Hitler, Austria and the Anschluss
Austria-Hungary, ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty, had been Germany’s ally during World War I. In 1919, the victorious powers dismembered this vast, motley empire.
Hungary & Czechoslovakia became independent countries. Other components fell to Poland, Rumania, Yugoslavia and Italy. Multiple cultures often populated each region. It was impossible to apportion provinces to their respective new countries without placing some of the ethnic colonies inhabiting them under the dominion of the prevailing foreign nationality. Austria, the nucleus of the old realm, shrunk from sovereignty over nearly 30 million people to a diminutive, landlocked republic of 6,500,000 persons.
Southern & eastern Europe’s smaller nations had traditionally belonged to larger empires. The decision to establish independent states for them conformed to the (United States) President Wilson’s proclaimed ideal of self-determination; the right of every people to govern themselves.
On November 12, 1918, Austria’s provisional national assembly declared its country “a component of the German republic.” It officially adopted the name “German Austria.” This contradicted the Allied objective of eliminating the former Central Powers as a future rival. To sanction the Austrian-German union would have helped restore the Reich to its pre-war magnitude. It would also have facilitated German economic influence in the Balkan & Danube regions.
Allied delegates at the peace conference informed Austria that she must “abstain from any act which might directly or indirectly, or by any means whatsoever, compromise her independence.” It also forbade the country from using the name German-Austria.
Post-war Austria became the only part of the former Habsburg realm from which the Entente demanded reparations. Deprived of its industrial base, which fell to Czechoslovakia, Hungary’s agrarian economy and the Danube export market, this was catastrophic for the little country. Discharged soldiers and German-speaking civil servants from the lost provinces returned to the homeland, unable to find work. Unemployment rose to 557,000.
Most Austrians favored unification with Germany. Hitler, reared in Linz, shared this sentiment.
In a Reichstag speech in May, Hitler declared, “The German people and the German government have, out of the simple feeling of solidarity toward common national heritage, the understandable wish that not just foreign peoples, but also German people everywhere will be guaranteed the right to self-determination.”
The Austrian government had become a dictatorship. In 1931, the country elected Engelbert Dollfuss Bundeskanzler (National Chancellor). He dissolved parliament in 1933, founded the Fatherland Front, and proscribed (forbid) other political parties. Dollfuss established detention camps in September, which corralled members of the Communist & National Socialist parties. Dollfuss reinstituted the death penalty.
The following February, he ordered the police to disarm the Social Democrats’ Defense League. This led to armed resistance in Vienna and in Linz. Dollfuss deployed the army, which bombarded workers’ housing districts in the capital with artillery. Over 300 people died in the fighting. Having suppressed the revolt, he banned the Social Democratic Party, abolished the trade unions, and hanged eleven Defense League members.
The bantam (combative) dictator died in July 1934, during an equally abortive coup staged by Vienna’s National Socialist underground. Minister of Justice, Kurt Schussnigg, replaced Dollfuss.
Having attained power without a single vote, Schussnigg relied on the Fatherland Front to maintain the dictatorship. Political dissidents, lumped together as “national opposition”, landed in concentration camps. The dictator, Schussnigg, judicially persecuted Austrians who favored unification with the Reich. The verdict often fell on members of choral societies & sports clubs nurturing cultural ties with Germany.
The dictator sought an alliance with Italy to support Austrian sovereignty. The Italian head of state, Benito Mussolini, anticipated that an Austrian-German union would jeopardize his country’s control of southern Tirol. The Entente had awarded this province, populated by 250,000 ethnic Germans, to Italy after World War 1.
The Austrian government’s human rights violations, under Schussnigg, alienated France & Czechoslovakia.
The Italian-German dissonance, which Schussnigg had hoped to capitalize on, diminished in 1936, when Italy invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia). She was able to defy League of Nations sanctions through Hitler’s economic support. Mussolini advised Schussnigg to normalize relations with Germany.
Hitler, unjustly blamed for the 1934 coup to topple Dollfuss, sought to break the diplomatic deadlock through an Austrian-German “Gentleman’s Agreement”. The compact corroborated Hitler’s strategy for incorporating Austria as an evolutionary process, promoting economic & cultural ties between both countries.
Schussnigg signed this agreement in Vienna on July 11th, 1936. Germany’s assurance to respect Austrian independence drew praise from the Jewish-controlled international press, even in France. Hitler was hopeful that Austrian-German unification was “an attainable political objective for the future.”
During 1937, Schussnigg entreated the British government to guarantee Austrian sovereignty. This clandestine diplomatic maneuver, as well as unfriendly public statements regarding Germany, directly violated Austria’s agreement signed in July with Germany.
Europe was in the age of nationalism; the average Austrian rejected Schussnigg’s liberal (Jewish) perception of Austria as a “universal realm transcending ethnic roots & customs.” While the country wallowed in the throe of economic depression, commerce in the Reich flourished. Unification with Germany promised employment & prosperity.
Schussnigg was himself a dictator; he could not argue that incorporating his country into the German authoritarian state would cost Austrians their liberties. England & France showed no interest in guaranteeing a country that flouted (disregarded) democratic principles. In an atmosphere of internal unrest & diplomatic isolation, Schussnigg turned again to Germany.
During parallel talks, Hitler agreed to publicly condemn illegal acts, such as sabotage, of his followers in Austria. The Fuhrer approved Vienna’s request that aggressive National Socialists be relocated to Germany. The Germans withdrew those candidates suggested for Austrian cabinet posts that Schussnigg objected to. Berlin abandoned its plan for a joint economic system, and reduced the scope of military cooperation. At the conclusion of the conference, Hitler told Schussnigg, “This is the best way. The Austrian question is regulated for the next five years.”
Jewish-controlled newspapers in England, France, and the USA claimed that Hitler presented his demands as an ultimatum, intimidated Schussnigg by inviting three German generals to the conference, and threatened invasion if he failed to sign. The fact that the Austrians negotiated significant modifications at the conference demonstrates that Germany’s proposals were not an ultimatum.
Stability in Austria began to deteriorate. The international stock exchange, with its usual nose for ominous developments, experienced a sudden flight from the Austrian shilling. Austrian government bonds plummeted in value, especially in London & Zurich. National Socialist sympathizers in the Fatherland Front and in the Austrian youth organizations steadily transformed the political disposition of these groups. Spontaneous mass demonstrations by National Socialists enjoyed popular support. In many areas, Schussnigg’s followers scarcely risked appearing in public.
Displaying his customary lack of political finesse, Schussnigg took a desperate step to rescue his career. In Innsbruck on March 9, he announced a national plebiscite to take place in four days’ time. The purpose was to give voters the opportunity to affirm their confidence in the government, and preference for Austrian independence.
Such a poll could only accentuate the division between German & Austrian. It transgressed against the spirit of the evolutionary process of assimilating the two cultures, a process Schussnigg had accepted by signing the agreement with Germany. Schussnigg took action (vote rigging) to ensure that the vote would be in favor of Austrian independence.
Hitler was aghast that Schussnigg violated their agreement only weeks after signing. At first he simply refused to believe the news; however, once he did, his reaction was temperate. He flew his diplomatic troubleshooter, Wilhelm Keppler, to Vienna. Keppler’s instructions were to either prevent the plebiscite “without military threats” or at least arrange for it to include the opportunity to vote for unification (Anschluss) with Germany.
Minority representatives in the Austrian cabinet confronted Schussnigg. They pointed out that the entire balloting process drawn up by the Fatherland Front violated the constitution. They demanded a postponement, allowing time to prepare a plebiscite in which all parties would be fairly represented.
Schussnigg summoned his Defense Secretary, security chief and Lieutenant-Marshal Hülgerth of the Fatherland Front militia. He asked whether armed resistance against a German invasion was feasible. The Austrian army, reduced to 30,000 men by the 1919 treaty, was not mobilized. Skubl dismissed the police force as too saturated with National Socialists to be reliable. Only the militia was prepared. Recognizing this force as insufficient, Schussnigg attempted without success to telephone Mussolini to solicit military aid.
Out of options, Schussnigg resigned as chancellor. This terminated the era of a politician who entreated Austria’s wartime enemies France, Britain, and Italy, and called upon his own followers as well, to transform his country into a battleground in a war against his German brethren, and former comrades-in-arms during the First World War.
Schussnigg’s entire cabinet withdrew, and Austria was, practically speaking, without a government.
Throughout the land, members of Austria’s SA and its smaller, elite cousin, the SS, began assuming administrative functions. The following day, March 12, 1938, German troops crossed into Austria. Schussnigg ordered the Austrian army not to resist.
Hitler’s decision to militarily occupy Austria was neither premeditated, nor desired by him. He had hoped to maintain a semblance of legality in assimilating Austria. The German army general staff had no operational plan for an invasion of Austria in place. The entire maneuver was in impromptu, done without any rehearsal.
The Fuhrer was aware of the bad publicity abroad such an apparent act of force would generate; however, he feared that Austrian Marxists might capitalize on the country’s momentary political vacuum, and stage a Bolshevik-style uprising.
Described as aggression by the Jewish-controlled foreign press, the German army’s advance made an overwhelmingly “welcome” impression inside Austria. Throughout the military occupation of Austria, largely symbolic in nature, not a single shot was fired nor was one person injured.
The people of Austria cast 99.73 percent of their ballots in favor of “Anschluss” (unification) with Germany. The Germans voted 99.08 percent for unification.” - Hitler’s Revolution book
Hitler scheduled joint plebiscites in Austria & Germany for April 10th, 1938. Both populations decided on whether to incorporate the two countries into a single state. The people of Austria cast 99.73 percent of their ballots in favor of “Anschluss” (unification) with Germany. The Germans voted 99.08 percent for unification.
On March 18, 1938, the German government notified the League of Nations that Austria had cancelled its affiliation. This international body, which had never manifest concern for the plight of the distressed little nation, now debated whether Germany was responsible for paying Austria’s delinquent membership dues of 50,000 Swiss francs from January 1 to March 13.
This ended the chain of circumstances leading to the unification of Hitler’s homeland with the German Reich, an event known to “history” (written by the Jewish-victors of World War 2) as “the rape of Austria.”