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The Writing on the Wall

Secret Code of Resistance Fighters on St. Stephan’s Cathedral

“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

When you stand at the very heart of Vienna – on St. Stephan’s Square — look closely at the wall on the right side of the front entrance portal.


O5 chalk inscription

“Strange. Not only do the Viennese have graffiti on their church,” you might think. “Those crazy Austrians put up a glass case to preserve it.”

And thinking that the O5 had something to do with preservation and Austrians you would already be a bit into the story behind the writing on the wall.

The “O” is the first letter of the German name for Austria: “Österreich”

And because the “Ö” is equivalent to “OE” the first two letters for the name Austria would be “OE.” Since the letter “E” is the fifth letter of the alphabet, the symbol “O5” was a secret code for “OESTERREICH” – “Austria.” Of course, some might even say the 5 stands for the five letters of “AEIOU” which was a Habsburg campaign slogan from Emperor Friedrich III (1415 -1493), first inscribed into his coat of arms and then added onto many buildings and works of art throughout the empire. Sources vary about the exact meaning of the letters and historians still can’t agree but one of the many possibilities is:  Austria erit in orbe ultima, Austria will last forever.

On 12 March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria into the German Third Reich and Austria ceased to exist. Three days later, from a balcony overlooking the Heldenplatz in Vienna, Hitler announced, “As leader and chancellor of the German nation and Reich, I announce to German history now the entry of my homeland into the German Reich.”

Good-bye Austria.Chalk O5 sign of Austrian Resistance Movement

But not everyone was waltzing for joy alongside Hitler. Sometime in 1944, a symbol began appearing throughout the streets of Vienna – hurriedly scribbled on house and church walls – the symbol was O5 and originated from a medical student, Jörg Unterreiner, who was part of an underground group fighting to resist the Nazis and restore Austria.

So the writing on the wall of St. Stephan’s Cathedral is not a case of an errant graffiti artist who strayed from the banks of the Danube Canal or an elementary school’s teacher demonstration that this country should finally dump the chalk and invest in some white boards for the classrooms, it is rather a powerful reminder for all who walk through the heart of the city that, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

For more information about the resistance, visit the online pages of the Document Archive of the Austrian Resistance.

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