UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133D Homepage > 133D Book Essays Index page > Student essay
by Ryan O'Connor
for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
About Ryan O'Connor
Abstract (back to top)
Essay (back to top)
Anyone who knows of Hitler’s rise to power will know of the Anschluss, or union, which he wanted with his homeland of Austria. When writing Mein Kampf, he stated as one of his primary goals union with Austria, with force if need be. What most people don’t read about is the Austrian side of the affair, and their determination to maintain their independence. Contrary to popular belief, Nazism was not as widespread in Austria as it was in Germany; the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss had in fact banned the party in Austria in 1933, shortly after Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany. He later paid the price for his opposition when he was murdered in an attempted coup in 1934, and Kurt von Schuschnigg was appointed in his place. Four years later Schuschnigg would again have to oppose the Nazis' attempts to achieve an Anschluss. However, opposing the Nazis was no easy task. Again and again he was forced to make concessions, until Hitler finally forced him to appoint Nazis to the government and then resign. Some believe that Schuschnigg didn’t do enough, that he was weak-willed and unwilling to stand up to Hitler; however, regardless of what he did , whether it was on the diplomatic, domestic, or international fronts, his powers and efforts weren’t enough to deter Hitler and the Nazis from their stated goals of erasing Austria BY incorporating IT into a Greater Germany.**
Background of Anschluss Thought- 1918-1932
Prior to World War I, there was no large Anschluss movement within either Germany or Austria (Brutal Takeover-26). The rise of Prussia and the multi-nationality of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made any such union impossible (Brutal Takeover-43). When it became clear that Germany and Austria-Hungary were going to lose the war, there was some desire of a union. In the immediate aftermath of WWI, Austria drew up a constitution which stated that Austria was a part of Germany (Brutal Takeover-26). In Salzburg and Tyrol, plebiscites were even held, with over 90% of the vote in favor of union with Germany. It is an important note, that plebiscites such as these were done more to protest the unfairness of the peace treaties and the condition of the economy. However, the Allies, which included Britain, France, and the United States, were vehemently opposed to the idea (Burr Bukey-11). They were working at disempowering Germany as a power, and allowing a union of them would contradict that goal. When the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of St. Germain were signed with Germany and Austria respectively, they contained clauses that specifically forbid Germany and Austria to unite (Brutal Takeover-32). Cooperation of any kind was strictly regulated, mostly by the League of Nations. It should be interesting to note that the first draft of the St. Germain Treaty didn’t contain any such provision; it was later added as Article 88, mainly by British and especially French insistence. This trumped any serious thoughts of Anschluss for the time being, at least by any actions by either party, both treaties stipulated that if any such union were to be approved, it would be done so by the League of Nations (Brutal Takeover-32).
Initial thoughts for Anschluss, as previously stated were more for emotional and economical reasons (Burr Bukey-11) than political ones. With the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria was left with little industry and no access to the sea. Even the most industrial areas were more rural. Vienna was the only large metropolis left (Burr Bukey-17-18). Still, with consolidation of the state and some achievement of financial stability, believers in Anschluss diminished, and believers in independence grew, as did their confidence, though the political climate became somewhat tense (Brutal Takeover-36). This was common in post WWI Europe, as many countries, old and new, were trying to find their path in the new postwar era. Throughout the 1920s, and into the early 1930s, public debate on thoughts of Anschluss was minimal (Brutal Takeover-38, 39). When the Great Depression hit Austria, it was affected worse than any other country of Europe. However, by 1932, the economy was on a slow but sure path to recovery (Brutal Takeover-38).
It was about then that the NSDAP began to be exported to Austria from neighboring Germany, as, it was said to be able to cure all ills. By 1932 the situation was a serious one. National Socialism was an ideology that very stern and ruthless, and would brook no compromise (Brutal Takeover-39). This was something the Schuschnigg strongly believed when he came to power in 1934(Austrian Requiem-15). We know now that Hitler was very uncompromising. Treaties and promises were only given and kept as long as they were convenient; when he was done with them they were swept aside. Hitler had made no secret of his intention to unify Austria and Germany. As early as 1923 he decided that if need be the National Socialists would take over the Austrian government by force. In Austria, the main political parties executed an about face. The Anschluss was now a taboo subject (Brutal Takeover-39). With the rise of the National Socialists in Germany, many feared what was in store, and few wanted it to pass, though there were supporters of it who would soon make their presence known and felt. A bitter struggle in Austria had now begun, and would only end when Hitler made good on his threat, carrying out the Anschluss with military force.
How was the Anschluss viewed by the people at this time? Naturally, there were supporters on both sides of the frontier. Schuschnigg believes that those on the German side used more of an approach based on reason, while the Austrian supporters were more emotional in their approach. The latter longed for all Germans to be united (Brutal Takeover-40). But how many really wanted the Anschluss and how many in principle opposed it is something that will never be known, says Schuschnigg, for it is largely a question of what period of history that we are considering (Brutal Takeover-42).On the other hand, the Germans wanted the Anschluss for the same reason they wanted it in the 1920s: as compensation for losses imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles; pretty much all of the political groups in the Reich favored it. None were willing, however, to disregard the rules and customs of international law, at least until Hitler came around (Brutal Takeover-40). Regardless of how it was rationalized, both sides realized that the world situation in 1932 made an Anschluss impossible in the foreseeable future (Brutal Takeover-40). In Austria for example, loans from the League of Nations carried a stipulation of a renewed ban on an Anschluss or union of any political or economical nature with Germany (Brutal Takeover-38). Germany was still weak, and both were still to some extent mired in the Great Depression.
Rise of Nazism and Assassination of Dollfuss
Despite the world situation, there can no denying that by 1932; Nazism was on the rise in Austria. It began making breakthroughs in 1931, and by 1933 it was winning over a third of the vote in several places, like Innsbruck (Burr Bukey-12). Still, the political and demographical environment of Austria was very different than that of Germany, and had institutions and demographic issues that made Nazi attempts at inroads difficult in many provinces. Austria had few of the middle size cities that were good areas of Nazi recruitment in Germany. The church, a critical part of Austrian identity, also wielded enormous influence. Still, with Hitler’s breakthrough in Germany and e in some areas of Austria there was specters of a Nazi takeover there as well (Burr Bukey-13). Dollfuss, the Austrian Chancellor at the time, was very anti-Nazi. His suspension of the Austrian parliament brought bombings from the Nazis and calls for new elections. When this didn’t work, Hitler implemented a 1000 mark fee on German tourists visiting Austria, hoping that economic pressure would force new elections and a coming to terms with the Reich. Dollfuss retaliated by outlawing the Nazi party in Austria and creating an authoritarian, regime (Burr Bukey- 11, 12). Resentment led to some bloodshed in the short lived civil war of February 1934. This conflict led to bitter hatred that would persist for a long time to come... Prior to this he had sought to toughen and shore up his position by enrolling the populace in a mass party called the Patriotic Front. Though it enjoyed much support, he ended up needing foreign backing, and accordingly made alliances with Italy and Hungary. He also tried to reach a settlement with Germany and the banned Austrian Nazi Party. They would have none of it, and in a bungled coup attempt sanctioned by Berlin stormed the Chancellery and assassinated Dollfuss. The world reacted with horror and condemned the assassination of Dollfuss, who in his last moments was denied a doctor and a priest (Burr Bukey-14, 15).
Schuschnigg was then appointed Chancellor. From the moment he was in office, he had to deal with constant pressure and interference from Germany in Austrian affairs. We can see here that as soon as Hitler came to power, he(as in Hitler), set about his stated goal as outlined earlier as well as in Mein Kampf, of his intention to annex Austria, whatever the cost.
Schuschnigg as Chancellor- Options, Role of Others, and Anschluss
When the Austrian Nazis attempted to overthrow the Austrian government in 1934, Mussolini came to the aid of the Austrian government, rushing troops to the Italian-Austrian border in a show of support for Austrian independence against German aggression. At this time Hitler and Mussolini had yet to reach a point of trust with one another, and view one another with some distrust and suspicion. Hitler was so unnerved by Mussolini’s show of support that he had no choice but to retreat, severe ties with most Austrian Nazis, and postpone the Anschluss indefinitely (Burr Bukey-15). While Schuschnigg appreciated this gesture, he later came to acknowledge that actual intervention of Italian troops would have done more harm than good (Austrian Requiem-99)
From the moment he came to power, Schuschnigg’s overall concern was to preserve Austrian independence. Though they failed this time, he knew that the Austrian Nazis had no intention of giving up. He realized that they and Hitler would stop at nothing to bring about the Anschluss (Austrian Requiem-14). To preserve his country, he realized that he needed international backing and support, particularly from his neighbors Hungary and Italy, though he also saw that help from England, France, and the League of Nations would also be essential. To this end, any step he took to preserve Austrian independence has to be considered in this context. Many believed at that time that Hitler would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. We know this now to be true, as the Anschluss was but the beginning of Hitler’s efforts to dominate the European continent. But at the time, many believed that Hitler and the Nazis could somehow be reasoned with, though we now all know of the failure of Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement of Hitler, and how with each concession he wanted more and more, but few recognize that it was with Austria that this policy was first tested and met with failure. Schuschnigg turned to this approach when there were few other options left. There were many possibilities, as Schuschnigg recognizes later on in his memoirs and other works, particularly in his book Austrian Requiem. We will address each of them as we go along. In the beginning, after the assassination of Dollfuss, Schuschnigg believed that the terrorist Nazis constituted a serious domestic problem, though initially, he points out that the incident created somewhat of a paradox. Relations between Austria and Germany strained as they were, actually improved slightly. Germany’s role in the coup was exposed somewhat when they said from Munich that Dollfuss had died a full day before he actually did (Austrian Requiem-13, 14). This, as well as Mussolini’s show of force for Austrian independence against German aggression, caused Hitler to order a drastic change in his Austrian policy. Broadcasts of propaganda from Germany ceased, and the Nazi underground in Austria was ordered to abstain from any open acts of violence. Despite attempts by rogue elements to start panics and sabotage industry, tensions relaxed. This of course was due to the truce, and also the situation on the world stage (Austrian Requiem-14). The world as previously stated was disgusted by the Dollfuss assassination, and had widely condemned it (Burr Bukey-15). Also, as the Nazis had just come to power in Germany; they weren’t armed enough yet to use force. Fascist Italy, where Mussolini had held power for over a decade, was more armed; they had guaranteed Austrian independence in the Roman Protocols signed in March of that year, and had rushed troops to the border in support of them. (Austrian Requiem-14). The League of Nations also guaranteed the independence of Austria (Brutal Takeover-32), though they undertook few actions to uphold it. Under such circumstances, Hitler had no choice but to retreat for the time being. Schuschnigg was no fool, and knew that such a retreat was only temporary, after all Hitler’s attitudes toward Austria were well known to him and to Austria. He believed that his best hope for keeping Austria free was a policy of appeasement; avoid anything that could give Hitler an excuse to intervene in Austrian affairs. It was necessary to secure from Hitler his toleration of the status quo, as well as to find a modus vivendi with the Nazis in both Germany and Austria (Austrian Requiem-14, 15). But what were other options? One option that could've prevented the Anschluss was a crackdown or some accommodation with the underground Nazis in Austria. Schuschnigg sees this as impossible; though it was denied by all, he knew that the Austrian Nazis were controlled from Germany. Anything from them on an agreement with the Austrian government was essentially worthless. No matter what happened or was attempted, it always came back to Hitler and the Nazi leadership in Germany (Austrian Requiem-15). Accommodation of any type was also impossible, since Schuschnigg believed that the National Socialism as a concept had no room for compromise, and was the opposite of what Austria stood for (Austrian Requiem-15). This was something that he was increasingly unable to uphold, as Hitler forces him time and again make compromises with him in order to maintain Austrian independence, though Schuschnigg defends at least the first acts as necessary, once the status quo began to shift(Austrian Requiem-15).
The balance of power essential to Austrian freedom began to fall apart in 1935. Italy, critical to Austria as its protector against German aggression, began the war in Ethiopia as part its process of expansionism; as a result relationships among the great powers began to fall apart, particularly the one between Rome and London. The resulting conflict led to the creation of the Rome-Berlin Axis and the drawing together of Hitler and Mussolini into a close alliance (Austrian Requiem-15). The Spanish Civil War, which broke out the following year, with Hitler and Mussolini both, supporting Franco, brought them fully together as partners in the Axis. With Italy moving closer and closer to Berlin’s orbit, Schuschnigg realized that a change of course was needed. He decided to formalize existing relations with Germany by some sort of public agreement. He intended for such a thing to be temporary, until a normalized balance of power again became established in Europe (Austrian Requiem-15). On 11 July 1936, the agreement was signed, and consisted of three main points: Germany to recognize the full independence of the Austrian state that each was to regard the interior political structure of the other as the domestic affair of that country, and that Austria will conduct its foreign policy as a German state. Other parts provided for an amnesty for all Nazi prisoners in Austria as well as a truce in propaganda and radio (Austrian Requiem-16). This was Schuschnigg’s first attempt at trying to find some sort of accommodation with Hitler,, though why he believed that Hitler would keep his word and abide by the agreement seems to us now the height of folly, for earlier in the year, he had remilitarized the Rhineland, in direct contravention to the Treaty of Versailles, which forbid such an action. Britain and France had the power under the Treaty to use force to make Hitler back down. France refused to act without Britain, who came to the conclusion that the occupation of German territory by German troops was a reasonable action. It was still a gamble for Hitler, as the Wehrmacht was still poorly armed and equipped, and had force been used or threatened like it had been in 1934, Hitler would have been forced to back down yet again. His success convinced him that in regards to Austria, which was even more distant from the influence and concern of the Western powers, no one would raise a finger to stop him, especially since Austria’s protector Italy was now his close friend and ally. . Schuschnigg doesn’t seem to talk about this much in his books, though why he believed that Hitler would keep his word after such a flagrant violation is explained later. .
For a time the agreement more or less worked out. By 1937, violations on Germany’s part were getting more frequent. Austria for its part did all it could to avoid problems (Austrian Requiem-17). Relations began to deteriorate, and terror attacks began to escalate. Mass demonstrations and sometimes riots were sometimes thrown to induce state intervention, so that Berlin could protest that it was Vienna who was not living up to their side of the bargain. With Austria becoming more and more isolated, Schuschnigg thought it prudent to somehow strengthen the 1936 agreement (Austrian Requiem-18). It was this effort which would lead to the fateful meeting between him and Hitler at Berchtesgaden, where Hitler basically forced him to accept a list of demands or face invasion (Austrian Requiem- 19-32). First he tried reaching an agreement with Goring through a hunting invitation; he at first accepted the invitation, but reneged after the Austrian Nazis raised a loud protest (Austrian Requiem-18). Then he tried Hitler, who agreed. The meeting was to supposedly deal with the misunderstandings and points of contention that had persisted since the July 1936 agreement (Austrian Requiem-18, 19) Of course, Hitler had no such intention. He planned from the start to be a meeting of blackmail and intimidation. He had invited three generals to be present as a means of intimidating the Austrian, though this was presented as a spur of the moment thing. In the meeting itself, Hitler accused him of having followed an unfriendly policy towards Germany, though this was untrue, and of having never done anything that was of help to Germany. After the meeting he was presented with what was essentially a list of demands, which he was to execute or face invasion. Among them were such things as appointing Seyss-Inquart, a known Nazi sympathizer but more moderate than most, as Minister of the Interior, with full control of the police and the army. Other demands included amnesty for all imprisoned Nazis, , with the addition that even those who took part in the assassination of Dollfuss be given amnesty, and all of them restored to their jobs, to an exchange of German and Austrian army officers, and freedom of political parties. Schuschnigg from the start saw it as the beginning of the end of independence of the Austrian government, which was contrary to the purpose of the meeting in the first place. Hitler said it would bring peace for five years, though it was only a month later that he invaded and occupied Austria. Schuschnigg saw then the writing on the wall, but there was little he could do (Austrian requiem-18-32).
In this part, we can examine two other options open to Schuschnigg to preserve Austrian independence, namely standing up to Hitler and utilizing the support of the people on the home front. Let us start with the former. Why did Schuschnigg cave in again and again to Hitler? Schuschnigg believes that his discussions with Hitler were in line with his public policy (Austrian Requiem-166). He points out that he should have known that Hitler was deceitful and would not abide by his word... He believed that Austria couldn’t go through a repeat of the events of 1934, and that it was essential to get Germany to end such things as the Thousand Mark blockade that was hurting Austria(Austrian Requiem-166,167). Direct agreement was the only option, in which Austria had to remain true to itself, and keep Nazism at bay. Making such an agreement became more important after it became apparent that the other great powers of Europe were growing less and less interested in what was going on in central Europe, Italy in particular. He acknowledges that he knew that Hitler didn’t consider himself bound by any treaty (Austrian Requiem-167), for treaties have validity only so long as the parties involved are interested in maintaining them(Austrian Requiem-48). Appearances, though, were at least worth something (Austrian Requiem-167), if only to the rest of the world. What happened that day in February 1938 was less of an agreement than one of blackmail, and had he known such a thing, maybe such a meeting might never have taken place, though the result sooner or later would have been the same. Whether the invitation could have been ignored without cost is however subject to debate (Austrian Requiem-167).
What about the people, and the government itself? Had there been a united front, could they have stood a chance? Here Schuschnigg says that it would have been better for all when at the 11th hour Austria faced their impending doom as a unified front. However, the developments of the times from 1918 to 1934, which saw Austria go from a powerful monarchy to democracy to authoritarian power, could not be easily put behind them in four short years. He says that regardless of who controlled the fate of the Austria on that fateful day, they couldn’t have avoided Hitler’s armed invasion (Austrian Requiem-169). History after the Anschluss showed that there was no means or policy that could stop Hitler. The policy of appeasement was used later by others, and failed again and again. In regards to the people, many of them had been alienated by the policies of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg. The latter’s policies of bringing about Austrian economic stability following the onset of the Great Depression, were successful, they alienated many Austrians (Burr Bukey-17). Still, Schuschnigg realized that despite their animosity to the government, the majority were loyal to Austria. It has been estimated that only about a third of the population were Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. If asked to vote on Austrian independence, about two thirds would s, have supported it. Hence the decision to hold a plebiscite would have been successful (Burr Bukey-22. This would have ensured the independence of Austria, and also the very reason Hitler decided to use force, since the whole idea behind the Anschluss was that a majority of Austrians wanted it (Brutal Takeover-39). When in fact a majority later did approve it, they did so more for economic reasons and the chance to address the Jewish Question than for political or ideological reasons (Burr Bukey- 17, 22-23). Some regions even disapproved it, almost with unanimity (Burr Bukey-39).
As with the agreement that was made in July 1936, things started out well enough. On February 16, Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess issued orders forbidding interference in Austria’s internal affairs, especially in regards to the issue of National Socialism (Brook-Shepard, 97). On February 20th, in a speech before the Reichstag, Hitler as promised gave the agreement some favorable comment, thanking Schuschnigg for accepting the invitation and how he worked with him (Brook-Shepard, 97-98). This is of course ridiculous, in describing a meeting in which he had threatened, humiliated, and insulted a fellow head of state. The speech was also an omen of things to come, for when he spoke of ‘the ten million Germans living on the borders of the Reich who were being denied the ‘right of racial self determination’ and who were ‘subjected to continuous suffering because of their sympathy and solidarity with the whole German race and its ideology’, everyone in Austria knew what he meant, for the ten million referred to the roughly 7 million citizens of Austria, and the 3 million in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. (Brook-Shepard, 98). It showed that the agreement of 12 February meant nothing to Hitler, and that he had not giving up his goal of uniting Austria, as well as the Sudetenland, into a Greater Germany.
Schuschnigg was stung by this, and saw a need for some gesture of leadership (Brook-Shepard, 100-101). In a speech to the Austrian Parliament on 24 February he honored those who had fought for Austrian independence. In the conflict with Germany, and the e agreement made at Berchtesgaden, he declared “Thus far and no further.” (Brook-Shepard, 101). Though it was a stirring performance, it came a little too late. Schuschnigg later came to regret his performance, and later admitted that it was a sort of ‘last chance’ for Hitler to show his hand (Brook-Shepard, 103-104). The Austrian Nazis were quick to respond, particularly in Graz, where they held a rally and hoisted the swastika in defiance of government orders forbidding such things, and dispersing only when the army was called in (Brook-Shepard, 105-106). It is here that we begin to see just how bad it was with a Nazi as Minister of the Interior with control over the police and the army. He abused his authority, allowing on 1 March a parade of 5000 SA troops and giving the Nazi salute in Graz; he declared that the Nazi badge and greeting was allowed in private, though in public it was still banned(Brook-Shepard,106). Schuschnigg could see that the Austrian Nazis were now dictating the pace of events. He tried concessions to bring some order, particularly in areas like Graz and Styria, though he said in that regards to the Nazis’ every concession on our part brought an avalanche of new and impossible demands’ (Brook-Shapard, 107,106), which is somewhat of an irony, as well as a foreshadow of things to come, since this had been going on for years in Austria, and would continue as Hitler made more and more demands from the great powers of Europe. On 6 March, he decided to hold a plebiscite, and set it for one week later (Brook-Shepard, 107).With coming together of the idea in his mind, he had decided on three moves that were to be connected with it. Of these, it is part of first that we will consider which was rejecting any solution to the crisis that involved anything monarchist in nature (Brook-Shepard, 108).
Here is one of the last solutions that could’ve been undertaken. Many have wondered whether restoring the Hapsburg monarchy would have made a difference. They believe that Archduke Otto, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne when the empire was dissolved, would have been the only one who could stem the tide, and that seeking some sort of modus vivendi with Germany in 1936 was the beginning of the end. They also say that any treaty or agreement with the Third Reich was worthless, and that by doing such a thing Austria had signed its death warrant. Though Schuschnigg agrees with that last part, he goes on to explain that such a solution would have been impossible. Such an action would have prompted Germany to invade and occupy Austria immediately, and no one would have stopped him. Hitler opposed such a restoration, and so did many in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia; return of the monarchy would’ve meant war. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania actually told him so. To bring about such a restoration would have been impossible without a plebiscite, and to ask such a thing at a time when the very existence of the nation was at stake would have been in his eyes foolish, though. He himself was a monarchist who believed that it was desirable from the view of strengthening the concept of Austrian independence; such a move would’ve put the existence of the Austrian nation on even more shaky ground (Austrian Requiem- 165). In this approach, we also see some effort to unite Austria on a political level, though by then it was too little too late, for the next week saw the death of the First Republic.
Anschluss- “Austria’s Longest Day’ (Brook-Shepard, Chapter 7)
The announcement of the plebiscite was a shock Hitler. For a time, he debated what to do about it. He decided that the time had come; the Anschluss was now (Burr Bukey-16). That day, 11 March, started like any other, though much earlier. Upon being awoken at 5:30 A.M., Schuschnigg learned that the German border at Salzburg had been closed, and that all German customs officials had been withdrawn, and rail traffic had been stopped on their side of the frontier, and that there had been large troop movements in the night. Warnings from the consulate in Munich stated that an invasion was imminent (Brook-Shepard, 137-138). As if this wasn’t bad enough, Schuschnigg was later ordered by Goring through Seyss-Inquart and another minister, Glaise-Horstenau, to postpone the plebiscite (Brook-Shepard, 139), and later to cancel it. After some resistance, he complied (Brook-Shepard, 140-141). Goring then called again and said that the only way that the situation could be resolved would be that the resignation of the Chancellor and his cabinet and the appointment of Seyss-Inquart as Chancellor. Failure to do so within two hours would result in invasion by Germany, though this deadline was twice extended so as to give them more time. (Austrian Requiem-47). Schuschnigg resigned, though the President Miklas, whose job it was to appoint the Chancellor, refused for hours to appoint Seyss-Inquart. It was this refusal that led Goring to publish a forged telegram from the Austrian government requesting German troops to restore order.\ He too relented after a time(Austrian Requiem-54),and Syess-Inquart was subsequently appointed Chancellor. The following day the German army marched in. There was some feeble hope that outside forces would intervene, particularly from Italy. Yet Britain, France, and England, though they protested the German action, took no steps to oppose or condemn it. Though they tried to get through to him many times, Mussolini was ‘unavailable’ (Brook-Shepard, 141). What Schuschnigg had counted on as critical to Austrian independence, support in the international arena, and was now practically nonexistent. With the invasion and occupation now complete, the Nazis later held their own plebiscite to confirm what had already been done (Burr Bukey, 34-39). Austria as a nation ceased to exist, at least until the Nazi defeat seven years later, in 1945.
Conclusion and Legacy
So, what are we to make of all this? Could the Anschluss have been prevented? Perhaps, had the status quo been maintained in Europe, though whether that could have been maintained with Hitler and the Nazis’ expansionist ideology is unlikely. What would’ve happened if this had been done, and if Mussolini had remained at Austria’s side is also a matter of debate. History is full of what if’s, and ‘could haves’. What about the role of Schuschnigg? Could he have done more? I believe the answer is no. Though some believe that he was weak willed, and that he didn’t do enough in standing up to Hitler. I believe, on the other hand, that from the moment he stepped into office he had been dealt a bad hand, and that what happened afterward had already been ordained and decided for him. One can only play the hand that they are dealt however. What they wished they had really doesn’t matter. Although he had many options seemingly open to him, each in one way or another was nonviable, and that undertaking one or another would’ve given the same result, just maybe a little quicker or slower. Some say he should’ve mobilized the troops, but this is something he could never do, for though he was an Austrian, he was also mindful of his nation’s German heritage, and had no desire to spill German blood of any kind. That, and the fact that Seyss-Inquart controlled the army and police, the latter of which had many Nazis in it from the amnesty, made such a move unlikely. Even if they did resist, it would’ve delayed the inevitable by maybe one or two days, for the Treaty of St. Germain had limited Austria’s army like Versailles had done to Germany’s; few weapons existed as well, since they also had to pay reparations. Before he even came to power, Hitler had made his views on Austria well known. One way or another, by ‘hook or by crook’(Brutal Takeover-171), by peaceful revolution or by military invasion, Hitler was determined to conquer Austria, and create a Greater German homeland for all Germans into one united people, and he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stand in his way. Yet in his success, he achieved the opposite. Rather than becoming one people, the Anschluss and the way that Nazis ruled Austria ended up highlighting the differences between Germans and Austrians. Popular support was there, though as stated it was mainly due to economic reasons and the chance to address the Jewish Question, and not for reasons of ideology or politics. Burr Bukey’s book, Hitler’s Austria: Popular Sentiment in the Nazi Era, 1938-1945, gives a superb account of this (Burr Bukey).
What about the modern age? The Moscow Declaration of 1943 had declared the Anschluss null and void, and Austria the first victim of Nazi aggression. Though many Austrians worked and volunteered in the German military during the war, and participated with enthusiasm in acts against the Jews and the Holocaust, this allowed them to sweep the past under the rug and claim that the Anschluss was done at the point of a bayonet. They never had to acknowledge their role in the war, which is in stark contrast to Germany, which was forced to acknowledge its role and past, and to pay reparations to survivors and their families. Such a ‘victim theory’ would remain entrenched in Austrian minds for decades to come. Incidents in recent memory, however, like the Waldheim affair of the 1980s, have forced Austrians to confront their past and the roles their nation played alongside Hitler and his madmen. Such confrontation, though it at times may be painful, are necessary if the past is to be understood, in order that it mistakes may not be repeated.
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