The ministers of defence of the Second Republic - a series

Manfried Rauchensteiner

Karl Schleinzer

* 8.1.1924 Frantschach-St. Gertraud im Lavanttal, † 19.7.1975 near Bruck an der Mur (accident); röm.-kath. Parents: Karl and Therese Schleinzer; married with Margarete, geb. Morak, 5 Kinder.

„Ministers come and go, we, however, stay“ the General Chief of Staff of the Austrian Armed Forces, Infantry General Erwin Fussenegger minuted in his service diary on 27th March 1961. Any agitation was unnecessary. For him, the matter was not entirely dealt with, but on the other hand, he felt some kind of relief, as he had been rather dissatisfied with the retiring minister of defence, Ferdinand Graf. He put all his hopes into the new person on the top of the department. One had known for five days that the Carinthian provincial counsellor and provincial ÖVP chairman, Karl Schleinzer, would be the follower. Actually, the federal party management of the ÖVP had held a meeting in the “Panhans” hotel on Mount Semmering. The most relevant topic was the formal consent of the ÖVP to the nominating of Alfons Gorbach for federal chancellor. He was supposed to take over from Julius Raab, who he had followed as federal party head one and a half years before, on the top of the federal government. Graf was shocked and deeply affronted, but he had to submit. Thus, it was obvious that he had no sympathy for his presumptive successor. Additionally, he did not hand over what one would call a “stable house”. Nevertheless, both of them came from the same “stable” – they were Carinthians and had ascended from the Farmers’ Alliance of the ÖVP. Gorbach must have made his decision rather deliberately in order to further secure a respective representation of the Farmers’ Alliance in the government, and in addition, to nominate a Carinthian. Thus, he was able to sedate the Alliance, which was important for the party. For Schleinzer, however, the nomination had been a surprise, as his biography had pointed in a completely different direction. He originated from the Lavant Valley, was the son of a peasant farmer who died five years after his son had been born. Therefore, the perspective of the adolescent boy was farmer. He worked on a farm in East Tyrol, joined the Hitlerjugend in 1941 and became a first class youth platoon leader there. In 1943, Schleinzer joined the Gebirgsjäger-Pionier-Ersatz- and Ausbildungsabteilung 137 of the 2. Gebirgs-Division in Salzburg. After a short front deployment in Lapland he became reserve officer aspirant, then reserve second lieutenant, and lived to see the end of the war in Carinthia, where he became a British prisoner of war. After he had been set free, he had to re-orientate himself, which was certainly not easy. He looked for connections to one of the new democratic parties and decided for the ÖVP.

His application for membership was rejected. Both his years as a HJ-leader and his membership in the NSDAP also impeded his acceptance to the first national council elections, which took place on 25th November 1945.

In October 1948, Schleinzer was able to achieve his vocational baccalaureate diploma, and in the same month, he began his studies at the University for Soil Sciences. 1952 he had made it. He was graduate engineer and Doctor of Agricultural Economics, had become Catholic again, joined the ÖVP, was affiliated to national service, and from then onwards he had a rapid career. When Schleinzer became minister of defence in 1961, he surprised the public with his objective to increase the army budget by 7% of the national finances. For this, the commanders were supposed to devise a five-year plan. This sounded rather promising. Every ministry had to make “concessions to the army” in order to have its budget grow by about 40%, concrete from two to 2,8 billion Schilling – that is what the minister fancied. This message was to be his standard. The objectives of the new minister, his assignment, and, above all, his willingness to be informed and to take part in meetings for hours, were well received within his department. It was obvious that he not only had kicked off an army reform, but also had gone all the way. One could not deny that he had improved the material basis of the army, although long-term and recoverable loans had to be taken up. The inner consolidation of the ministry, however, was only partly a success. Deep animosities still existed. The General Chief of Staff described the retiring minister “distrustful and cool”. From 1970 onwards, Schleinzer considered himself not only minister of agriculture, but also even more often former minister of defence. In the course of the army reform first striven after by Bruno Kreisky and finally ordered by his successors, he was referred back to time and again. In July 1975, the then ÖVP federal party chairman met with a fatal car accident near Bruck an der Mur.