Dr. Franz SEYWALD was born in Linz Austria on May 9, 1891 and was baptized in the Catholic Church. He lived in Hallein (a few kilometers south of Salzburg) after his father became the post office director there. He attended the Humanistic Gymnasium (academic high school) in Salzburg and graduated in 1910 along with the later governor of Salzburg State Dr. Franz Rehrl. Both of them studied at the law faculty of the University of Vienna and they were both members of a Catholic fraternity called »Austria Vienna«, which was part of the österreichischen Cartellverband (ÖCV) that was very influential politically and academically for the rest of the twentieth century (and beyond).
Dr. SEYWALD suffered from a TB infection that he had contracted before he was called up to serve in the »Erzherzog Rainer« 59th Infantry-Regiment, so he was released as unfit. Starting in 1919 he worked as an administrative attorney for the Salzburg State government. In 1925 he married 21 year old Margarethe Baumgartner in the Salzburg Mülln parish. They had three sons: Gottfried in 1926, Kurt in 1928 and Oskar in 1931 – all born in Salzburg. In 1931 Dr. SEYWALD was promoted to be the District Commissioner in charge of the St. Johann in Pongau district (70 km south of Salzburg): an office he exercised under the authoritarian Dollfuß and Schuschnigg regimes and which involved his participation in the regime’s political party, the »Fatherland Front«.
The leading political, police and justice officials of the Austrian dictatorship who were involved in prosecuting Nazis involved in terror attacks were targeted for revenge when the Nazis took power in Austria in 1938. The first transports to the Dachau concentration camp took place in April 1938. The purge extended to the higher administrative service, which had mostly been recruited from the educated Catholic elite, that is the members of the ÖCV (österreichischen Cartellverband) fraternal associations, and the »Fatherland Front«. Forty-seven year old Dr. SEYWALD, father of three young sons, was one of those forced into retirement with reduced pensions upon the arrival of the German troops. They were all suspected of political opposition and were subjected to surveillance by the new rulers.
Dr. SEYWALD, his wife Margarethe and their 17 year old son Gottfried were arrested by the Gestapo on March 20, 1944 and held in the police jail on the Georg-von-Schönerer-Platz [now the Rudolfsplatz] – they had been denounced by a Gestapo informer.1 In the following days they were joined by others who were also charged with »listening to enemy broadcasts« and they were interrogated by the notorious Georg König.
When a judicial warrant was issued on April 13, 1944 eleven of the twelve accused were under investigative arrest in the jail of the State Court at 1 Schanzlgasse: Dr. Franz SEYWALD (his wife had been set free by then), his older son Gottfried, Dr. Karl BIACK and his wife Edeltraud, Maria and Dr. Rudolf Hanifle, Barbara and Dr. Max Platter, Rosa and Diploma Engineer Albert Schmiedinger and Dr. Josef Tinzl (a former medical section chief). The accused were not convicted, but were publicly condemned by the Gestapo even before the court issued an arrest warrant.
On April 2, 1944 there was a headline in the local Nazi newspaper, the Salzburger Zeitung, that announced: »Radio criminals arrested« followed by an article that listed their names and titles – starting with Dr. Franz SEYWALD and including his former office title »retired higher civil servant« – a signal from the Salzburg Gestapo office led by Dr. Hubert Hueber designed to let the public know just what sort of people were »radio criminals« and attach stigmata to their names: mostly suspended civil servants, post-graduate associates of the Catholic fraternities, and revenge victims from 1938. It should be noted that the circle of the family members affected by the stigma was significantly larger than the number of »interrogated« who were imprisoned and pilloried in the press: six families with a total of 29 members including their 17 children.
The list that the Gestapo published for deterrence closes with the sentence: »The persons listed have intermittently listened to or transmitted these messages from enemy broadcasters«. Contemporaries knew immediately what the possible penalties were for this: According to the »Ordinance on Extraordinary Broadcasting« the spreading of enemy reports, that weakened »the resistance of the German people« was punishable by imprisonment, and in severe cases with death – an ordinance passed at the start of the war in 1939 by the »Reich’s Defense Ministry« led by Hermann Göring.
However the threatened legal punishment was insufficient for the prosecutors so they added charges against the twelve defendants from Salzburg that transferred the trial from the »Special Court« to the »People’s Court«: that is »attempted treason« and »supporting the enemy« according to criminal code sections 80, 83, & 91b, and »undermining the military« according to section 9 of the »Special Wartime Criminal code«.
On June 17, 1944 »senior Reich prosecutor« Ernst Lautz, a German attorney, moved to have the case tried by the »People’s Court«. The Gestapo file on the interrogations was 23 pages long. It was taken as proved that the apartments of the SEYWALDs and BIACKS had served as »centers for listening to enemy radio broadcasts« into the fifth year of the war and, moreover, as places of »subversive speeches of Habsburg-separatist influence« – Nazi regime idioms. It is true that under the pressure of the Gestapo interrogators, the detainees had confessed, for example, that they had listened to German-language news reports from the banned London-based BBC and that they were informed thereby of the November 1, 1943 Moscow Declaration of the Allied Powers on Austria. It is also credible that as Austrian patriots they had talked about re-establishing a free and independent Austria.
The accusation of »subversive speeches of Habsburg-separatist imprint« referred specifically to a printed leaflet that Dr. SEYWALD had received by post during Christmas 1943, and had given to good friends to read before he burned it. The incriminating leaflet was titled »Austrian Declaration of Independence« – a confusing title from today’s point of view, since we only remember that as the title for the proclamation founding the Second Austrian Republic on April 27, 1945. The story is even stranger as the leaflet from 1943 promoted a very different option, an Austria that would be part of a South German Confederation to be established via armed struggle and with the support of foreign military aid – a proclamation whose contents are only known from the Berlin prosecutor’s charges:
On Christmas 1943 the defendant Franz Seywald received a treasonous document in the mail. This pamphlet, the contents of which is referred to in sheet 165 of the file, bore the title: »Austrian Declaration of Independence«. It proclaimed the independence of Austria along with the southern German states as of March 1, 1944, and also gave the German Reich Government and the Nazi Party an ultimatum to leave these countries by March 1, 1944. Furthermore it also calls on »new Austrian« members of the Wehrmacht to desert and join an armed power in Austria to occupy the party offices and to arrest the political leaders, and finally call upon the enemy powers America, England and Russia for help. (June 1, 1944 indictment)
It is especially strange that the death sentence that Dr. Roland Freisler issued in Salzburg as leading judge on July 22, 1944, included neither the title of the leaflet (»Austrian Declaration of Independence«) nor even the word Austria; instead Dr. SEYWALD was characterized as a propagandist for the enemy Habsburgs:
Once, a Habsburg-separatist leaflet arrived at SEYWALD´s in the mail,which his wife took from the mailbox and gave to him. Instead of giving it to the police or at least destroying it Seywald told some acquaintances that he had learned from his wife that a leaflet had come and came to him and said it included some nice things. This was a leaflet of the most subversive nature. It called for a Habsburg state to be created out of the Danube and Alpine Districts along with Southern Germany. It issued an ultimatum for the National Socialists to leave and explicitly called on the enemy for help! That a stupid depravity had spiritually inspired this hate-paper is shown by the fact that it proposed that this Habsburg state pay an enemy police force to help in its own disarmament!
Dr. Roland Freisler’s tirade in the name of the »People’s Court« was during a trial in Salzburg, not the usual seat of the »People’s Court« in Berlin. It sat from July 21-22, 1944 – shortly after the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. And it took place in the felony court room of the court house on the Rudolfsplatz, which the Nazis had renamed in honor of the prominent Austrian German-nationalist fraternity leader and Antisemitic propagandist Georg von Schönerer. This was the only public show trial in Salzburg that was under Freisler’s lead, with co-judges: Storm Trooper Gruppenführer [Major General] Karl Haas, Storm Trooper Brigadeführer [Brigadier General] Daniel Hauer, SS-Obersturmbannführer [Lieutenant colonel] Berthold Wittmer and Karl Figge as lead prosecutor – although it wasn’t the only trial by various panels from the »People’s Court«. In Salzburg there were three such panels with changing leadership over the course of two years – and they issued 32 death sentences2.
Roland Freisler’s death sentence for »attempted treason«, »supporting the enemy« and »Undermining military morale« had begun with the phrase the court »in the name of the German people!« hereby rules that Franz SEYWALD and Karl BIACK »Have severely attacked our confidence and our strength to struggle manfully for our freedom, and thus have become propagandists for our war enemies. You are forever without honor and are condemned to death«.
Reading the reasoning for the sentence makes it easy to see that for Freisler, as leader of this first »blood panel«3, the death sentences for BIACK and Seywald had already been predetermined – at least since the attempt to kill the »Führer« on July 20, 1944. No remedy was really possible against the sentence of the »People’s Court« but Dr. BIACK attempted to appeal anyway and the attorney Dr. SEYWALD would certainly have done so as well if he hadn’t been brutally killed two days later.
A report from the Salzburg jail claims that Dr. Franz SEYWALD, who had been sentenced to death on July 22, 1944, had »committed suicide by hanging« in his cell at 11 pm on July 24, 1944 – a claim that his survivors rightly doubted. For them it was a clear case of murder (according to his grandson Thomas SEYWALD, who has researched this case intensively).
Dr. Franz SEYWALD´s body was turned over to the Gestapo, cremated, and his ashes were buried anonymously after the »Reichsstatthalter« Gustav Adolf Scheel had spoken out against releasing them to his survivors. That meant that the widow Margarethe SEYWALD and her still underage sons Gottfried, Kurt and Oskar were denied their wish and religious obligation to take leave of their loved on at his graveside and publically display their grief. This was a deliberate policy whereby the Gestapo and the judiciary sought to prevent any honor for »terrorists« from being shown by any survivors, or any remembrance by their neighbors.
Dr. BIACK was – after the curtly rejected appeal – decapitated in the Munich-Stadelheim prison on November 7, 1944. Dr. Rudolf Hanifle and Albert Schmiedinger were each sentenced by Judge Freisler to seven years’ imprisonment while Dr. Max Platter and Dr. Josef Tinzl were sentenced to five years each. The wives Maria Hanifle and Edeltraud Biack were sentenced to three and two years respectively. The two wives released from investigative custody, Barbara Platter and Margarethe Seywald survived the years of terror and were given victims compensation in liberated Austria after the war, as was Gottfried Seywald. Gottfried’s trial was separated from the Salzburg show trial because Freisler had too little evidence against him. He was transferred to the Berlin-Plötzensee prison near »Bloody Judge« Freisler’s court and then got one of the court’s very few not guilty verdicts when he volunteered to serve in the army.
In 1992 the widow Margarethe SEYWALD died at age 89. Her three sons, Gottfried, Kurt and Oskar had already died. The proposal by a committee that included the historian Hanns Haas and Heinz Strotzka, in the memorial year 1988 to name a public street after Dr. Franz SEYWALD was soon forgotten and nothing came of the proposal.
1 In Salzburg Karl-Heinz Rothmayer, a student at the Mozarteum »Reichsmusikhochschule«, was a Gestapo informer. Among others he denounced the radio dealer Alexander Anders for listening to “enemy stations.” Anders survived the persecution and in the 1960s, while using the artist name Peter Garden, he confronted Karl-Heinz Rothmayer with his past actions in Salzburg when he had been a paid informant for the Gestapo and as such had driven a number of respected Salzburg citizens and families into distress and misery. A criminal investigation for assistance to committing murder was opened in Berlin in 1967, but was closed without charges in 1970. (Der Spiegel November 8, 1971)
2 In Salzburg »Peoples’ Court« panels led by Roland Freisler, Hermann Granzow, Walter Hartmann, Paul Lämmle and Georg Ernst Diescher passed death sentences on 32 individuals: Franz ASCHENBERGER, Heinrich AUER, Karl BIACK, Heinrich GITTLER, Johann GRABER, Anton GRAF, Josef HAIDINGER, Rudolf HARTL, Leopold HOCK, Otto HORST, Johann ILLNER, Ferdinand LANG, Franz OFNER, Franz PÖTTINGER, Anton REINDL, Josef REISCHENBÖCK, Karl SCHALLMOSER, Anton SCHUBERT, Nikolaus SCHWARZ, Franz Seywald, Rudolf SMOLIK, Ernst-Paul STOIBER, Josef THALHAMMER and Josef WARTINGER (all from Salzburg), Franz Amberger (Braunau), Josef Helmetsberger (Mattighofen) and Josef Scherleitner (Lend). They pardoned: Josef Hofkirchner, Johann Meißnitzer, Franz Priewasser and Franz Randak (Salzburg), Richard Muhr (Mattighofen). In addition 13 Salzburgers were sentenced to death in Berlin and six of them were executed: Rosa HOFMANN, August GRUBER, Michael KRITZINGER, Johann PÖTTLER, Josef WALLIS, Engelbert WEISS.
3 Dr. Roland Freisler, German attorney, President of the »People’s Court« and leader of the 1st panel issued more than 2.600 death sentences, including those against the now famous brother and sister pair Hans and Sophie Scholl (February 1943) and against the “conspirators of July 20, 1944” (August 1944).
- Salzburg city and state archives
- Private archive of Thomas Seywald
- People’s Court 1st panel Roland Freisler files (6J58/44 = 1H156/44 and 6J130/44 = 1H236/44)
Translation: Stan Nadel
Laid 28.09.2017 at Salzburg, Rudolfsplatz 2
Photo: Private archive Dr. Franz Seywald on completion of his studies
Photo: Private archive Arrest-List of the Salzburg Gestapo (Salzburger Zeitung, April 2, 1944, p 4) Verdict by Dr. Roland Freisler, July 22, 1944
Photo: Private archive Verdict by Dr. Roland Freisler, July 22, 1944
Photo: Private archive Verdict by Dr. Roland Freisler, July 22, 1944
Photo: Private archive Victim ID card of widow Margarethe Seywald
Photo: Private archive Margarethe Seywald
Photo: Private archive Dr. Franz Seywald’s sons Kurt, Gottfried & Oskar (May 2, 1987)
Photo: Private archive Dr. Franz Seywald’s grandson Thomas (2017)
Photo: Private Commemorative plaque at the Salzburg Provincial Court
Photo: Gert Kerschbaumer