Soviet Memorial in Vienna:
Heldendenkmal der Roten Armee

The Heldendenkmal der Roten Armee, a Soviet War Memorial in Vienna

It is the most obvious landmark on the Schwarzenbergplatz, sandwiched between Palais Schwarzenberg and the Hochstrahlbrunnen fountain, a relic from WWII: The Soviet memorial „Heldendenkmal der Roten Armee". In Vienna, there are several slang terms for it: Looter′s Memorial, Memorial of the Unknown Rapist or "Erbsendenkmal" (pea memorial - more on this later).

Detail in the Heldendenkmal or Red Army Memorial, Vienna

More official names are "Russendenkmal"( Russians′ Memorial), Befreiungsdenkmal (Liberation Memorial) or Siegesdenkmal (Victory Memorial). It was built in 1945 by the Soviet army to commemorate the 17,000 Soviet soldiers that died in the course of the "Battle for Vienna". The plan to built such a memorial first occurred in February of 1945 - note that this was before the battle had even started.

The Soviet army held a competition and a soldier (and architect) called Yakovlev won it with a simple pencil drawing. The artist Michail Avakovic Schejnfeld built the first models from breadcrumbs. The poet Sergei Michaelkow contributed appropriate words for the inscriptions. Legend has it that when Schejnfeld first entered Vienna, he was so impressed with the Deutschmeister Memorial in front of the Rossauer Kaserne that he adapted the model for the Heldendenkmal to make it a response to the Deutschmeister-one.

Construction of the Soviet Memorial

Once the fighting had ceased, the Soviets discussed several options on where to build the memorial. They finally decided to use the Schwarzenbergplatz and built the memorial in a way that it would sort of "warp around" the Hochstrahlbrunnen and almost incorporate the fountain. In the nearby "Haus der Industrie", the council of the allied forces met and it is likely that the Soviets chose this location partly in order to rub into the faces of US, French and British delegates that it had been them who had conquered Vienna. This made the Heldendenkmal even more important from the propagandistic point of view.

The Soviets employed locals and prisoners of war for the construction. The 12 metre high statue of a soldier was made of 15 tons of bronze by a casting house from the 3rd district Landstraße. In the course of the construction, the Hochstrahlbrunnen was fixed and restored. 300 square metres of polished marble were used and 2,500 square metres of soil transferred. In the end, the Soviets panicked that something might go wrong with the opening ceremony and Schejnfeld had to personally rehearse the removal of a blanket from the memorial.

Opening Ceremony of the Soviet Memorial

The non-official government of Austria, comprising of later founding father so the Second Republic such as Theodor Körner, Leopold Figl and Karl Renner, attended the opening. They were under pressure to be friendly to the Soviets - the only fraction that treated them seriously at this point - and distant at the same time to win the support of the other allies. The original Heldendenkmal included a tank. In 1946, the Heldendenkmal was opened and the Schwarzenbergplatz changed its name into Stalinplatz.

Dead Soviet soldiers were buried on the site of the memorial. In 1955, when the allied troops withdrew and released Austria into independence, a state treaty was signed in which Austria guaranteed to take care of the maintenance of the Heldendenkmal. Forever. The Stalinplatz was re-named into Schwarzenbergplatz, the tank was transferred to the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in the nearby Arsenal; and the buried soldiers were exhumed and their bodies transferred to an honorary section of the Zentralfriedhof. In my "Vienna cemetery photo gallery", there is a picture of this Soviet section.

Heldendenkmal Memorial Today & Forever

Ever since the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, especially right-wing politicians have demanded the Heldendenkmal to be dismantled. Several attempts to blow it up with explosives were prevented by the Austrian police and vandalism occurs rather frequently - damages have to be fixed by the Republic of Austria according to the state treaty. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of similar memorials in Eastern-European countries, the debate has been fuelled again in the early 1990ies. However, as even "neutral" historians point out, the Heldendenkmal is an important feature recalling a crucial period in the history of Vienna.

Regarding the generally negative view of the Heldendenkmal even among today′s Austrian population and the name "Erbsendenkmal" ("Pea Memorial"): After the conquest aka liberation of Vienna, supplies were short and especially children and old people suffered from malnourishment. In May of 1945, Stalin decided to donate 1,000 tons of peas that were provided for the starving population of Vienna.

Attractions nearby the Heldendenkmal and Schwarzenbergplatz are numerous: Towards East, you find the Akademisches Gymnasium, the Akademietheater and Wiener Konzerthaus; the Stadtpark and Kursalon; the National Mint; the Museum of Applied Art. Towards Rennweg, you find the Gardekirche, the Salesianerinnenkirche and the Belvedere Palace. Towards West, you get to the Karlsplatz with Karlskirche, Wien Museum, Künstlerhaus, Wiener Musikverein and the Secession. Towards north, you get to the Ringstraße and straight into the first district.

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Further Reading

Official website of the Vienna Tourist Information

AEIOU on the Heldendenkmal Soviet War Memorial in Vienna

German Wikipedia on the Soviet Soldier Memorial (Heldendenkmal) in Vienna