1938 – Schwechat in the times of National Socialism
When Adolf Hitler and his army marched into Austria on March 12, 1938, this also had immediate and lasting consequences for the Schwechat Brewery. In September, the adjustment to the German stock corporation law was carried out and for the first time a supervisory board was appointed instead of a board of directors, led by Georg III. His deputies were still Georg Meichl and Richard Schoeller as well as Gerhard. Manfred I became chairman of the board and Gustav his deputy. As in many other Austrian companies, political changes took place in the brewery soon after the “Anschluss”. All gentlemen who were not “party-conform” had to resign from the supervisory board and the executive board and were replaced by mostly incompetent National Socialists who also interfered in the company management. Even before 1938, the second management level of the brewery had been riddled with unnoticed, then illegal Nazis who now sensed their chance for a career. Although Georg and Manfred succeeded in dismissing their ringleaders without notice, this was given very negative credit to both of them in the months that followed.
From an economic point of view, the first financial year after the reunification of Austria with the German Reich had such an impact that Schwechat, with more than a million hectoliters, had become the “largest single brewery in the empire”. Thus, emissions had almost tripled compared to 1937. At the beginning, the family was confident to be able to continue to operate economically under the new regime, so that, together with Gustav Harmer (partner in the joint pressed yeast factory), an attempt was made to buy the Ottakringer Brewery from the Jewish Kuffner family in April 1938. Harmer, who originally only wanted to take over yeast production, had to acquire the entire Kuffner group on his own after a massive objection by the National Socialists against participation of the Mautner Markhof family.
Since the National Socialists did not want to leave the Schwechater Brewery in Austrian, but in purely so called Aryan hands, they made the first attempt in 1938 to bring the majority of the shares and thus the entire Austrian brewing industry under their control, in order to place it in Reich German hands. The NSDAP was looking for reasons to get family members out of the way. Among other things, dismissals of party members, the attempt to take over the Ottakringer Brewery and the acquisition of the United Breweries – which were heavily criticized as “fraud on the national wealth” – were used. George III almost ended up in a concentration camp, but was able to prove that both, the low purchase price of the shares in the United Breweries and the relatively high takeover value of the St. Georg Brewery were based on reports from independent experts. In protest, George III in December 1938 resigned as “President-General Director” of the new supervisory board formed according to German company law. The family had to sell a four percent stake under pressure from the party, but this had no effect on their majority. The committees were newly appointed: Wolfgang Widter (related to the Dreher family and had been the secretary in the brewery for many years) became the new central director and formal company manager. He was just as loyal to the Mautner Markhof family as Karl Dittl-Wehrberg, who became chairman of the supervisory board after Georg’s resignation.
Both Georg and Manfred left Vienna after their Gestapo intermezzi to save their lives. Georg decided on “abroad instead of concentration camps” and spent a few years in Potsdam, Spain, Switzerland and Italy. Georg III. 1978 in a curriculum: “Since I was convinced that the National Socialist regime was unquestionably overorganized, I returned to Vienna after Baldur von Schirach’s appointment as Gauleiter and lived there unchallenged, but abstaining from any industrial activity whatsoever, as a private individual until the end of the war.” Manfred stayed in Berlin for months, from where he continued to run the company in the background as deputy chairman of the supervisory board, and returned in May 1940.
It could be thwarted that the majority of the shares had fallen into German hands, but the family name had to be eliminated from the company name in 1939. The new name Brauerei Schwechat Aktiengesellschaft, however, not only survived the end of the war, but remained unchanged for decades.
After 1939, the Second World War hit the brewery hard. By September 1940, a quarter of the brewery workers had gone to war, women and, above all, increasingly foreign workers were employed for the hard work. Up until the very end, Bürckel’s successor, Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach, tried to activate the last reserves of capable brewery workers, so that in February 1945 the workforce no longer even comprised half of 1939. Members of the family were also drafted into military service. We know from Gustav I that he was a Panzergrenadier until he joined IG Farben as a civilian after suffering from severe jaundice. Manfred had to serve as a motor vehicle driver for a year and a half with the Flak and only barely escaped a war mission on the Eastern Front thanks to his wife Maria “Pussy” who pulled strings to declare him as indispensable at the yeast factory. His son Manfred II experienced the war as an air force helper in several Wehrmacht units and was even held in US custody for a few days in Regensburg, from which he fortunately was released very quickly. Gerhard’s son Heinrich was called up towards the end of the war and wounded three times at the front.
Since one wanted to increase the capacity through investment in the first years of the war, an application by Manfred I was approved in September 1938 for a 25 % capital investment grant for the construction of a new barley silo and a malt house and the two facilities could be put into operation in 1942. When “100 years of lager beer” was celebrated in 1941, problems arose immediately, as Anton Dreher was not recognized as the inventor. General Director Widter in a board meeting: “The newspaper advertisements, which referred to our former position as an export brewery in connection with the introduction of lager beer in Schwechat 100 years ago, were the subject of attacks from the Altreich, which prompted us to further research the historical background of our claims made in the advertisements. This research has now clearly shown that the world’s first pale lager originated from Schwechat in 1841. This fact, which is important to us, will be recorded in a corporate magazine that will be published soon in order to re-establish the reputation of Schwechat.”
In the Second World War there was a much better raw material planning than in the First, so production was still more than a million hectoliters until 1943. However, from December 1939 on only 9-degree beer was produced and from May 1940 on also 6-degree beer, although the better could only be delivered to institutions of the party until the last days of the war. A 10- degree special Hopfenperle beer was also brewed from October 1940 onwards, but it was not available for sale but only available for special occasions. SOMA, a beer-like malt drink, and other lemonades were also produced. From 1941 the delivery quotas for bottled beer and from 1944 also those for draft beer were limited. At the end of 1943, large parts of the brewery cellars for war-important operations were occupied and in 1944, with the start of the air raids on Vienna, just 25 % of the beer volume of 1938 could be produced and sold. The 200 trucks and 2,600 wagons for the transport of beer and barley were mostly confiscated, but without ever being used in the war. A total delivery stop could only be prevented with great effort. It is thanks to the great business management skills of Manfred I that a 7 to 8 % dividend could be paid out by the end of the war. He also made sure not to let the brewery’s surpluses flow into the financing of the war, but invested them in a collection of paintings which was secured against monetary devaluation. In doing so, he was careful not to acquire any aryanized pictures, which proved very useful after 1945. It turned out that the paintings were supposed to provide valuable services, but would later also ensure that the representation rooms were appropriately furnished. In May 1950 he was proud to announce that the value of these artworks was 4.7 million schillings (almost 4 million euros) and had achieved three times the value of other investments.
After Manfred I had succeeded in relocating his wife and daughters to St. Martin near Grimming in Styria at the beginning of 1945, on his way back he got caught up in the final fighting between the German and Russian armies in the west of Vienna and only reached the city by long detours and good luck. He spent the end of the war in his house in Simmering (which was then burned down during the fighting), but then immediately drove to Schwechat, where the Wehrmacht and the Russian army had fought a grenade launcher battle over the factory.