DIE ANCHLUß ÖSTERREICHS
The Anschluß also known as the Anschluss Österreichs was the union of the German Republic Austria with the Third Reich in 1938.
The German Republic Austria was united with the German Third Reich on 12 March 1938.
There had been several years of pressure by supporters from both Austria and Germany (by both Nazis and non-Nazis) for the “Heim ins Reich” movement.
The Heim ins Reich (Home into the Empire; or Back to the Reich), was a foreign policy pursued by Adolf Hitler beginning in 1938.
The aim of his initiative was to convince all of the ethnically German people who were living outside of the Third Reich (i.e. in foreign countries such as Austria and the western districts of Poland) that they should strive to bring these regions “home” into Greater Germany. It included areas ceded after the Treaty of Versailles, as well as other areas containing significant German populations such as the Sudetenland. The policy was managed by VOMI (Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle) (Main Welfare Office for Ethnic Germans). As a state agency of the NSDAP, it handled all Volksdeutsch issues. By 1941, the VOMI was under the control of the SS.
Earlier, Nazi Germany had provided support for the Austrian National Socialist Party (Austrian Nazi Party) in its bid to seize power from Austria’s Austrofascist leadership.
Devoted to remaining independent but under considerable pressure from both Austrian and German Nazis, Austria’s Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg tried to hold a referendum for a vote on the issue.
Although Schuschnigg (see right) expected Austria to vote in favour of maintaining autonomy, a well-planned coup d’état by the Austrian Nazi Party of Austria’s state institutions in Vienna took place on 11 March, prior to the referendum, which they canceled.
They transferred power to German Empire, and Wehrmacht troops entered Austria to enforce the Anschluss (see left).
The German Government held a plebiscite within the following month (see left), asking the people to ratify the Anschluss.
The German Government claimed to have received 99.73% of the vote in favor.
Although the Allies were committed to upholding the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and St. Germain, which specifically prohibited the union of Austria and the German Empire, their reaction was only verbal and moderate.
No military confrontation took place and even the strongest voices against the annexation, particularly Fascist Italy, France and the United Kingdom (the “Stresa Front”) remained at peace.
The Anschluss was among the first major steps of Adolf Hitler’s creation of a Grossdeutsches Reich – (Greater German Reich) (see left and right) which was to include all of the ethnic German and lands and territories which German Empire had lost after World War I, although Austria had never been a part of (in 20th-century terms) Germany.
Prior to the 1938 annexation, the German Empire had remilitarized the Rhineland, and the Saar region was returned to Germany after 15 years of occupation through a plebiscite.
After the Anschluss, Hitler targeted Czechoslovakia, provoking an international crisis which led to the Munich Agreement in September 1938, giving the Third Reich control of the industrial Sudetenland (see left), which had a predominantly ethnic German population.
In March 1939, Hitler then annexed truncated Czechoslovakia and made the rest of the nation a protectorate.
That same year, Memelland was returned from Lithuania.
The idea of grouping all ethnic Germans into one unified country (as a nation-state) had been the subject of inconclusive debate since the end of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation (see right) in 1806.
At the same time, the 18th century was a period when thousands of Germans emigrated to other areas, sometimes at the invitation of governments who wanted to resettle areas depopulated by war and the plague, or to improve farming.
Often promised special rights and the ability to keep their language and religion, the Germans settled in communities along the Danube (territory that is mostly now present-day Serbia), in Poland, Russia, and across the Atlantic to North America before the American Revolutionary War.
The system of spheres of influence in Europe, developed at Vienna in 1815, depended upon the fragmentation of the German and Italian states, not their consolidation.
Consequently, a German nation united under one banner presented significant questions (and answers): Who were the Germans? (German-speaking people.) Where was Germany? (The German-speaking land in middle Europa.) But also, Who was in charge?, and, importantly, Who could best defend “Germany”, whoever, whatever, and wherever it was?
Different groups offered different solutions to this.
In the Kleindeutschland (little, or “lesser,” Germany) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of Prussia; in the Großdeutsche Lösung (Greater Germany) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of the Germans (Habsburg) in Austrian state (see left).
This controversy, called dualism, dominated Prusso-Austrian diplomacy and the politics of the German states, for the next 20 years.
In a series of diplomatic and military moves during the late 19th century, the Chancellor of Prussia Otto von Bismarck (see right) increasingly isolated Austria from its traditional position of influence in broader German affairs.
Prussia’s defeat of Austria in the Austro-Prussian War eliminated Austrian influence north of its border, allowed for the creation of the North German Confederation and consolidated the German states through Prussia, enabling the creation of a German Empire (see left) in 1871.
When the German-Hungarian Empire, called “Austria-Hungary”, broke up in 1918, many German Austrians hoped to join with German Empire in the realignment of Europe.
On 12 November 1918, German Austria was officially declared a republic.
The provisional national assembly drafted a provisional constitution that stated that “German Austria is a democratic republic” (Article 1) and “German Austria is a component of the German Republic” (Article 2).
Later plebiscites in the German border provinces of Tyrol and Salzburg yielded majorities of 98 and 99% in favor for a unification with the German Republic.
The Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint-Germain (both signed in 1919) explicitly prohibited the inclusion of Austria to politically join the German state.
This measure was criticized by Hugo Preuss (see left), the drafter of the German Weimar Constitution, who saw the prohibition as a contradiction of the Wilsonian principle of self-determination of peoples, intended to help bring peace to Europe.
Following the destruction of World War I, however, both France and Britain feared the power of a larger Germany, and had begun to dis-empower the current one.
Austrian particularism, especially among the nobility, also played a role in the decisions; Austria was Roman Catholic, while Germany was dominated by Protestants, especially in government (the Prussian nobility, for example, was Lutheran).
The constitutions of the Weimar Republic and the First Austrian Republic included the political goal of unification, which was widely supported by democratic parties.
In the early 1930s, popular support in Austria for union with German Empire remained overwhelming, and the Austrian government looked to a possible customs union with German Republic in 1931.
The rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power in German Empire initially caused the Austrian government to withdraw from such economic ties.
By the same token Hitler, an Austrian German by birth, had picked up German nationalism ideas after WWI and advocated the idea of a Greater Germany, in accordance to this one of the Nazis ideologies was to re-unite all ethnic Germans living outside of the Reich.
From the early beginning of his leadership in the Nazi Party he had publicly stated in his 1924 auto-biography (‘Mein Kampf’ – see right) that he would create a union between Austria and Germany by any means possible.
Austria shared the economic turbulence of the Depression, with a high unemployment rate and unstable commerce and industry.
These economic problems made the young democracy vulnerable to social unrest.
The First Republic, dominated from the late 1920s by the Catholic nationalist Christian Social Party (CS), gradually disintegrated from 1933 (dissolution of parliament and ban of the Austrian National Socialists) to 1934 (Austrian Civil War in February and ban of all remaining parties except the CS).
|Osterreich Uber Alles
The government evolved into a pseudo-fascist, corporatist model of one-party government, which combined the CS and the paramilitary Heimwehr with absolute state domination of labour relations and no freedom of the press (see Austrofascism and Patriotic Front).
Power was centralized in the office of the chancellor, who was empowered to rule by decree. The predominance of the Christian Social Party (whose economic policies were based on the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum) was an Austrian phenomenon.
Austria’s national identity had strong Catholic elements that were incorporated into the movement, by way of clerical authoritarian tendencies not found in Nazism.
Both Engelbert Dollfuss (see left) and his successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, turned to Austria’s other fascist neighbour, Italy, for inspiration and support.
The statist corporatism often referred to as Austrofascism bore much more resemblance to Italian Fascism than German National Socialism.
Benito Mussolini (see right) supported the independence of Austria until his need for German support in Ethiopia (see Second Italo-Abyssinian War) led him into a client relationship with Berlin that began with the 1937 Berlin–Rome Axis.
On 25 July 1934, Chancellor Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis in a failed coup.
The second civil war followed, lasting until August 1934.
Afterward leading Austrian Nazis fled to Germany but they continued to push for unification from there.
The remaining Austrian Nazis started to make use of terrorist attacks against Austrian governmental institutions, causing a death toll of more than 800 between 1934 and 1938.
Following Dollfuss’ assassination, his successor was Schuschnigg, who followed a similar political course.
In 1935 Schuschnigg (see right) used the police to suppress the Nazi supporters in Austria.
Police actions under Schuschnigg included gathering Nazis (and Social Democrats) and holding them in internment camps, however, the support from the powerful and increasingly popular Nazi German state to the north was impossible to prevent.
Eventually Schuschnigg gave up his anti-Nazi program, and in July 1936 he signed the Austro-German Agreement, which, among other concessions, allowed the release of Nazis imprisoned in Austria and the inclusion of National Socialists in his Cabinet.
This did not satisfy Hitler and the pro-Germany Austrian Nazi’s grew in strength.
Following increasing violence and demands from Hitler that Austria agree to a union, Schuschnigg met with Hitler on 12 February at Berchtesgaden in an attempt to avoid the take-over of Austria.
Hitler presented Schuschnigg with a set of demands which included appointing known Austria Nazi sympathizers to positions of great power in the Austrian government.
The key appointment was: Seyss-Inquart would take over as Minister of Public Security, with full and unlimited control of the police forces in Austria.
In return Hitler would publicly reaffirm the treaty of 11 July 1936 and reaffirm his support for Austria’s national sovereignty.
Schuschnigg accepted Hitler’s “deal”, returned to Vienna and made the changes to his government.
One week later, Hitler made a speech saying
“The German Reich is no longer willing to tolerate the suppression of ten million Germans across its borders.”
|Wilhelm Frass – Die Ostmark
This was clearly directed at Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg on 11 March, demanding that he hand over all power to the Austrian National Socialists.
The ultimatum was set to expire at noon, but was extended by two hours.
Schuschnigg desperately sought support for Austrian independence in the hours following the ultimatum.
Realizing that neither France nor Britain was willing to take steps, he resigned as chancellor that evening.
In the radio broadcast in which he announced his resignation, he argued that he accepted the changes and allowed the Nazis to take over the government ‘to avoid the shedding of fraternal blood [Bruderblut]’.
On the morning of 12 March, the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht crossed the border to Austria.
The troops were greeted by cheering German-Austrians with Hitler salutes, Nazi flags and flowers.
Because of this, the Anschluß is also called the ‘Blumenkrieg’ (war of flowers), but its official name was ‘Unternehmen Otto’.
For the Wehrmacht, the Anschluß was the first big test of its machinery.
Hitler’s car crossed the border in the afternoon at Braunau (see left), his birthplace.
In the evening, he arrived at Linz and was given an enthusiastic welcome in the city hall.
Hitler’s travel through Austria became a triumphal tour that climaxed in Vienna, (see right) on 2 April 1938, when around 200,000 German-Austrians gathered on the Heldenplatz to hear Hitler proclaim the Austrian Anschluß .
Hitler later commented:
“I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier (into Austria) there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators.”
The Anschluss was given immediate effect by legislative act on 13 March, subject to ratification by a plebiscite.
Austria became the province of the Ostmark, and Seyss-Inquart was appointed governor.
The plebiscite was held on 10 April and officially recorded a support of 99.73% of the voters.