The Austrian Centre was established in London in 1939 by Austrians seeking refuge from Nazi Germany, of whom 30,000 had reached Britain by the outbreak of World War II. On the declaration of war, all Austrians became 'enemy aliens' in the eyes of the British state. With the threat of invasion in May 1940, many of the Centre's activists and most of its members were interned. Despite these setbacks, the Centre quickly developed into a comprehensive social, cultural and political organisation. By 1941 it had three branches in London, as well as others elsewhere. At its main Paddington centre, it ran a library and a reading-room, produced a weekly newspaper and published a wide range of books and pamphlets. The premises at Swiss Cottage housed a theatre, the 'Laterndl', which regularly produced plays and revues, featuring well-known actors and directors. The Centre also sponsored a regular musical programme comprising concerts and choral performances. The aim of this cultural programme was not only to satisfy the cultural needs of Austrian refugees, but also to establish a distinct Austrian cultural identity: a conscious correlative to the political agenda pursued more overtly through the Centre's political offshoot, the Communist-influenced Free Austrian Movement, founded in 1941 to campaign for the post-war restoration of a democratic and independent Austria. In the first book on the cultural and political life of Austrian refugees in Britain, Out of Austria assesses and evaluates the Austrian Centre's activities and achievements, while also examining the Austrians' often fraught relations with their British hosts. The Centre was a place where contrasting biographies briefly intersected. Sigmund Freud became the Centre's Honorary President during his final months; the poet Erich Fried, then an unknown seventeen-year-old, took his first literary steps there. 'Out of Austria' sheds light on the interaction of politics and culture against the background of exile in wartime Britain.
Out of Austria
The Austrian Centre in London in World War II