Between Liberalism and National Socialism: The Historical Role of Volunteer Firemen Associations in Austria as a Public Sphere
From the 1860s, the Volunteer Firemen Associations (VFA; Freiwilligen Feuerwehr) were founded gradually in almost every local community in the former Austrian monarchy. Their chief initial aim was to protect the inhabitants of their own hometowns and their property from fire catastrophes. Combined with the growth of liberal capitalism, this founding principle behind the formation of the VFAs was regarded by the Austrian Firemen Newspaper of 15 August 1864 as ‘fundamental for any progressive life of the communities’. As the name of these associations already suggests, those members usually worked for the community voluntarily. They found it of great value to give up their free time to protect their hometown. Closely connected with the typical liberal concept of ‘autonomous’ local communities, they tried to create a liberal public sphere in their own local community to counter the state’s absolutist rule. The idea that the Bürger should protect their hometown by themselves reflected, therefore, the cultural values of the Bürgertum, or middle class.
KeywordsPublic Sphere Jewish Community Town Council Interwar Period Guest House
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