Hannes Richter

The Founding of the Austrian Information Service in New York in the Post-War Years

Hannes Richter

Fritz Molden (1948-1950)
The need to create an Austrian Information Service in America was recognized by Ambassador Matsch, Consul General and Austria’s Observer to the United Nations in New York, and Deputy-Consul Leitner in spring 1948. They felt that a journalistic approach was best able to reach a wide American and Austrian émigré audience. Journalist, author and publisher Fritz Molden, co-founder of the Press and Information Service as well as of Austrian Information, recalls that during an early trip to the U.S. in April 1948, along with Dr. Hans Igler, a young banker who years later became the President of the Austrian Federation of Industry, they visited Consul General Matsch and Dr. Leitner. They were encouraged to stay in New York where they could do more to promote Austria in the U.S. Instead the two decided to return at once to Vienna – as long as they could still get back to Soviet occupied Vienna.

As Molden recalls, “we felt we could hardly stay abroad when it was increasingly dire at home.” The situation surrounding the Cold War in Europe worsened and many at home and abroad began to fear that Austria could succumb to the “red threat.” There was reason for concern. The redistribution of power in the region had already led to the fall of Hungary and Czechoslovakia to the Communists within one year’s time. Many in 1948 worried that Austria could be next in line. Given Austria’s tenuous political situation, there was interest at home and abroad as to how Austria would weather this potential storm. In Vienna the atmosphere was rather bleak, and a core group of people, people who had already played an active role in resistance against the NS regime, worked underground, seeking opportunities for resistance in Vienna and Soviet occupied regions. Some of them, such as Dr. Margaretha Ottilinger, Dr. Rafael Spann or Police Commissioner Anton Marek, were arrested by Soviet authorities and deported to the Soviet gulag camps for many years.

Following Austria’s Anschluss by Hitler Germany in spring 1938, Molden, then a boy of 14, soon began as a fighter in the resistance, and later was initiated into the ongoing political underground efforts against the Nazis. Towards the end of World War II he had worked with the Allies (U.S., British, Soviet and French) as an intermediary between the Austrian Resistance Movement 05 and the Allied forces, establishing excellent contacts with the USA during this time. After the end of World War II, Molden became secretary to Austria’s first post-war Foreign Minister Karl Gruber. After 1946 he worked as foreign editor of the daily newspaper, Die Presse, which his father Ernst Molden had reestablished after the war.

After his political involvement was noticed by Soviet officials, he was forced to leave Vienna on short notice in order to avoid being detained. One day in July 1948 he was entering the headquarters of Die Presse on Wollzeile in the 1st district of Vienna, which was under Russian administration at the time. When he entered the doorman told him that there were some Russian soldiers waiting for him in the office. “I told him that I would just buy myself some more cigarettes and return at once – but I just disappeared. After a round-about-way, I went to my parents’ home in Döbling and was informed that the Soviet authorities were already searching for me.” It was clear that Molden could not stay in Vienna. Therefore, he went to the Heiligenstadt U.S. airstrip, the only airport located in the American sector of Vienna, and a small airplane brought him to Salzburg – a better place Molden decided than some camp in the Siberian Gulag. One day Foreign Minister Karl Gruber was visiting Salzburg and explained that one must open an Austrian Information Service in the United States, and it should take up office in New York (509 5th Avenue on 42nd Street became the first office of the Austrian Information Service in New York in 1948). In view of the coming Marshall Plan, it was important to inform the Americans about Austria. The work would also include publishing a monthly publication, Austrian Information. Gruber asked Molden whether he would like to go to New York and he of course gladly accepted. He still had maintained good relations with America from during the war, with the military people as well as with the State Department. So Molden went to New York by way of Paris the end of August, accompanied by his wife at the time, Joan Dulles, daughter of Allen Dulles.

There was also another cloud hanging over Austria’s post-war climate in America. The atrocities that had taken place under the Nazi regime had had an alarming effect on Austrian émigrés living in the United States, many of whom were Jewish immigrants. This led the Austrian government to reach out to former Austrians in the U.S. as a moral imperative. With this in mind, Austria’s Foreign Minister Gruber also recruited Martin Fuchs, an experienced diplomat and former member of the Austrian freedom movement during the war in the U.S., to establish with Molden the Austrian Information Service, as well as another Austrian immigrant, Herta Freundlich.

According to Fritz Molden, “it took a considerable amount of work to convince people that they could trust the new Austrian representation.” Molden and Fuchs traveled throughout the United States to meet with various Austrian-related groups and organizations, giving lectures and distributing pamphlets. “We began to publish Austrian Information.” Apart from Austrian Information, Molden also published in 1949 his first book, “Austria: A Summary in Facts and Figures,” which appeared in numerous editions. “I recognized the need to reach out to those outside of New York. There were many Austrians scattered throughout the world and throughout the United States. I traveled far and wide holding lectures. They were long trips, made in those days by bus or train for budgetary reasons. The atmosphere of my visits was thoroughly pro-Austrian, but there were understandably a number of bitter groups that were not easy to speak to. Nonetheless, we built up positive relations, and Austria’s immigrants invested great effort in helping. We were in contact with various groups of immigrants,” Molden remembers, Jewish immigrants or others, such as those from Burgenland who had come to America before the war for economic reasons.” In later years the various Austrian associations were consolidated, bridging the gaps between contrary views.”

Molden and Fuchs were encouraged by many of the immigrants they met, some of whom decided to return to Austria, including Ernst Häussermann, years later director of Vienna’s Burgtheater, and Friedrich Torberg, who would become one of Austria’s greatest post-war cultural and moral voices for democracy and freedom. Inspite of the resentment among many émigrés, they had the credibility and knowledge to reach out to a variety of Austrian networks in the United States. They were able to work toward reestablishing a connection with Austria among those who had left, while introducing a new post-war Austria to them and the American public. Some later returned to Austria. As Molden recalls, “I was no longer in New York in 1951 and succeeded in bringing back Torberg. That was a great celebration for us.”

A very important part of the Austrian Information Service was not only to reach out to the émigré communities but also to the American people at large. Fritz Molden notes that “luckily, Austria did not seem to be identified with Hitler’s Germany and the Nazis.” It seemed to him that in the following years the film “Sound of Music” contributed more to a positive Austrian image than the Austrian resistance against the Nazis. Nevertheless, when Minister Oskar Helmer, diplomat Ernst Lemberger and Molden, who were resistance fighters during WWII, received the prestigious American Medal of Freedom, the New York Times featured them in a longer article honoring these men, revealing that the press tended to differentiate between Austria and Germany by depicting Austria in a somewhat more favorable light. Fritz Molden remained in New York until 1950. After Foreign Minister Gruber arranged with the Russians for him to re-enter the country, he returned to Austria to take over the publishing house of the daily newspaper, Die Presse, from his father. Later he was often in the U.S. as a journalist, publisher and government representative, reaching out to American opinion leaders when relations had reached a low point after the election of Waldheim as Austrian Federal President. In addition to establishing the Austrian Information Service, Molden served as president of the Auslandsösterreicher-Weltbund (World Federation of Austrians Abroad). Founded in the 1950s to unite all Austrians living outside the country, he served as president of this organization for over thirty years from 1970 until 2005.

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Journalist and publisher Professor Fritz Molden was born 1924 in Vienna. During World War II Molden was actively engaged in the Resistance against the NS regime, becoming an intermediary between the Austrian Resistance Movement 05 and the Allied forces. After the end of World War II, Molden became secretary to Foreign Minister Karl Gruber in 1945. The following year he worked as a foreign editor of the daily newspaper, Die Presse. In 1951 Molden took over as publishing director of Die Presse and established the Austrian weekly Wochenpresse. At the peak of his publishing career and at the age of thirty-four, Molden became in 1958 the largest and most important newspaper publisher in the country. In 1964, he switched to book publishing and founded the Fritz Molden Verlag. In 2005, at age 81, Molden stopped publishing. But he continues to write political books on Austria and Central Europe. The latest book “Vielgeprüftes Österreich, Meine politischen Erinnerungen” was published at the end of 2007 describing the history of the Second Republic during the period 1945 until 2007.