Between 1945 and 1955, US policymakers targeted Austrian children with a sweeping propaganda campaign intended to cultivate democratic, free-market sensibilities. Coordinated in the 1950s by the US Department of State’s Information Agency, US occupation authorities used subtle, Austrian-ized propaganda to develop educational and extracurricular programming at a moment of sociopolitical and economic transformation in postwar Austria. Responding to concerns about the moral degradation of children after Nazism and rising instances of youth delinquency, this campaign sought to address the ongoing youth problem by inscribing a set of behaviors—empathy, cooperation, and respect for others—that were amenable to the broader US democratizing mission in Central Europe. This paper examines a series of articles from Eine neue Welt für unsere Jugend (1953), a German-language anthology written by authors from both sides of the Atlantic. The text exposed Austrian young people to the richness of life in the United States by flaunting sociopolitical and cultural achievements that aligned with the aims of postwar reorientation initiatives, including articles on the Boy Scouts, transatlantic pen pal programs, and after-school clubs. By broaching these topics, US policymakers hoped to cultivate democratic sensibilities in Austrian youth—to build a new Austria supportive of Western-style liberalism. Works by prominent historians in the field, including Jaimey Fisher and Reinhold Wagnleitner, help frame this article that explores the transnational dynamics of democratic rehabilitation in miniature as US policymakers grappled with the aftermath of Nazism on the one hand and an escalating Cold War on the other.
Sketching a New World in Occupied Austria
While attending secondary school in the mid-1960s, Josef Berghold happened upon a rather lengthy anthological text entitled Eine neue Welt für unsere Jugend: Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika in Berichten, Erzählungen, Aufsätzen, Versen und Briefen, an artifact of American occupation distributed a decade earlier in Vienna.1 Reading each short entry over a period of months, Berghold was enamored by the articles on legendary figures in American history, including Buffalo Bill, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Paine, men whose pioneering ethos espoused new ways of conceiving of citizenship in a representative democracy.
Moved by the democratic tenor of the volume, which stressed individual self-determination, leadership, and service to country, Berghold could not help but map his own experiences onto the pages of Eine neue Welt.2 Through the text, he imagined a free and open nation, unfettered by past misdeeds and anchored in the tenets of a just, tolerant, benevolent, and prosperous society, one which seemed, at the time, antithetical to his own. Eager to learn more, Berghold wrote to his local America House in Vienna, requesting more information on the American system. Shortly thereafter, he received a modest-sized package containing “a little volume with paintings of all the US presidents from Washington to Eisenhower, a booklet . . . with a photograph of JFK on the front page, a short, illustrated outline of US history . . . [and] a sizable map of North America showing various US landmarks.” Although the Allies had departed Austria nearly a decade earlier, this act of personal initiative and youthful ingenuity epitomized the principles occupying forces had hoped to instill in the youngest, most malleable members of Austrian society between 1945 and 1955. In the end, however, Berghold’s image of the United States did not survive the Vietnam War and the atrocities committed there by American troops, compelling him to look elsewhere for “political forces that might represent [these values that had once inspired him] in a more credible way.”3
After the Nazi capitulation in 1945, the victorious Allies implemented a stringent program of reeducation to rehabilitate civic society in Germany, a country marred by years of National Socialist predominance. In practice, the term “reeducation” became a sort of rhetorical catchall, used to characterize democratization of the education system and the cultural scene more broadly after 1945. Extending beyond the German schoolyard, the reeducation campaign attempted to encompass all facets of cultural and social life, including press, film, radio, music, and high culture. Reeducation assumed national culpability for the horrors of the war on the part of every German citizen and was proactively instituted to uproot and displace the presumed fascist predispositions of all Germans.
In partitioned Austria, however, a less interventionalist method was proposed by those in the upper echelons of the US government.4 Consistent with local narratives of Austrian victimhood, reorientation programs stood in stark contrast to the more severe reeducation policies implemented in Germany. According to a memorandum circulated by the Civil Affairs Branch of the US Army, reorientation initiatives in the liberated territories should strive to “revive cultural and intellectual contacts with other peoples of the world” by establishing “peaceful, democratic, self-supporting states capable of taking their places among the free nations of the world.”5 In Austria, where the state possessed a greater degree of political autonomy than in Germany, US officials promoted American ideals indirectly, working through extra-governmental channels to entice Austrians with cultural products from the United States. This light touch, so to speak, rested on the notion that the United States was its own best advertisement, namely, that the exhibition of free-market driven prosperity was the most effective means of reorienting the Austrian public. Following the establishment of a divided German state in 1949, however, the US State Department modified its occupation strategy in Austria. It stepped back from reorientation and embraced a more tailored approach to information circulation that utilized familiar cultural touchstones to pass along democratic ideals. Eine neue Welt, a German-language text circulated in the latter days of US occupation, epitomized this policy realignment at the threshold of Austrian independence.
Eine neue Welt was a “composite work by German and American journalists, authors, translators, and photographers.”6 Published to forge a rapport between young people in the United States and Austria, the book was notably lacking Austrian contributors, reflecting US assumptions about the cultural similarities between the German-speaking peoples of Central Europe. It also replicated institutional discourses surrounding childhood, a rhetorical tool used by occupation officials in the former Reich countries to facilitate social transformation after fascism. The anxieties stemming from rapid sociopolitical change were manifest in Eine neue Welt, a souvenir of the postwar moment produced to influence young minds.
In what follows, I will consider a small sample of disparate pieces from this volume to demonstrate the ways in which Eine neue Welt embodied a historically mutable ideal in a changing geopolitical milieu. Specifically, I argue that Eine neue Welt introduced Austrian young people to a curated ideal, one which, though they may not have been fully aware of it, exhibited the paradoxical, multifaceted nature of US national self-identity in the mid-twentieth century. Historian Reinhold Wagnleitner wrote of Eine neue Welt that “no book from this period documents better the unquestionable attractiveness of the United States.”7 I agree with Wagnleitner’s characterization but would also contend that, by taking a closer look at Eine neue Welt, one can begin to discern the ambiguities concealed in that attractiveness. The book offers historians the opportunity to draw conclusions about the broader economic and political anxieties plaguing US society during the early Cold War years and the ways in which these fears were projected onto Austrian schoolchildren living half a world away. By examining a selection of articles from Eine neue Welt dealing with gender, race, and the “American ethos” more broadly, this article seeks to illuminate postwar efforts to win over Austrian youth and impart a more favorable image of US society. As the Berghold case demonstrates, these efforts were initially successful but perhaps more limited in the long-term, stymied by unfavorable geopolitical events and the challenges of twentieth-century life.
The Wild West Comes to Austria
Following its 1953 release, copies of Eine neue Welt were available at the America Houses dotting Austria.8 These information-sharing sites were key to the US reorienting mission, offering curious visitors preapproved periodicals, books, and reference works on the American way of life. America Houses were extremely popular in the immediate postwar years, with the Information Services Branch, the propaganda arm of the US occupation authority, reporting in 1947 that “the thirst of the Austrian people for information and news and facts about America has brought them storming into U.S.-Information Centers by the tens of thousands.”9Eine neue Welt, with its bright yellow cover, striking illustrations, and engaging, easy-to-read text was sure to draw in young readers. The articles themselves were developed with their Austro-German readership in mind, broaching topics that appealed to the text’s target audience. As Belmonte points out, US information experts “carefully tailored their methods and tactics to appeal to different countries,” gauging which facets of American life would resonate most with a specific foreign audience.10
In Eine neue Welt, a familiar motif resurfaced again and again, a motif introduced to suit Austrian youngsters’ tastes in particular. The American cowboy, with his pioneering spirit and thirst for adventure, was the perfect ambassador to represent American interests to Austria’s youngest. Throughout the volume, the reader encountered the cowboy and the American West. This altruistic, hard-working cowboy appeared, for example, in a short piece entitled “Wild West heroes help mother” (432) and in a song entitled “The Cowboy” (43–44). Here, the titular character materializes as an exceptionally resourceful boy scout. The first stanza read in part:
One is struck by the tone of the piece. Why introduce such a sanitized, harmless figure? And where is “the Indian,” a staple in popular portrayals of the American West? In postwar Austria, the most well-known series for young adults was written by Karl May, whose Wild West stories perpetuated the image of the rugged, fully loaded cowboy. The adventures of Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, May’s primary protagonists, titillated Central European readers for decades by the 1950s, profoundly influencing Austrians’ perceptions of not only the American West but the United States in general.12 Wildly popular in adolescent circles, US officials were aware of May’s influence in the region. In an attempt to reassert control over the cowboy image and combat stereotypes, the State Department issued an order urging that all US diplomats stationed in Austria and Germany be prepared to deal with the themes presented in the books,13 dubbing May’s stories “Buck-Rogers-with-feathers-in-his-hair type of stuff.”14 Even the Information Libraries recognized the “great demand for Western stories” among Austrian youth.15 Thus, these diluted portrayals actively sought to subvert an archetype, replacing May’s homegrown cowboy with one more amenable to the United States’ mission in Austria.
Buoyed by the popularity of Karl May’s stories, the Central European fascination with the American West reached a fever pitch in the early twentieth century. On May 12, 1906, almost fifty years before Eine neue Welt hit bookshelves, a cargo ship loaded with Wild West-themed props, set pieces, and costumes pulled into the Austro-Hungarian port city of Trieste. The Central European leg of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” show had officially begun, drawing huge crowds from across the Empire. Unconcerned with historical accuracy, the production featured extravagant displays, including trick shooting, mock Native American attacks, and a pageant of cowboys on horseback.16 The tour was documented by Charles Eldridge Griffin, the European tour manager, in his 1908 book, Four Years in Europe with Buffalo Bill. The company played a “most successful three weeks’ engagement on the [Viennese] Prater” before traveling to Budapest, Vienna’s twin capital to the east.17 The Budapest show was greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm, with Griffin remarking, “although every stitch of canvas was spread and every inch of seat plank in place, our enormous seating capacity was taxed to the utmost.”18 The American West and Buffalo Bill were deeply anchored in the Austrian cultural imaginary, and Eine neue Welt capitalized on this historical connection, dedicating six articles to the topic, including “The life of a cowboy between work and romance” (41–42) and “Only in Texas: lonestar cowboys and petroleum” (51–52). It is interesting to consider that many of the same boys and girls who lined up to see “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in 1906 would still be alive in 1953 to witness the creation of a new cowboy archetype suited to the aims of postwar reorientation.
Eine neue Welt’s dismantling of the unruly cowboy ethos and pioneering masculinity more generally was exemplified by its depiction of a new type of Buffalo Bill figure. Bill had been an extremely popular figure, drawing huge crowds of enthusiastic fans from across Central Europe. Yet his story, reimagined in Eine neue Welt, underscores and accentuates the inconsistencies inherent in American soft power ideologies, with Buffalo Bill now forced to reconcile his rugged individualism with the institutional imperatives of nineteenth-century westward expansion. In “The great scout: Buffalo Bill—a son of the prairie” (38–40), Bill was depicted as a good-humored, folksy jack-of-all-trades with a strong moral compass and an independent streak. After establishing himself as a rider for the Pony Express, Bill received an urgent telegraph from the director of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, imploring him to join their ranks. The director cited recent Native American aggression in the region, claiming, “the Reds are rioting across the prairie, raiding our labor camps, destroying the new railroad lines, and intercepting the boarding transports so that our engineers are going hungry.”19
Although the company employed soldiers “from the East” (aus dem Osten) to help protect the laborers, the director complained to Bill about the efficacy of these imported units, insisting their ignorance of Native American chicanery (Listen) and of the prairie landscape prevented them from maintaining order and defending the vulnerable worker sites. He demanded Bill Cody, “a capable man who grew up in the West,” take the reins and assume control of a rapidly escalating situation.20 After hearing of the plight of the workers, who were living on “rusks and water,” Bill agreed to the director’s proposition.21 As the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company’s resident patroller, Bill concocted innovative ways of safeguarding the engineers and their underlings from the Native American threat.
In its depiction of the United States’ most infamous frontiersman, “A son of the prairie” prioritized community over individual needs or desires. Emphasizing certain parts of Bill’s biography and neglecting others, Eine neue Welt truncated and tweaked Bill’s story to suit the political moment. For example, no mention was made of Bill’s abolitionist views, his military career, or his conservation work. Indeed, the author created a version of Buffalo Bill that supported his community, exhibiting a set of behaviors—empathy, respect for others, individualism—that US officials hoped to pass on to Austrian young people. In “A son of the prairie,” Buffalo Bill was both impulsive and thoughtful, autonomous and mindful of authority, rowdy and respectful, a repackaged representation that aligned with the broader US reorienting mission in Austria.
Youthful Anxieties after the War
The desirable characteristics modeled by Buffalo Bill were replicated throughout Eine neue Welt. These traits, at least in part, were underscored to address anxieties about youth delinquency in the wake of Nazism. Bill represented the ideal young man, strong and dedicated to his beliefs but also obedient and mindful. While US officials sought to instill behaviors in Austria amenable to the Allied reorienting mission, Austrians used children and adolescents to work through the recent past, projecting their own fears about the future of the Austrian nation onto the younger generation. As historian Jaimey Fisher rightly pointed out in her book on youth and reeducation in postwar Germany, “youth and particularly youth crises served as discursive sites onto which to displace, and with which to distract from, the wider challenges of coming to terms with . . . [the] past.”22 These intergenerational tensions were particularly pronounced in neighboring Austria, where guilt was suppressed and subverted by narratives of national innocence. Likewise, the occupying authorities were interested in reducing childhood delinquency, which, whether real or imagined, was believed to be a pervasive problem in postwar Austria.
In a “sensible” letter addressed to the Education Branch of the British occupation force in southern Austria, Frau Sonja Frisch voiced these anxieties in a letter addressed to the Education Branch of the British occupation force in southern Austria, levying a series of “allegations concerning the immorality of the children.”23 Frisch’s observations, penned in a “quaint Austro-English style,” perfectly embodied the national mood vis-à-vis school-aged children, particularly young boys, in the immediate postwar years.24 Expounding upon the perceived moral degeneration of school-aged children, Frisch remarked, “the children are interested in animals only, if they may torment them . . . cruelty is play, also to each other.” According to Frisch, young people also lacked respect for older generations: “there is no respect at all for old age. The children have their fun in tormenting weak, indigent people . . . the right of the stronger has influence here in much a manner as it couldn’t have had worse in the first days of mankind.”25 Frisch’s concerns over delinquency and the persistence of Nazi-esque beliefs among young people typified popular attitudes toward childhood during the early postwar years.
The press also stoked anxieties about the moral degradation of young people. Fears of youthful decline were rampant after the war, resulting in a flurry of intellectual and popular opining on the topic. These concerns extended to all facets of cultural life after the war. Films and printed matter were censored under the “Schmutz- und Schundgesetze” (Laws for the protection of youth from trash and filth writings) of the early 1950s and a series of conferences on the so-called youth crisis provoked a great deal of hand-wringing.26 In an article published in August 1947, the Christian-liberal Salzburger Nachrichten deemed the youth problem, or Jugendproblem, to be “possibly the most significant but certainly the most distressing” issue facing modern Austria. The author of the column lambasted the political establishment for attempting to “turn back time by decades in order to find a way out of yesterday,” while ignoring the persistent issue of youth delinquency. Focusing in on the postwar fixation of the interwar period, the piece argues that, instead of blaming young people for present-day social ills, political elites should more proactively address the plight of the youth, who had been “thrown out of the clouds by the end of the war.”27
A 1946 article published in the Salzburger Tagblatt struck a more conciliatory tone, noting “a great deal of criticism is leveled at youth today, but we should not forget that these same young people were partly demoralized by many years of fascist upbringing and war.”28 Unlike the article featured in the Salzburger Nachrichten, which underscored the apathy of the Austrian governing establishment, the Tagblatt piece located educational reform as the key to solving the youth problem. Both articles adopted a defensive tone, however, responding to a series of recent publications that blamed young people for Austrian’s social ills. While the watered-down, overly virtuous Buffalo Bill featured in Eine neue Welt reflected US anxieties about the morality of Austrian youth and the afterlife of National Socialism, domestic publications offered prescriptive solutions to the ongoing moral crisis of the youth, a problem that threatened the long-term viability of the Second Republic.
Raising “Western” Boys and Girls
Alongside articles on the Wild West mythos, Eine neue Welt included a smattering of pieces geared toward young women. Gender-specific articles from Eine neue Welt, including “College fashions: practical and stylish” (217), “Peggy is a little epicurean” (221–22), and “Housework—made easy” (218–20), introduced girls to activities considered suitable for the feminine disposition, glorifying household avocations and other interests ordinarily reserved for women, including cooking, cleaning, and childcare. By gendering Eine neue Welt’s young readership, occupation officials confirmed and rearticulated the United States’ commitment to traditional notions of femininity, linking respectable womanhood with consumerism and domesticity. In a world bisected along ideological lines, these shows of abundance and technological efficiency also served a political purpose. They distinguished the US, or “Western,” woman from the Soviet, or “non-Western,” woman.
“Housework—made easy,” for instance, praised the mechanical leaps made in the American kitchen. The first article in a section entitled “Innovations help the American wife,” “Housework” exposed young girls to the extravagancies of American homemaking. The “metal cow” (Blechkuh) saved the lady of the house valuable time by dispensing milk with just the push of a button, while the electric dishwasher, the “great dream of every American housewife,” helped ease the daily workload.29 These labor-alleviating devices were both “attractive” and “affordable,” an essential addition to every upright woman’s kitchen.30 Such overtures to American domestic ingenuity extolled the managed, efficient household as the embodiment of democratic exceptionalism. Anxieties brought on by social change could be restrained in the idyllic middle-class household, in what Elaine Tyler May famously termed “domestic containment.” A component of national restoration, domestic containment shielded the nuclear family from the outside world amid profound social uncertainties brought on by World War II and its aftermaths. In Austria, containment discourses fit comfortably with preexisting ideas about the value of comfort and security.31 Thus, the postwar household became a crucial site for exhibiting democratic sensibilities, linking consumerism with freedom and well-being. “Housework—made easy,” in its glorification and idealization of American domestic amenities, sought to export the “freedom from want” narrative, immortalized in Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, to the beleaguered, war-wary Austrians, flaunting the social virtues of democracy and capitalistic consumption.
In the article “Boys learn to cook” (380), one might have expected to find an inversion of the “traditional” gender hierarchy disseminated by similar articles in Eine neue Welt. The eye-catching, modern title would have certainly stuck out to a young Austrian reader in the 1950s. Title aside, however, “Boys learn to cook” aligned with the mid-century, Western gender norms promulgated by articles directed toward girls, such as “Housework—made easy” and “Peggy is a little epicurean.” The first sentence set the tone for the entire piece, with the author remarking on the “raucous” sound emanating from the kitchen at New York’s Public School 26. The young boys, ranging in age from ten to twelve years old, clatter here and there with pans and plates, sniff spice bags, and turn the dials of the electric stovetop “with a firm grip.”32
This language, which emphasizes the rambunctiousness and ribaldry typically ascribed to young boys, contrasted with the more measured tone set by articles intended for young girls. As the teacher of the boys’ cooking class noted, “the boys make a much larger spectacle than the girls.”33 The piece also assured the reader that the boys were not training to be master chefs or striving for proficiency in a kitchen environment; rather, the boys taking part in the cooking class were hoping to master the Boy Scout cookbook, so they would be better equipped to prepare meals during long hikes. Although the piece is short, especially when compared to other articles on the American kitchen, “Boys learn to cook” conveyed US gender norms in the mid-twentieth century by planting schoolboys in a traditionally feminine space. While “Housework—made easy” and “Peggy is a little epicurean” foregrounded the intrinsic femininity of household vocations, “Boys learn to cook” used the kitchen as a means of highlighting the differences between boys and girls. It is in the kitchen that the types of “acceptable” gender roles promulgated by Eine neue Welt most clearly manifest themselves.
The “traditional” gender roles promulgated by US forces after World War II were consistent with those espoused by fascist authorities in years past. Under National Socialism and Austro-fascism, a well-ordered family was seen as the germ cell of the nation, with the German woman at its center.34 These values were reinscribed after the war, with calls for feminine domesticity and togetherness correlating rather well with the familial expectations of years past. Indeed, Goebbels’s propaganda machine disseminated an image of family life that looked disturbingly similar to the postwar domestic ideal: the father working outside the home and the wife staying home to look after the children. For both regimes, the postwar American and the German Reich’s, a well-regulated, manicured private life was the key to national prosperity. Of course, the former did so in the name of capitalistic progress and the latter to further toxic nationalist ideologies. Although the occupation period was a moment of national reorientation for the Austrians, even the postwar ideal, whose banner was emblazoned with the principles of freedom and free enterprise, overlapped with the regressive, anti-modern beliefs of Austria’s recent history. While US occupation forces espoused “traditional” gender roles in texts like Eine neue Welt, these ideas were also circulated through more formalized channels. Public school curricula, which required preapproval by the occupation authorities, perpetuated this domestic ideal as well. Relegated to household-related coursework, including sewing and cooking lessons, girls’ education looked markedly different from that of their male counterparts. A school inspector report circulated in 1951 underscored the rationale behind separate girls’ education in public schools:
There has never been a time when it has been more necessary to equip girls with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to meet the demands of domestic life. . . . Skilled women’s hands can do a lot here because they create the necessary commodities of everyday life. By their delight in refinement . . . [and] their good taste and ability to multitask, they are able to give the creations of their hands that harmony that allows beauty to be experienced in a valuable and joyful way.35
Boys also enjoyed more after-school opportunities. In a survey published in a 1947 edition of the Vorarlberger Nachrichten, a majority of parents and educators believed that boys should be permitted to join extracurricular organizations. Most respondents did not feel the same way about young women.36 Indeed, the architecture of the Austrian education system perpetuated the idea that girls were best suited to certain household tasks. Only by the end of the 1940s were more mainstream primary and secondary schools beginning to consider co-education as a viable model. Occupying officials, working closely with Austrian policymakers, circulated materials that sought to inhibit sexual deviancy by normalizing “appropriate” modes of gender expression. School curricula, children’s books, films, and other media from the period promoted these ideas to help cohere a well-ordered, uniform democratic society.
Reclaiming Austria for the “West”
Featuring a number of articles on international reconciliation, Eine neue Welt also sought to mend relations between Austria and the West. US officials, caught between the legacy of National Socialism and an escalating Cold War, produced books like Eine neue Welt to help normalize Austrian youth and strengthen intercultural ties between the former Reich nations and their Western neighbors. For instance, “Hello! You can call me Joay” (394–97), the first piece in Eine neue Welt’s aptly titled “Friendship among children—friendship among peoples” section, outlined a transatlantic pen pal program between Austrian and American schoolchildren.
Here, Eine neue Welt encouraged transnational friendship, where students exchanged scrapbooks crammed with homemade artwork, stories, photographs, and newspaper clippings to learn more about each other’s interests and experiences. Scrapbook and letter exchanges offered students the opportunity to “tell each other in letters and pictures what and how they play . . . [and] what it looks like in their home, on their farm, in their village, or in their town.” For instance, Bob was excited to share “how he had recently collected pumpkins with his friends and used them to carve funny jack-o-lanterns for his village’s Halloween festival [Halloweenfest].”37 And Mary, an American farm girl (Farmermädchen) explained to her Austrian pen pal how she would often make “twelve or more little dolls from golden yellow corncobs.”38 Small, seemingly mundane anecdotes like these were a notable component of the American cultural offensive in postwar Austria. And once again, children occupied the front lines. As “You can call me Joay” put it,
This is not an exchange of letters . . . [between] learned people but hearty chats about the joys and sorrows of everyday life. Young and very young people are free from false inhibitions and therefore write the most open and honest letters across all borders, of which the state is only one. Once they have met as friends, who can later turn them into enemies?39
Austrian schoolchildren and youth, scarred by years of National Socialist education, were encouraged to reach out and get to know their Western peers. Building “bridges of friendship,” as Eine neue Welt put it, was part of a broader effort to expunge National Socialist ideologies from Austrian society and secure peace for future generations.
Alongside transatlantic letter-writing initiatives, Austrian schools also underscored the importance of multilateral cooperation, devoting entire lesson plans to international organizations like the United Nations. In his article, “Middle Schoolers Discuss the United Nations,” published in Erziehung und Unterricht in 1952, Karl Jonasch foregrounded the reconciliatory potential of international education, arguing that lessons about intergovernmental peace organizations, like the UN, were highly transferable to everyday school life. According to Jonasch, classroom discussions about the United Nations were instrumental in developing “mutual understanding and mutual willingness to find balance and compromise” among students. Indeed, lessons about the UN, the “organization that shapes our destiny,” help young people understand the value of peaceful coexistence as they prepare to become members of a democratic society.40 During the postwar period, think pieces like Jonasch’s sought to reconnect Austria with the West and ensure the long-term viability of the Second Republic by teaching children the value of negotiation, compromise, and consensus building. In Eine neue Welt, articles like “All the people of the world under one roof” (397–98) and “A film about the dignity of humanity” (393–94) underscored the vital importance of empathy and interpersonal understanding to youngsters still shedding the ideological remnants of the authoritarian past.
The Soviet Union played an important background role as the foil to the idealized image of US society presented by Eine neue Welt. In order to develop a singular, coherent American ideal, Eine neue Welt had to meet two basic, but fundamentally interconnected, criteria. On the one hand, it needed to teach Austrian youngsters about the value of democracy; and on the other, the text needed to cultivate anticommunist solidarity with the West. The means to achieving this goal, however, were not direct. For example, the USSR did not emerge as the authoritarian antithesis of Western liberalism in Eine neue Welt as one might expect. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union loomed large in the background as Eine neue Welt sought to counter Soviet propaganda in the areas of race, gender, and culture. In his survey of the Austrian education system, historian Helmut Engelbrecht argued that the United States’ primary goal was not to proactively combat leftism in Austria but to showcase American exceptionalism and instill into Austrian youth democratic principles.41Eine neue Welt embodied this idea, framing the Cold War in positive terms by touting the economic, political, and cultural advantages of democratic capitalism instead of explicitly casting the Soviet Union as the ideological enemy of everything good and righteous.
Published in the early years of the Cold War, Eine neue Welt straddled the temporal line between denazification on the one hand and bourgeoning anticommunism on the other. Eine neue Welt keenly foregrounded the historical linkages connecting the United States to Western Europe in articles on Carl Schurz, a nineteenth-century German revolutionary turned US statesman, and the Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization that helped revive cultural life in postwar Europe. The USSR, however, was only mentioned briefly in “A restart for Europe” (152–57), a relatively lengthy piece on the European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan) and its role in financing the reconstruction of post-Nazi Europe. After detailing the work being done to rebuild Western Europe, the article gingerly touched on “communist counterpropaganda” while highlighting the bourgeoning economic and political divisions separating Eastern from Western Europe. Eastern Europeans, the article argued, should not be blamed for communism gaining a foothold in their countries. Rather, Soviet infiltration exacerbated and perpetuated social conditions that pushed everyday Europeans east of the Iron Curtain toward “communism” and political radicalism. As the author of the piece put it, “Moscow knew that economic chaos in Europe, poverty, hunger, and desperation was the most fertile breeding ground [Nährboden] for communist ideologies to take root. . . . Only people who do not have enough to eat, who live in bombed out homes, who have no job prospects or clothing, are prone to political radicalism.”42
This argument, which suggested that US aid, and with it, national prosperity for Western Europe, would deter Soviet infiltration and secure economic growth for the countries west of the Iron Curtain, cast Eastern Europe as economically underdeveloped and backward. While the sections on technological advances in the US kitchen gestured to economic asymmetries between “West” and “East,” the article “A restart for Europe” addressed this issue head-on by outlining the economic discrepancies between non-Marshall and Marshall Europe. While the Eastern European nations rejected European Recovery Program aid at the behest of the Soviets, the Western European states, including Austria, accepted Marshall aid, which had “completely changed the face of the war-devasted countries” after only five years.43 In much the same way that Eine neue Welt was a mirror for Americans to come to terms with their preeminent place in a newly bipolar world, so too did Eastern Europe become a mirror image of Western Europe. While the West was capitalist, free, and productive, the East was communist, fettered, and languishing—a concept with historical roots reaching back centuries. These visions of backwardness and provincialism, however, reached their modern apex in the postwar era, as Europe was split in two.44
Confronting US Racism . . . in Postwar Austria
Eine neue Welt assumed a more defensive posture in “The Black citizens of the USA: the life of the American negro” (66–69), tackling the deeply problematic issue of race in America. Responding to an intensifying Soviet condemnation of American race disparities, “Black citizens of the USA” underscored the economic and political strides made by African Americans since the Civil War and emancipation. As Laura Belmonte observed, American propagandists “focused on black-white relations and insisted that African Americans were making significant strides in employment and education.”45 Indeed, throughout the Cold War “U.S. officials acknowledged racial problems without declaring the United States a racist nation.”46 Yet, from the US perspective, racial segregation remained a glaring point of vulnerability. It undercut US claims about social equity and impeded the American mission to promote democratic principles abroad. While the article initially discussed slavery, the rest of “Black citizens of the USA” was carefully crafted to project a more favorable image of interracial relations in the United States. First, the piece argued that racism and bigotry was an isolated issue nearing resolution, confined to the American South (die Südstaaten), where the so-called Negro problem was most visible.47 Second, “Black citizens of the USA” foregrounded racial progress and reform, cataloging the achievements of extraordinary members of the African American community, including Booker T. Washington and Dr. Ralph Bunche. Quantitative data cited by the authors confirmed these gains. According to “Black citizens of the USA,” African Americans owned “14 banks, 200 lending institutions, 60,000 businesses, 26 savings clubs, and 204 insurance companies.”48 By framing the enduring issue of racial inequity in these terms, Eine neue Welt was part of a larger US strategy in which policymakers proved unwilling to challenge the United States’ preferred self-image of democracy and equality abroad. In reality, racial prejudice and bigotry persisted across the country, and in some regions relations between Black Americans and white Americans were deteriorating. How could the United States lecture other countries on the merits of democratic equality if a sizeable piece of its population still struggled under the weight of virulent, systemic racism?
Promulgated in large part by the Soviets, anti-American propaganda took advantage of US reluctance to address its own domestic failures around race. As Meredith Roman has shown, Soviet criticism of US racism was both a strategy for rebuffing any claims of US superiority over the Soviets and a means of elevating the Soviet Union as the true purveyors of European civilization.49 Even before World War II, the Soviets isolated race as a point of US weakness, with films and other media from the 1930s juxtaposing Soviet tolerance with American racial prejudice. This tendency was perhaps best reflected in the hit 1936 film, Circus, which told the story of a circus actress who fled the United States to escape racism. The “Negro problem” as a rhetorical device used to undermine American discourses of freedom and justice continued to plague US personnel based in Austria after the war.
Young Austrians were also keenly aware of this Soviet tactic. During an exchange trip to the United States in 1949, Austrian student Ferdinanda Popper offered her thoughts on the use of race in anti-American propaganda during a forum hosted by the New York Herald Tribune at the Waldorf-Astoria. During a back-and-forth with the Assistant Secretary of State George V. Allen, Popper explained that “American propaganda in Europe suffered from the fact that only the positive sides of American life were portrayed . . . [making] it easy for anti-American propaganda to win cheap victories by pointing to the Negro problem, for example.”50 Popper then offered US officials a few suggestions, “emphasizing in particular that America should dispassionately report to Europeans on the racial question, while simultaneously underscoring measures taken by the U.S. government to ensure equality for all its citizens.”51 Published four years after Popper’s conversation with Secretary Allen, Eine neue Welt only partially heeded the eighteen-year-old’s advice, using articles on race in the United States to highlight African American triumph through rose-colored glasses rather than addressing the issue of race in the United States head-on. Other forums, such as the CIA-backed Congress for Cultural Freedom, a gathering of intellectuals held in West Berlin in June 1950, materialized during this time, with the express aim of challenging Soviet claims around the issue of race and culture. The Congress was active in Austria as well, through its funding of Forum, a Viennese monthly edited by Friedrich Torberg.52 The United States’ race problem also surfaced in popular culture. For instance, the touring company of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, an opera set in twentieth-century South Carolina, was forced to contend with the show’s political messages when it made its Vienna debut in 1952. Hoping to avoid any unwanted press from left-leaning outlets, the advertising for the show explained that, despite appearances, Gershwin was not “writing either a social message or a comedy-caricature of the Negro”; rather the opera “is in a poetic vein.”53 This coordinated effort to distance the touring revival from the US civil-rights movement and universalize its themes demonstrates the sensitivity of the race issue for US authorities and its potential to derail the reorienting mission in Austria. As the director assured the Russians a few years after the Vienna performance, Porgy and Bess “is not in any sense documentary, and does not reflect life in the United States today any more than Aida, Madama Butterfly, or Boris Godunov have a real bearing on present day Egypt, Japan, or the Soviet Union.”54 These rhetorical shifts signaled a broader change in the geopolitical orientations of the United States and Soviet Union.
Between 1945 and 1955, US policymakers targeted children and young adults with a sweeping propaganda campaign, readily furnishing reference materials, picture books, and films intended to indoctrinate and reeducate after years of fascist dictatorship. While Eine neue Welt constituted a small part of this broader ideological offensive, its vast, varied, and eclectic subject matter helps clarify and contextualize the logistical underpinnings of American soft power initiatives in the early years of the Cold War. Casting a coherent, tailored image across the Atlantic, Eine neue Welt introduced Austrian youngsters to a distinctly American worldview. Some of the book’s ideological cornerstones corresponded with preexisting Austrian traditions. Indeed, the text presented a portrait of life in the United States that was carefully tailored to appeal to German-speaking children’s curiosities and interests. At the same time, this expertly conceived artifact of American occupation cultivated democratic sensibilities in Austria by reinscribing appropriate modes of gender expression and reconceptualizing persistent racial inequities.
Finally, Eine neue Welt was also a reflective surface, mirroring back the anxieties and aspirations of a country still coming to terms with its newfound preeminence on the global stage. In Austria, postwar US propaganda assembled and delivered an image of the United States, one framed by the legacy of National Socialism on the right and fears of communist infiltration on the left. This sweeping ideological offensive, which relied heavily on texts describing an idealized life in the United States, operated alongside the general political, economic, and military strategy in Central Europe and remains a legacy of the attempt to establish a postwar Pax Americana in the region.
Eine neue Welt für unsere Jugend: Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika in Berichten, Erzählungen, Aufsätzen, Versen und Briefen mit über 500 Photographien und Zeichnungen (Vienna: Verlag für Jugend und Volk, 1953).
Joseph Berghold, interview by author, April 3, 2017, and email correspondence. The interview was conducted in German and English.
For more on reorientation initiatives in postwar Central Europe, see Christian H. Stifter, Zwischen geistiger Erneuerung und Restauration: US-amerikanische Planungen zur Entnazifizierung und demokratischen Neuorientierung österreichischer Wissenschaft, 1941–1955 (Vienna: Böhlau, 2014); John Gimbel, Amerikanische Besatzungspolitik in Deutschland, 1945–1949 (Berlin: Fischer, 1971); and James F. Tent, Mission on the Rhine: Reeducation and Denazification in American-Occupied Germany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).
Reorientation Branch, “Printed Materials for Occupied Areas, 20 May 1948,” RG 260, Education Division Youth Activities Records, 1946–51, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Eine neue Welt, 4. All translations from the book and elsewhere are mine unless otherwise noted.
Reinhold Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural Mission of the United States in Austria after the Second World War, trans. Diana M. Wolf (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 144.
My copy of Eine neue Welt was one of fifteen hundred children’s books housed at the American House in Vienna.
Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization, 131.
Laura A. Belmonte, Selling the American Way: U.S. Propaganda and the Cold War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 6.
“The Cowboy,” in Eine neue Welt, 44. The English here is original.
Richard H. Cracroft, “The American West of Karl May,” American Quarterly 19, no. 2 (1967): 249–58.
Wagnleitner, Coca-Colonization, 145.
Publication Officer, memorandum to Information Services Branch Chief, October 26, 1949, RG 260, Education Division Youth Activities Records, 1946–51, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Information Services Branch Deputy Chief, “How USFA Projects America and the Democratic Way of Life in Austria through the Information Services Branch,” p. 9, RG 260, Education Division Youth Activities Records, 1946–51, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
“The Wild West Meets the Wild East—Buffalo Bill in Austria-Hungary,” Europe Between East and West, posted May 11, 2015, https://europebetweeneastandwest.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/the-wild-west-meets-the-wild-east-buffalo-bill-in-austria-hungary/.
Charles Griffin Eldridge, Four Years in Europe with Buffalo Bill (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010), 109–11.
“Der grosse Kundschafter: Buffalo Bill—ein Sohn der Prärie,” in Eine neue Welt, 38.
Jaimey Fisher, Disciplining Germany: Youth, Reeducation, and Reconstruction after the Second World War (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2007), 2.
Sonja Frisch to the SMGO Education Branch, Headquarters Military Government Land Kärnten, February 25, 1946, FO 1020-2621, Document 3A, Kärnten General, National Archives at Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom.
Joseph McVeigh, “‘Das bin nur ich. Wenn ich es bin’: Politics and Literature in Austria after 1945,” German Quarterly 61, no. 1 (1988): 15–16.
“Dienst an der Jugend,” Salzburger Nachrichten 187, August 18, 1947, 1.
Ernst Fischer, “Die Erziehung der Jugend,” Salzburger Tagblatt 122, May 28, 1946, 2.
“Hausarbeit—leicht gemacht,” in Eine neue Welt, 218.
Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 16.
“Buben lernen kochen,” in Eine neue Welt, 380.
Charu Gupta, “Politics of Gender: Women in Nazi Germany,” Economic and Political Weekly 26, no. 17 (April 27, 1991): 40.
“Mädchenhandarbeit und nicht verbindlicher Unterricht in Kochen und Hauswirtschaft; Inspektionsbericht,” Vienna, Februar 22, 1951, p. 1, LSR N.Öe., Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Österreichisches Staatsarchiv.
“Die öffentliche Meinung zum Jugendproblem,” Vorarlberger Nachrichten, January 16, 1947, 2.
The article also included a footnote explaining the American holiday to its largely Austrian readership.
“Guten Tag! Ihr könnt mich ruhig Joay nennen,” in Eine neue Welt, 395.
Karl Jonasch, “Hauptschüler diskutieren über die Vereinten Nationen,” Erziehung und Unterricht: Österreichische Pädagogische Zeitschrift (1952): 471–72.
Helmut Engelbrecht, Geschichte des österreichischen Bildungswesens: Erziehung und Unterricht auf dem Boden Österreichs, vol. 5, Von 1918 bis zur Gegenwart (Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1982), 399.
“Europa wurde wieder flottgemacht,” in Eine neue Welt, 154.
See Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994) and Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Belmonte, Selling the American Way, 161.
“Die schwarzen Bürger der USA,” in Eine neue Welt, 67. “Die schwarzen Bürger der USA” used “Negerproblem” to characterize the ongoing issue of institutionalized racism in the United States. This article will translate “Negerproblem” as “Negro problem” in order to retain the intended meaning of the phrase.
Meredith L. Roman, Opposing Jim Crow: African Americans and the Soviet Indictment of U.S. Racism, 1928–1937 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012).
“N.Y. Herald Tribune High School Forum—österreichische Studenten,” March 15, 1949, pp. 3–4, BMAA-KULT, Amerika 1946–49, Österreichisches Staatsarchiv.
Felix W. Tweraser, “Paris Calling Vienna: The Congress for Cultural Freedom and Friedrich Torberg’s Editorship of ‘Forum,’” Austrian Studies 13 (2005): 158–72; and Michael Burri, “Friedrich Torberg, Forum, and the Anxiety of the Cultural Critic in the (Austrian) State,” Journal of Austrian Studies 54, no. 4 (2021): 73–97.
David Monod, “Disguise, Containment and the ‘Porgy and Bess’ Revival of 1952–1956,” Journal of American Studies 35, no. 2 (August 2001): 298. See also Kira Thurman, Singing like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2021), 215–41.
Article by Robert Breen for Neva, January 4, 1956, F27, Public Relations: Russia, cited in Monod, “Disguise,” 298.