CHALK MARKS OF HOPE:
Shedding Light on the O5 Resistance Group
The Anschluss in Austria sparked one of the most brutal and violent anti-Semitic pogroms in all of the Third Reich. Vienna was bubbling over with anti-Semitism before Hitler’s Wehrmacht marched in and annexed Austria. The Nazi party had been growing steadily, rising like bread dough on a warm oven even though the party had been banned years earlier. The moment came, however, in March 1938, for them to come out of the woodwork and begin their reign of terror.
Throughout history, we celebrate the heroes who took up their stones and threw them at various Goliaths. However, heroes are not created overnight. They do not wake up thinking, “This is my day.” Heroes are created out of terrified humans, who wrestle with high-stake moral dilemmas and decide that, if they do not take action, they will not be able to live with themselves. My stories shed light on the humanity behind the hero; the personal struggle of putting one’s life in the way of great risk and quite possibly ending in an awful death.
The O5 group in Vienna was a discovery for me. I knew I wanted to write about an Austrian resistance. I just didn’t know what resistance efforts existed. I knew there had to have been someone who had organized something, and I set out to learn about it. Fritz Molden, Hans Beck and Alfred Stilfried came together shortly after the Anschluss and began one of the first efforts to resist the Viennese regime. Molden was a German soldier and Catholic. Beck was an artist. Stilfried was an Austrian military officer. Together, they took the Ö from Österreich (Austria in German) and created the code name O-5. The Ö, when spelled out is OE. E is the fifth letter in the alphabet.
With carefully curated assets, they began helping Jewish residents, forged documents, produced and distributed anti-Nazi fliers and leaflets, and forged a clandestine movement. Their headquarters were remarkably only some two blocks away from Hotel Metropole, the Gestapo’s new headquarters. By cover of darkness, they met in the basement of St. Ruprecht’s church. Soon enough, all around Vienna, chalk marks began appearing in places and infrastructures they had sabotaged. That O5 sign was a call and proof that resistance was possible. Those marks reminded people that, if they pulled together, they could—if they wanted to—bring the Nazis to their knees.
By 1944, however, the Gestapo had mercilessly cracked open and infiltrated a number of resistance groups throughout Austria, including an attempt to bomb the Hotel Metropole/Gestapo headquarters. Molden’s group was in great danger of being wiped out of history all together. Their work, however, inspired another man at another church. In the 18th district of Vienna, the Gersthof’s parish priest, Heinrich Maier and a very well-known industrialist by the name of Franz Josef Messner founded the cornerstones of the Cassia spy ring. In the spring of 1943, over couriers and contacts, Messner managed to deliver information to the American OSS chief, Allen Dulles, who was located in Bern, Switzerland. The OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, was the foundation of today’s CIA. Messner’s information pinpointed production facilities in Peenemünde, where the Germans were producing the V1 and V2 rockets. In August 1943, the RAF bombed the facilities, and soon after, Messner got Dulles’ full-fledged support. Code-named Cassia, Messner signed an agreement with the OSS as the spokesperson and he and the Cassia spy ring continued providing intelligence.
In the meantime, Molden also made his way to Dulles, and convinced Dulles that over 75,000 members existed in the O5. In truth, only a few hundred stray members remained. However, Dulles took the bait and the O5 received the resources and the support they would need to regroup and continue their clandestine work, including sabotage. Suddenly, the chalk letters began reappearing on the streets of Vienna once more.
I have been following the war in Ukraine every day since Feb. 24, 2022. As I wrote The Diplomat’s Wife series, I was becoming depressed about how I write about an era where the world promised “never again” but here we are… at it again. Say what you will, the fact is, the Ukrainians are facing genocide but the very definition of what genocide means. I wasn’t surprised when suddenly, in Crimea—which was illegally annexed in 2014 by Russia—the call letter ï – a unique Ukrainian letter – began appearing as graffiti, photos of which appeared in Twitter posts. I wasn’t surprised, but I was buoyed. The Ukrainian letter became a sign of resistance. This was soon followed by a string of crossed-out Zs (the Russian symbol) which turned into sharp-edged hourglasses and were then colored in blue and yellow (the colors of the Ukrainian national flag) like the sands of time; the time that is ticking away for Russia, it says. Then yellow ribbons appeared, hanging all over the place. In tree branches, on posts, on buildings, on signs. I was not only researching the resistance groups of the past, but witnessing the establishment of partisan, underground groups of today. Live. They are letting the world know: We are here. We are fighting for you. Join us. Stand up. Pick up a rock. And destroy the enemy.
The faces and names of these people will likely never be known to the average person. We will never know the debates they had to have with themselves before they stepped up and resisted. Nobody wakes up deciding to be a hero. Yet, I believe every single one of us has the potential to be one. Perhaps we just haven’t met that in ourselves, yet.
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