people and the state« – including all Jews – »to be used for the benefit of the State of Salzburg«.
The State of Salzburg enriched itself with REHRL’s properties, including his home at 4 Bürglsteinstraße. Until the liberation in May 1945, REHRL’s Villa served as attractive headquarters for Commander Alfred Rodenbücher and his SS-Upper Alpine Division, and for the official in charge of seized properties »Gaukämmerer« Dr. Robert Lippert – along with quarters and maids for their families.
REHRL was robbed and forced out of his home. He lived in precarious conditions and mostly separated from his wife and daughters who lived in Vienna. His mother and sisters stayed in Salzburg, living in the St.-Peter’s precincts.
After the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, REHRL fell once more into the hands of the Gestapo. On July 25, 1944 he was arrested in Zell am Ziller and taken to Salzburg where he was interrogated by the Gestapo. On August 19, 1944 he was moved to the Berlin-Moabit prison and from there he was transferred to the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. REHRL was a political prisoner of the »20th of July« Special Operations Command led by Reich Security Main Office and Gestapo chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
It can be assumed that REHRL was subjected to a severe interrogation [torture] in Salzburg and that the Gestapo reported something incriminating to Berlin, since Kaltenbrunner sent a report to Hitler’s secretary Bormann on August 10, while REHRL was still in Salzburg:
.. Count Moltke, who had been monitored several times before, needs further investigation, now that the interrogation of Franz Rehrl from Salzburg ( who was envisaged as Political Representative) has indicated that Moltke commissioned him to discuss questions of a regime change with the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg [Andreas Rohracher] together with an as yet unknown person [Jesuit Father Lothar König].
Mirror image of a conspiracy: The Kaltenbrunner reports
According to Kaltenbrunner, in the event of a successful assassination of Hitler, REHRL was supposed to function as the »political officer« in charge of Military District XVIII (Salzburg). Not, however, on behalf of the military commander of Military District XVIII or the Reich Defense Commissioner there – as both General Ringel and Gauleiter Scheel were loyal supporters of Adolf Hitler and had celebrated his successful escape with a bottle of wine.
Obviously nobody in Salzburg was privy to the plans of the attack, not even REHRL. REHRL hadn’t had any contact with the military resistance group led by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, but the »conspirators of July 20th« had made many contacts with the »Kreisau Circle« around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke.
And Moltke had used his connections to the Catholic Church to talk to REHRL at the end of August 1943, thanks to the mediation by Archbishop Andreas Rohracher. But with what result?
Graf von Moltke had been in Gestapo custody since January 1944, first in Berlin and then in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, but he was only targeted by the »20th of July« Special Operations Command after Kaltenbrunner’s report of August 10, 1944. Moltke was silent about the personal conversation with REHRL and did not inform on anyone. He was hanged in the Berlin-Plötzensee prison on January 23, 1945.
REHRL was still imprisoned in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp when his mother Barbara died in Salzburg on December 24, 1944. At the start of 1945 he was moved back to Berlin to stand trial. He was accused of having failed to report Moltke after their conversation in August 1943. The People’s Court’s indictment charged him with: »Non-disclosure of a highly treasonable undertaking«.
It is totally credible that REHRL, as a staunch Austrian and »Anschluss« opponent, might have rejected Moltke’s offer in August 1943 to become »Chancellor for Austria« after Hitler’s fall. REHRL’s positon becomes understandable when we note that after a regime change Austria was supposed to remain part of the German Reich – that was the plan of the plotters of the failed putsch of July 2t0, 1944 and probably of any offer by Moltke as well.
The Greater Germany oriented resistance group had in any case not proposed to make REHRL »Chancellor for Austria«, but rather as the »political officer« in charge of Military District XVIII (Salzburg) – and this without REHRL’s knowledge to boot. The Charge Sheet also attributed to REHRL the opinion that Nazism could only be replaced through a »total victory of the enemy powers« (and not by a military putsch).
The related hope of REHRL for the restoration of an independent Austria remained unspoken.
The Charge Sheet, dated April 11, 1945, was delivered to REHRL in the Moabit prison on April 20, as for the last time Hitler invited guests to celebrate his birthday in the Führer Bunker and the unstoppable Red Army advanced closer – the Battle of Berlin and war crimes were approaching their final phase.
An SS murder command executed a number of convicted prisoners in the Moabit prison by shooting them in the back of the head in the night of April 22-23, 1945. But REHRL survived his detention on April 25, found shelter in a cellar and finally ended up in the St. Hedwig hospital in Berlin.
The Red Army victory over Hitler-Fascism in Reichs Capital Berlin brought freedom for REHRL. He suffered severely from his treatment in prisons and concentration camp so it took a few more weeks before he was able to return home.
On August 15, 1945 REHRL was led and celebrated in a pageant through the State Capital Salzburg. Then he made a brilliant speech in the Festspielhaus that was not yet marked by the »Cold War«. REHRL expressed his conviction that the peoples of the Soviet Union »bore the brunt of war under their great victor Stalin« and that the basis for the re-establishment of Austria had been laid in their capital with the Moscow Declaration.
The establishment of a constitutional state was of central importance for REHRL. He therefore expected that the state of Salzburg, which had enriched itself with his private wealth, would soon bring him justice. The state government should immediately reverse the »criminal interference« in his rights. REHRL had to have his house at 4 Bürglsteinstrasse renovated extensively in order to make it habitable again so he demanded compensation.
When the affair dragged on, he wrote a bitter letter on October 1, 1946 to the incumbent governor Albert Hochleitner – just a few months before he died. REHRL expressed the opinion that the state of Salzburg gave protection to the perpetrators priority over their victims:
… But now it turns out that apparently the greatest concern is that nothing should happen to the Nazis. I am supposed to live in constant uncertainty that some SS criminal might appear at my apartment, with a certificate from the State Government stating that he can look for his property in my apartment. This is what the protection looks like that the State grants to its former governor, who sacrificed everything for this country and even lost his eyesight.
Salzburger Landesarchiv, Präsidialakten 1128/46
Already during his lifetime, the square on the right side of the Nonntaler Bridge was given the name Dr.-Franz-Rehrl-Platz – not far from there is his home at 4 Bürglsteinstraße, where he died at age 56 on January 23, 1947.
He was buried in the Morzg cemetery, 1.1 km south of the Salzburg municipal cemetery. Former political opponents, anti-fascists and representatives of the victim associations all showed up to honor former governor Dr. Franz REHRL at his funeral.
- Salzburg City and State archives
- »Anklageschrift des Oberreichsanwalts beim Volksgerichtshof gegen Franz Rehrl wegen Nichtanzeige eines hochverräterischen Unternehmens«, in: Widerstand und Verfolgung in Salzburg 1934-1945, vol 2, Vienna 1991, pp. 95-97
- Günter Brakelmann, Helmuth James von Moltke 1907-1945. Eine Biographie, München 2007, p. 250f. (A fateful trip to Austria)
- Ernst Hanisch, »Franz Rehrl – sein Leben«, in: Franz Rehrl Landeshauptmann von Salzburg 1922-1938, Wolfgang Huber, ed., Salzburg 1975, pp. 5-42
- Spiegelbild einer Verschwörung: Die Kaltenbrunner Berichte – Die Opposition gegen Hitler und der Staatsstreich vom 20. Juli 1944 in der SD-Berichterstattung, Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, ed., vol I, Stuttgart-Degerloch 1984, p. 189f.
- »Rede des Altlandeshauptmannes Dr. Franz Rehrl aus Anlass der feierlichen Begrüßung durch die Salzburger nach der Heimkehr aus dem KZ am 15. August 1945,« in: Mitteilungen der Dr. Hans Lechner-Forschungsgesellschaft, vol. 27, March 2017, pp. 76-82
Translation: Stan Nadel
Laid 25.09.2019 at Salzburg, Chiemseegasse
Photo: Salzburg city Archives Arturo Toscanini and Franz Rehrl on the Festspiel-house construction site 1937
Photo: Salzburg city Archives This cartoon text is a play on a famous phrase about why Austria is fortunate & means: For others weapons make a lot of noise You, lucky Austria, make plays and music An Antisemitic election poster of the Social Christian Party from 1920