The Vienna Black Market 1943-1948

Seminars and Colloquia

Historians have long argued against understanding the end of the Second World War in Germany or Austria as one of complete rupture. The popular concept of “Stunde Null,” which implied a total break with the past and a completely new beginning, rather served to obscure problematic continuities in both societies. Uncovering these continuities is difficult, however, because the dismantling of state institutions, urban destruction and the social chaos that followed the end of the war limits the availability of source material historians can work with. The Vienna black market, however, did not appear only after the Second World War but already existed during the period of Nazi rule. Its study therefore carries the potential to connect the years of warfare with the postwar period in useful ways. 

Nathan Marcus’s paper used records of trials against black market offenders from the Vienna Municipal Archives to discern material, legal and personal continuities linking the period of Nazi rule and the postwar period in Vienna. The sale of undeclared cigarettes in Viennese cafes, for example, or the illegal slaughter of cattle in private homes, was prosecuted by authorities in both periods. Since such activities can be studied as acts of disobedience - if not protest - Marcus used court records to discern the hold and extent of political ideologies on the offenders. Finally, since the line of defense the accused adopted in court, or their arguments for clemency, reflected what they thought the authorities conceived to be characteristics of upstanding citizenship, the files also reflect continuities and ruptures in the perceived relationship between citizens and the state.

Nathan Marcus is a senior lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where he teaches and researches modern European history, specialising in the economic and financial history of twentieth century Europe and on its interwar crisis. Since 2019, he has also been the director of CAGS, the Centre for Austrian and German Studies at Ben-Gurion University. 

Misha Glenny, Rector of the IWM, introduced the speaker and moderated the ensuing Q&A.


Fellows Colloquia are internal events for the IWM Visiting Fellows and Guests.