Anschluss: The German Annexation of Austria Explained

After the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles forbid Austria from being a part of the German Empire (The Reich), in order to prevent the formation of a strong military and economic superstate.

The majority of Austria’s population was German speaking and watched its German neighbours reach full employment and reverse inflation. Many wanted to join in Germany’s success.

Austrian feelings on a reunion with Germany

The word Anschluss means ‘connection’ or ‘political union’. Thought a union between Germany and Austria was strictly forbidden by the terms of the Treaty of Versa, many Austrian Social Democrats had been pressing for reunion with Germany since 1919, even though they were wary of many of Hitler’s policies.

Kurt von Schuschnigg in 1936.

Since the rise of Nazism in Germany, Anschluss became far less appealing among various Austrian political groups and was even resisted among Austria’s far right, namely Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who banned the Austrian Nazi Party in 1933. Dollfuss was then killed in a failed coup attempt by Nazis from both Germany and Austria.

Hitler himself was Austrian and thought it unacceptable that his homeland should have been cut off from its mother, Germany. During the 1930s a right wing party that was openly pro-Nazi began to rise in Austria, giving Hitler a good reason to enter discussion with the Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, who had succeeded Dollfuss, and invite him to his retreat in Berchtesgaden for talks in February of 1938.

Both Dollfuss and Schuschnigg preferred an alliance with Fascist Italy to a union with Germany under Hitler.

Positions of power & responsibility for pro-Nazis

The talks in Berchtesgaden went well for Hitler, and Schuschnigg agreed under pressure to give the Austrian Nazi Party more responsibility by appointing one of their members as Minister of Police and giving an amnesty to all Nazi prisoners.

The non-German population and the Austrian Social Democratic Party were in disagreement with the new right wing party, and signs of internal civil disturbances took place.

Hitler wanted to place German Army troops inside Austria, but Schuschnigg disagreed and then rescinded the agreement he made at Berchtesgaden, demanding an internal referendum (plebiscite) to preserve some Austrian independence.

Hitler demanded that Schuschnigg call off the referendum, and the Chancellor felt he had no choice but to relent.

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Street riots on the day of the Referendum

Like Germany before it, inflation in Austria in the 1930s was on an inconceivable scale and on the day of the referendum the Austrian people were demonstrating in the streets.

Otto Skorzeny, a member of the Austrian Nazi Party and the SA, tells in his memoirs of the Vienna Police arriving in the crowds all wearing swastika armbands and trying to create order. Skorzeny was sent to the Presidential Palace to try to prevent bloodshed as the guards were starting to draw their weapons on the crowds.

The referendum cancelled, the President was convinced by Skorzeny to tell his men not to shoot and order was restored. President Miklas resigned at the request of Dr. Seyss-Inquart, the Nazi Chancellor, who took over presidential powers. Otto Skorzeny was given command of the SS soldiers at the Palace and made responsible for internal security there.

Professor Frank McDonough is an internationally renowned expert on the Third Reich. He was born in Liverpool, studied history at Balliol College, Oxford and gained a PhD from Lancaster University. Here he discusses the subject of his book 'The Gestapo: The Myth and Reality of Hitler's Secret Police'.

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13 March 1938 Hitler declares Anschluss with Austria

On 13th March, Seyss-Inquart was instructed by Hermann Göring to invite the German Army to occupy Austria. Seyss-Inquart refused so a Vienna-based German agent sent a telegram in his stead, proclaiming a union with Germany.

Austria was now renamed as the German province of Ostmark and placed under the leadership of Arthur Seyss-Inquart. The Austrian-born Ernst Kaltenbrunner was named Minister of State and head of the Schutz Staffel (SS).

Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say; even in death they cannot stop lying. 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.

—Adolf Hitler, from a speech at Königsberg, 25 March 1938

On Sunday, April 10, a second, controlled referendum/plebiscite was arranged for the German men and women of Austria over twenty years of age to ratify the reunion with the German Reich, which had in fact already been decided.

Jews or Gypsies (4% of the population) were not permitted to vote. The Nazis claimed a 99.7561% approval by the Austrian people for the union of Germany and Austria.

Anschluss: The German Annexation of Austria Explained - History

The content of this page comes from the original pages of the City of Linz archives. Sometime in 2008, they altered their pages shifting everything to the German language only and reducing the history previously presented of the Anschluss. I have decided to preserve their content since it was a valuable resource that I previously linked to. The content is not mine, but theirs. The altered design is mine, however.

On 9th March 1938, the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite on the independence of Austria. Adolf Hitler took this as an opportunity to take action against the Austrian State. Schuschnigg was pressed to resign. The National Socialist Arthur Seyss-Inquart took over the chancellorship and formed a new government. The Austrian National Socialists took power in Austria.

On the morning of 12th March 1938, troops of the German Wehrmacht and the SS crossed the German-Austrian border. On 13th March 1938, Hitler announced in Linz the legislation on the ?Anschluss? (Annexation) of Austria into the German Reich.

During the great celebrations in all of Austria, many potential opponents of the regime were arrested, as well as the Jews who were expropriated and deprived of civil rights. National Socialist rule was established now in Austria through propaganda, terror and enticements.


After the Anschluss in March 1938, the Austrian army was incorporated into the German Wehrmacht. German laws came into force without delay. A Plebiscite was set for 10th April on the annexation of Austria to the German Reich, which was only a mockery.

Austrian citizens who were of Jewish descent were excluded from the election. People who were of other political opinions were arrested. Despite this, many Austrian intellectuals and known personalities from all areas publicly supported Hitler's annexation. The former Chancellor Karl Renner who had founded the First Republic and the Austrian bishops did their best to convince the many who had remained sceptical.

A free democratic election was not possible on 10th April: Election publicity was present in front of and in the election booth, the votes were surveyed and the voting papers were manipulated.

Despite the complete lack of choice that the voters had, the former National Socialist Mayor of the City of Linz, Franz Langoth, voiced his opinion in 1951 that the election on 10th April 1938 in Austria had been an example of a true, democratic plebiscite and would be recorded as a pure and clean vote in future history?.


Linz, the City of his youth, was singled out for the special favour of Adolf Hitler after the "Anschluss". He intended it to be developed as a Centre of Industry and Culture on the Danube and ultimately to provide room for between 320,000 to 420,000 inhabitants.

  • The monumental integration of both river banks of the Danube as an administrative forum.
  • An axial street system in the south as a culture centre by diverting the railway provision, together with the building of a new railway station for the transport of people.
  • The building of large industrial factories to the east of the City. (Hermann Göring Factory, Upper Danube Steel Works, Ostmark Nitrogen Factory).
  • The port facilities as a large warehouse location for goods.
  • Linz as an intersection for the German motorway network.
  • Traffic planning with an inner and outer peripheral ring linked by bridges over the Danube.

Out of these enormous building projects, only the Nibelungen Bridge and the two buildings to the left and right of the bridge on the side of Linz Town, the industrial facilities and the port facilities on the bend in the Danube were erected. The commencement of the Second World War, together with the lack of human and material resources, stopped further projects.

However, in the residential sector, within five years, 11,000 residences in 2,700 buildings were built. Through an enormous influx of workforce - the level of the population rose from 112,000 (1938) to 185,000 in 1943 - locally, the unresolved requirement for residences rose from 507 residences (1937) to over 15,000 (1943).


As early as 8th August 1938, a few months after the "Anschluss", the first prisoners were transferred into the new concentration camp in Mauthausen. The National Socialist regime established the Mauthausen Concentration Camp to obtain more prison space for political-ideological opponents. It was intended that they should in the Mauthausen Quarry extract the materials for the magnificent building projects in Linz.

The Mauthausen/Gusen Double Camp became the only concentration camp classified as a "Level III Camp". This meant that for the prisoners, there should be no return.

In total, more than 190,000 people of different nationality became imprisoned in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the Gusen Branch Camp and the subcamps, which numbered over 40. Systematic terror, deliberate killings, exploitation of labour, deficient feeding, inadequate clothing and lack of medical care led to the deaths of about 100,000 prisoners.


Of the approximately 600 Jews who had lived in Linz in March 1938, about 305 fled abroad. 23 died during the course of the years until 1942 (including suicides). Most of the 205 Jews who fled to Vienna and Bohemia and Moravia were killed in National Socialist concentration camps.

The Jews who had remained in Linz were nearly all taken to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp . Hardly any Upper Austrian Jews died in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, where many Jews died who had been deported from other parts of Europe.

Only about 26 Jews survived the National Socialist regime in Linz/ Upper Austria and, up to 1947, there were only 13 who actually returned to Linz. Although this number was slightly increased later it, nevertheless, shows the end of the old Jewish community in Linz.


According to National Socialist concepts of public health and racial purity, there was no room for human beings who could not be useful to the National Socialist State in a visible or measurable way. In order to establish which patients were not worthy of living, questionnaires were despatched to all psychiatric institutions. They had to report on all people suffering from schizophrenia, epilepsy and other mental illnesses. Assessors decided on these questionnaires as to whether patients were to be killed. A decisive criterion was if the patient had the ability to work.

One of the few institutions, in which the killing of people took place who were considered as not worthy of living, was Schloss Hartheim in Upper Austria. In 1939, Dr. Rudolf Lonauer was made head of this institute. Lonauer, who also was the director of the Niedernhart Mental Institute in Linz, commenced the systematic killing of people in Hartheim in 1940. About 1000 people were taken secretly from Niedernhart to Hartheim and were killed there.


The National Socialists considered the German people to be threatened by an over-proportionate reproduction of inferior individuals - mentally or physically handicapped people, the mentally ill or people whose behaviour was deviant. Furthermore, it was thought one could prevent any damage from collective hereditary factors which resulted from the mingling with inferior races, above all, with Jews.

The priority aim for National Socialist social policy was, therefore, to prevent such a threat at all cost and by all means. This meant in actual fact, expulsion, persecution and finally the murder of those people defined as not worthy of living. For the others, the Aryan comrades, state support was envisaged.

While selecting the inferior, often with the help of communal organisations, such as youth, health and social security offices, the comrades erected an effective propaganda-like social apparatus. National Socialist Welfare (NSV) and the German Labour Front (DAF) used skilfully arranged mass activities to achieve high acceptance of National Socialist policies by the population.

Anschluss: The German Annexation of Austria Explained - History

Anschluss—also known as Anschluss Österreichs—is a German word that means “union.” It refers to the political unification of Austria and Germany, which occurred in 1938. It was first proposed by Austria in 1919, and the Austrian Social Democrats pushed for it from 1919 to 1933. However, during that time the union was forbidden by both the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint Germain.

Before the Anschluss

In July of 1934, German Nazis and sympathetic Austrian officials took part in a failed attempt to join the two contries. On July 25th of that same year, Chancellor Dollfuss of Austria was killed in a failed coup-de-tat by Austrian Nazis. Consequently, a short civil war broke out that lasted until August of 1934. When the fighting had settled, a conservative government took control in Austria that did not agree with the Anschluss.

After the new government had been established, many of the Austrian Nazis left for Germany, where they continued to advocate for the Anschluss. The Austrian Nazis that remained began to use terrorist attacks on various Austrian government institutions, which resulted in the deaths of nearly eight hundred citizens between 1934 and 1938.

Hitler Meets With Austria’s Chancellor

On February 12th of 1938, Adolf Hitler met with Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Chancellor of Austria, at Berchtesgaden to discuss the Anschluss. Hitler gave Schuschnigg his demands, which included appointing several Austrian Nazis to powerful government positions. In accordance with this, Hitler wanted Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian Nazi leader, to be the Public Security Minister, a post that would give him total control over Austria’s police forces. Seyss-Inquart had been a Nazi for a long time and was in favor of the Anschluss.

Hitler told the Chancellor that if he agreed to the terms, he would remain committed to the Austro-German Agreement that was signed in July 1936, and reaffirm that he supported Austria’s national sovereignty. After accepting Hitler’s agreement, Schuschnigg went back to Vienna and instated the changes to Austria’s government. However, President Wilhelm Miklas of Austria, adamantly refused to appoint Seyss-Inquart as a new minister.

Some time later, Schuschnigg announced a vote on the Anschluss issue in an attempt to settle the matter democratically. However, the vote was on March 11th, when Hitler gave Schuschnigg the choice between handing over power to the National Socialists in Austria or facing a military invasion. The order expired at noon, but ended up being extended for two hours. At one o’clock, Hitler signed the military order that sent troops into Austria.

Schuschnigg tried desperately to find support for Austria’s independence after receiving Hitler’s order. But when he realized that France and Britain were not going to take action, he resigned from his position. At his resignation, he told the Austrian Army to go along with the Germans to avoid bloodshed.

German Troops Enter Austria

On the morning of March 12th, 1938, German troops crossed over the border into Austria. For the German Wehrmacht, the invasion was their first test even though no fighting actually occurred. The armed forces were welcomed by many cheering German-Austrians that gave Nazi salutes, waved Nazi flags, and handed out flowers. The annexation is also known as the “Blumenkrieg” which means the war of flowers.

Adolf Hitler arrived in Braunau, his birthplace, in the afternoon of March 12th. That evening, he appeared in Linz and was enthusiastically welcomed in the city hall. He then appointed Seyss-Inquart as the new governor Austria. Hitler annexed Austria the next day on March 13th and declared that Austria would now be a province of Ostmark. On March 15, 1938, Hitler went to Vienna and gave a speech where he talked about how Germany did not come as tyrants, but as liberators.

Hitler’s forces in Austria tried to suppress any opposition to the Anschluss. After the Anschluss was announced on March 13th, as many as seventy thousand people were arrested. Heinrich Himmler, along with his SS officers went to Vienna in order to arrest the more prominent officials in the First Republic including Leopold Figl, Richard Schmitz, Franz Olah, and Friedrich Hillegeist. During the time between the Anschluss and the vote, authorities arrested many Communists, Social Democrats, Jews, and other political dissenters, putting them in prison or sending them to concentration camps.

The Anschluss Vote

A vote was held on April 10th of 1938, and the Anschluss was reported by the Germans to have been approved by approximately ninety-nine percent of the voters. The voters were subjected to massive amounts of propaganda and nearly four hundred thousand people, almost ten percent of the population that was eligible to vote, were not allowed to do so.

After the Anschluss

After the annexation, Austria transferred all power to Nazi Germany, and thousands of Wehrmacht troops moved into Austria to maintain the Anschluss. Although the conditions of the Treaty of Saint Germain and the Treaty of Versailles strictly forbode the combination of Germany and Austria, the Allies did little to oppose it. No military action occurred and the strongest voices that opposed the Anschluss—Italy, Britain and France—did nothing to stop it.

The Anschluss was one of the first major actions that Adolf Hitler took to create the Greater German Reich. He endeavored to absorb all ethnic Germans in other contries as well as the territories that had been part of the German Empire before World War I. Although Austria had never actually been part of German Empire in the twentieth century, it was still seen as part of Germany.

After the vote, the Saar region was returned to German control after fifteen years of occupation. Following the annexation of Austria, Czechoslovakia was also targeted for absorption. This provoked an international crisis that resulted in the Munich Agreement, signed in September of 1938, which gave Germany control over the Sudetenland, whose population was mostly ethnic German. In March of 1939, Hitler ended Czechoslovakia after recognizing Slovakia as an independent state with the remainder of the region as a protectorate. Lithuania returned Memelland in the same year.

Austria was considered part of Germany until the conclusion of World War II. After the war, a preliminary government established in Austria declared the Anschluss invalid on April 27th of 1945. Allied-occupied Austria ended up being acknowledged and dealt with as a separate nation from Germany proper. The Austrian Declaration of Neutrality and the Austrian State Treaty, both formed in 1955, restored Austria’s sovereignty. This action was a result of the developments of the Cold War, along with various disputes involving the Soviet Union and its former allies.


According to the Treaty of Versailles, the Territory of the Saar Basin was split from Germany for at least 15 years. In 1935, the Saarland rejoined Germany in a lawful way after a plebiscite.

The territories listed below are those that were fully annexed into Germany proper.

Areas annexed by Germany
Date of annexation Annexed area Succeeded by
12 Mar 1938 Federal State of Austria Reichsgau Carinthia
Reichsgau Lower Danube
Reichsgau Salzburg
Reichsgau Styria
Reichsgau Tirol-Vorarlberg
Reichsgau Upper Danube
Reichsgau Vienna
1 Oct 1938 Sudetenland, Bohemia, Czechoslovak Republic Gau Bavarian Eastern March
Reichsgau Upper Danube
Reichsgau Lower Danube
Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of the Sudetenland
Sudetenland, Moravia-Silesia, Czechoslovak Republic Reichsgau Lower Danube
Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of the Sudetenland
16 Mar 1939 Bohemia, Czechoslovak Republic Gau Bavarian Eastern March
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia [2]
Moravia-Silesia, Czechoslovak Republic
Reichsgau Lower Danube
Bohemia, Czechoslovak Republic
Reichsgau Sudetenland
Moravia-Silesia, Czechoslovak Republic
Bohemia, Czechoslovak Republic Reichsgau Upper Danube
23 Mar 1939 Klaipėda Region, Republic of Lithuania Gau East Prussia
2 Sep 1939 Free City of Danzig Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of Danzig
8 Oct 1939 Military Administration in Poland Gau East Prussia
Gau Silesia
Reichsgau Posen
Reichsgau West Prussia
18 May 1940 Eupen-Malmedy, Liège, Wallonia, Military Administration in Belgium and Northern France Gau Cologne-Aachen
29 Jul 1940 Military Administration of Luxembourg Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of Luxembourg
2 Aug 1940 Moselle, French State Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of Lorraine
Bas-Rhin, French State Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of Alsace
Haut-Rhin, French State
17 Apr 1941 Military Administration in Yugoslavia Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of Carinthia and Carniola
Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of Lower Styria
22 Jul 1941 Military Administration in the Soviet Union Territory of the Chief of Civil Administration of Bialystok
18 Dec 1944 – 25 Dec 1944 Dunkirk, Nord, Provisional Government of the French Republic Reichsgau Flanders
Wallonia, Kingdom of Belgium Reichsgau Wallonia

The territories listed below are those that were partially incorporated into the Greater German Reich.

General Government for the Occupied Polish Territories / General Government
Date of establishment Preceded by Succeeded by
12 Oct 1939 Military Administration in Poland General Government for the Occupied Polish Territories
1 Aug 1941 Military Administration in the Soviet Union District of Galicia, General Government
Kraków District, General Government
Operational zones
Date of establishment Preceded by Succeeded by
10 Sep 1943 Province of Gorizia, Kingdom of Italy Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral
Province of Ljubljana, Kingdom of Italy
Province of Pola, Kingdom of Italy
Province of Fiume, Kingdom of Italy
Province of Trieste, Kingdom of Italy
Province of Udine, Kingdom of Italy
Province of Belluno, Kingdom of Italy Operational Zone of the Alpine Foothills
Province of Bolzano, Kingdom of Italy
Province of Trento, Kingdom of Italy

Areas announced for annexation to Germany
Date of announcement of annexation Area planned to be annexed Planned succession
15 Dec 1944 Brussels, Kingdom of Belgium District of Brussels
Flanders, Kingdom of Belgium Reichsgau Flanders
Comines-Warneton, Wallonia, Kingdom of Belgium
Nord, Provisional Government of the French Republic Reichsgau Wallonia
Pas-de-Calais, Provisional Government of the French Republic
Voeren, Flanders, Kingdom of Belgium
Wallonia, Kingdom of Belgium

In the coming Nazi New Order, other lands were considered for annexation sooner or later, for instance North Schleswig, German-speaking Switzerland, and the zone of intended German settlement in north-eastern France, where a Gau or a Reichskommissariat centred on Burgundy was intended for creation, and which Heinrich Himmler wanted to turn into the SS's very own fiefdom. The goal was to unite all or as many as possible ethnic Germans and Germanic peoples, including non-Germanic speaking ones considered "Aryans", in a Greater Germanic Reich.

The eastern Reichskommissariats in the vast stretches of Ukraine and Russia were also intended for future integration into that Reich, with plans for them stretching to the Volga or even beyond the Urals, where the potential westernmost reaches of Imperial Japanese influence would have existed, following an Axis victory in World War II. They were deemed of vital interest for the survival of the German nation, as it was a core tenet of Nazism that Germany needed "living space" (Lebensraum), creating a "pull towards the East" (Drang nach Osten) where that could be found and colonized.

North-East Italy was also eventually to be annexed, including both the Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral and the Operational Zone of the Alpine Foothills, but also the Venice region. [3] [4] Goebbels went as far as to suggest taking control of Lombardy as well:

Whatever was once an Austrian possession we must get back into our own hands. The Italians by their infidelity and treachery have lost any claim to a national state of the modern type. — Joseph Goebbels, September 1943 [5]

The annexation of the entire North Italy was also suggested in the long run. [6]

Reactions and consequences of the Anschluss

The picture of Austria in the first days of its existence in the Third Reich is one of contradictions: at one and the same time, Hitler's terror regime began to tighten its grip in every area of society, beginning with mass arrests and thousands of Austrians attempting to flee in every direction yet Austrians could be seen cheering and welcoming German troops entering Austrian territory. Many Austrian political figures did not hesitate to announce their support of the Anschluss and their relief that it happened without violence.

Cardinal Theodor Innitzer (a political figure of the CS) declared as early as 12 March: "The Viennese Catholics should thank the Lord for the bloodless way this great political change has occurred, and they should pray for a great future for Austria. Needless to say, everyone should obey the orders of the new institutions." The other Austrian bishops followed suit some days later. Vatican Radio, however, immediately broadcast a vehement denunciation of the German action, and Cardinal Pacelli ordered Innitzer to report to Rome. Before meeting with the pope, Innitzer met with Pacelli, who had been outraged by Innitzer's statement. He made it clear that Innitzer needed to retract he was made to sign a new statement, issued on behalf of all the Austrian bishops, which provided: &ldquoThe solemn declaration of the Austrian bishops . was clearly not intended to be an approval of something that was not and is not compatible with God's law&rdquo. The Vatican newspaper also reported that the bishops' earlier statement had been issued without the approval from Rome.

Robert Kauer, President of the Protestants in Austria, greeted Hitler on 13 March as "saviour of the 350,000 German Protestants in Austria and liberator from a five-year hardship." Even Karl Renner, the most famous Social Democrat of the First Republic, announced his support for the Anschluss and appealed to all Austrians to vote in favour of it on 10 April.

The international response to the expansion of Germany may be described as moderate. The Times commented that 200 years ago Scotland had joined England as well and that this event would not really differ much. On 14 March, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain noted in the House of Commons:

His Majesty's Government have throughout been in the closest touch with the situation. The Foreign Secretary saw the German Foreign Minister on the 10th of March and addressed to him a grave warning on the Austrian situation and upon what appeared to be the policy of the German Government in regard to it. Late on the 11th of March our Ambassador in Berlin registered a protest in strong terms with the German Government against such use of coercion, backed by force, against an independent State in order to create a situation incompatible with its national independence.

However the speech concluded:

I imagine that according to the temperament of the individual the events which are in our minds to-day will be the cause of regret, of sorrow, perhaps of indignation. They cannot be regarded by His Majesty's Government with indifference or equanimity. They are bound to have effects which cannot yet be measured. The immediate result must be to intensify the sense of uncertainty and insecurity in Europe. Unfortunately, while the policy of appeasement would lead to a relaxation of the economic pressure under which many countries are suffering to-day, what has just occurred must inevitably retard economic recovery and, indeed, increased care will be required to ensure that marked deterioration does not set in. This is not a moment for hasty decisions or for careless words. We must consider the new situation quickly, but with cool judgement. As regards our defence programmes, we have always made it clear that they were flexible and that they would have to be reviewed from time to time in the light of any development in the international situation. It would be idle to pretend that recent events do not constitute a change of the kind that we had in mind. Accordingly we have decided to make a fresh review, and in due course we shall announce what further steps we may think it necessary to take.

The moderate reaction to the Anschluss was the first major consequence of the strictly followed appeasement British foreign policy strategy. The international reaction on the events of March 12 1938 led Hitler to conclude that he could use even more aggressive tactics in his roadmap to expand the Third Reich, as he would later in annexing the Sudetenland. The relatively bloodless Anschluss helped pave the way for the Treaty of Munich in September 1938 and the annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, because it reinforced appeasement as the right way for Britain to deal with Hitler's Germany.

Lesson Summary

The Anschluss of World War II refers to the forced union of Austria with the German Reich. Austria and Germany are both German-speaking nations with common roots. The long hopes of an Anschluss between the two nations was prevented by treaties following World War I. Austrian-born Adolf Hitler longed to absorb Austria into the German Reich, and began to take decisive steps toward this goal in the 1930's. After the assassination of Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss in 1934, the new Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg tried to appease Hitler to avoid a Nazi invasion. This effort failed, Schnuschnigg resigned and the Nazis marched unopposed into Austria in March 1938. On March 13, 1938, the Anschluss was officially proclaimed and Austria became Ostmark. Although it is still controversial, it seems that many Austrians welcomed Hitler and the Anschluss.


Prior to 1918 Edit

The idea of grouping all Germans into one nation-state had been the subject of debate in the 19th century from the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 until the break-up of the German Confederation in 1866. Austria had wanted a Großdeutsche Lösung (greater Germany solution), whereby the German states would unite under the leadership of German Austrians (Habsburgs). This solution would have included all the German states (including the non-German regions of Austria), but Prussia would have had to accept a secondary role. This controversy, called dualism, dominated Prusso-Austrian diplomacy and the politics of the German states in the mid-nineteenth century. [5]

In 1866 the feud finally came to an end during the German war in which the Prussians defeated the Austrians and thereby excluded Austria and German Austrians from Germany. The Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck formed the North German Confederation, which included most of the remaining German states, aside from a few in the southwestern region of the German-inhabited lands, and further expanded the power of Prussia. Bismarck used the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871) as a way to convince southwestern German states, including the Kingdom of Bavaria, to side with Prussia against the Second French Empire. Due to Prussia's quick victory, the debate was settled and in 1871 the "Kleindeutsch" German Empire based on the leadership of Bismarck and the Kingdom of Prussia formed – this excluded Austria. [6] Besides ensuring Prussian domination of a united Germany, the exclusion of Austria also ensured that Germany would have a substantial Protestant majority.

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Ausgleich, provided for a dual sovereignty, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, under Franz Joseph I. The Austrian-Hungarian rule of this diverse empire included various different ethnic groups including Hungarians, Slavic ethnic groups such as Croats, Czechs, Poles, Rusyns, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes, and Ukrainians, as well as Italians and Romanians ruled by a German minority. [7] The empire caused tensions between the various ethnic groups. Many Austrian pan-Germans showed loyalty to Bismarck [8] and only to Germany, wore symbols that were temporarily banned in Austrian schools and advocated the dissolution of the empire to allow Austria to rejoin Germany, as it had been during the German Confederation of 1815-1866. [9] [10] Although many Austrians supported pan-Germanism, many others still showed allegiance to the Habsburg Monarchy and wished for Austria to remain an independent country. [11]

Austria during the First Austrian Republic: 1918–1934 Edit

By the end of World War I in 1918, Austria had not officially participated in internal German affairs for more than fifty years - since the Peace of Prague that concluded the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

Elite and popular opinion in rump Austria after 1918 largely favored some sort of union with Germany, but the 1919 peace treaties explicitly forbade this. [12] The Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed in 1918, and on 12 November that year German Austria was declared a republic. An Austrian 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 of a unification with the German (i.e. Weimar) Republic.

In the aftermath of a prohibition of an Anschluss, Germans in both Austria and Germany pointed to a contradiction in the national self-determination principle because the treaties failed to grant self-determination to the ethnic Germans (such as German Austrians and Sudeten Germans) outside of the German Reich. [13] [14]

The Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint-Germain (both signed in 1919) explicitly prohibited the political inclusion of Austria in the German state. Hugo Preuss, the drafter of the German Weimar Constitution, criticized this measure he saw the prohibition as a contradiction of the Wilsonian principle of self-determination of peoples, [15] intended to help bring peace to Europe. [16] Following the destruction of World War I, however, France and Britain feared the power of a larger Germany and had begun to disempower the current one. Austrian particularism, especially among the nobility, also played a role in the decisions [ citation needed ] Austria was Roman Catholic, while Germany's government was dominated by Protestants (for example, the Prussian nobility was Lutheran). The constitutions of the Weimar Republic and the First Austrian Republic both included the political goal of unification, which democratic parties [ which? ] widely supported. In the early 1930s, popular support for union with Germany remained overwhelming in Austria, and the Austrian government looked to a possible customs union with the German Republic in 1931.

Nazi Germany and Austria Edit

When the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, rose to power in the Weimar Republic, the Austrian government withdrew from economic ties. Like Germany, Austria experienced the economic turbulence which was a result of the Great Depression, with a high unemployment rate, and unstable commerce and industry. During the 1920s it was a target for German investment capital. By 1937, rapid German rearmament increased Berlin's interest in annexing Austria, rich in raw materials and labour. It supplied Germany with magnesium and the products of the iron, textile and machine industries. It had gold and foreign currency reserves, many unemployed skilled workers, hundreds of idle factories, and large potential hydroelectric resources. [17]

Hitler, an Austrian German by birth, [18] [b] picked up his German nationalist ideas at a young age. Whilst infiltrating the German Workers' Party (DAP), Hitler became involved in a heated political argument with a visitor, a Professor Baumann, who proposed that Bavaria should break away from Prussia and found a new South German nation with Austria. In vehemently attacking the man's arguments he made an impression on the other party members with his oratory skills and, according to Hitler, the "professor" left the hall acknowledging unequivocal defeat. [20] Impressed with Hitler, Anton Drexler invited him to join the DAP. Hitler accepted on 12 September 1919, [21] becoming the party's 55th member. [22] After becoming leader of the DAP, Hitler addressed a crowd on 24 February 1920, and in an effort to appeal to wider parts of the German population, the DAP was renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). [23]

As its first point, the 1920 National Socialist Program stated, "We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people's right to self-determination." Hitler argued in a 1921 essay that the German Reich had a single task of, "incorporating the ten million German-Austrians in the Empire and dethroning the Habsburgs, the most miserable dynasty ever ruling." [24] The Nazis aimed to re-unite all Germans who were either born in the Reich or living outside it in order to create an "all-German Reich". Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925) that he would create a union between his birth country Austria and Germany by any means possible. [25] [ non-primary source needed ]

The First Austrian Republic, which was dominated from the late 1920s by the anti-Anschluss [26] Catholic nationalist Christian Social Party (CS), gradually disintegrated from 1933 (dissolution of parliament and ban on the Austrian National Socialists) to 1934 (Austrian Civil War in February and ban on all remaining parties except the CS). The government evolved into a corporatist, one-party government that combined the CS and the paramilitary Heimwehr. It controlled labor relations and the press. (See Austrofascism and Patriotic Front). [ citation needed ]

Power was centralized in the office of the chancellor, who was empowered to rule by decree. The dominance 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 which were not found in Nazism. [ example needed ] Engelbert Dollfuss and his successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, turned to Benito Mussolini's Italy for inspiration and support. The statist corporatism which is often referred to as Austrofascism and described as a form of clerical fascism, bore a stronger resemblance to Italian Fascism rather than German National Socialism. [ citation needed ]

Mussolini supported the independence of Austria, largely due to his concern that Hitler would eventually press for the return of Italian territories which had once been ruled by Austria. However, Mussolini needed German support in Ethiopia (see Second Italo-Abyssinian War). After receiving Hitler's personal assurance that Germany would not seek territorial concessions from Italy, Mussolini entered into a client relationship with Berlin that began with the formation of the Berlin–Rome Axis in 1937. [ citation needed ]

Austrian Civil War to Anschluss Edit

The Austrian Nazi Party failed to win any seats in the November 1930 general election, but its popularity grew in Austria after Hitler came to power in Germany. The idea of the country joining Germany also grew in popularity, thanks in part to a Nazi propaganda campaign which used slogans such as Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer ("One People, One Empire, One Leader") to try to convince Austrians to advocate for an Anschluss to the German Reich. [27] Anschluss might have occurred by democratic process had Austrian Nazis not begun a terrorism campaign. According to John Gunther in 1936, "In 1932 Austria was probably eighty percent pro-Anschluss". [28]

When Germany permitted residents of Austria to vote [ clarification needed ] on 5 March 1933, three special trains, boats and trucks brought such masses to Passau that the SS staged a ceremonial welcome. [29] Gunther wrote that by the end of 1933 Austrian public opinion about German annexation was at least 60% against. [28] On 25 July 1934, Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis in a failed coup. Afterwards, leading Austrian Nazis fled to Germany but they continued to push for unification from there. The remaining Austrian Nazis continued terrorist attacks against Austrian governmental institutions, causing a death toll of more than 800 between 1934 and 1938.

Dollfuss's successor was Kurt Schuschnigg, who followed a political course similar to his predecessor. In 1935 Schuschnigg used the police to suppress Nazi supporters. Police actions under Schuschnigg included gathering Nazis (and Social Democrats) and holding them in internment camps. The Austrofascism of Austria between 1934–1938 focused on the history of Austria and opposed the absorption of Austria into Nazi Germany (according to the philosophy Austrians were "superior Germans"). Schuschnigg called Austria the "better German state" but struggled to keep Austria independent.

In an attempt to put Schuschnigg's mind at rest, Hitler delivered a speech at the Reichstag and said, "Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria or to conclude an Anschluss." [30]

By 1936 the damage to Austria from the German boycott was too great. [ clarification needed ] That summer Schuschnigg told Mussolini that his country had to come to an agreement with Germany. On 11 July 1936 he signed an agreement with German ambassador Franz von Papen, in which Schuschnigg agreed to the release of Nazis imprisoned in Austria and Germany promised to respect Austrian sovereignty. [28] Under the terms of the Austro-German treaty, Austria declared itself a "German state" that would always follow Germany's lead in foreign policy, and members of the "National Opposition" were allowed to enter the cabinet, in exchange for which the Austrian Nazis promised to cease their terrorist attacks against the government. This did not satisfy Hitler and the pro-German Austrian Nazis grew in strength.

In September 1936, Hitler launched the Four-Year Plan that called for a dramatic increase in military spending and to make Germany as autarkic as possible with the aim of having the Reich ready to fight a world war by 1940. [31] The Four Year Plan required huge investments in the Reichswerke steel works, a programme for developing synthetic oil that soon went wildly over budget, and programmes for producing more chemicals and aluminium the plan called for a policy of substituting imports and rationalizing industry to achieve its goals that failed completely. [31] As the Four Year Plan fell further and further behind its targets, Hermann Göring, the chief of the Four Year Plan office, began to press for an Anschluss as a way of securing Austria's iron and other raw materials as a solution to the problems with the Four Year Plan. [32] The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw wrote:

. above all, it was Hermann Göring, at this time close to the pinnacle of his power, who far more than Hitler, throughout 1937 made the running and pushed the hardest for an early and radical solution to the 'Austrian Question'. Göring was not simply operating as Hitler's agent in matters relating to the 'Austrian Question'. His approach differed in emphasis in significant respects. But Göring's broad notions of foreign policy, which he pushed to a great extent on his own initiative in the mid-1930s drew more on traditional pan-German concepts of nationalist power-politics to attain hegemony in Europe than on the racial dogmatism central to Hitler's ideology. [32]

Göring was far more interested in the return of the former German colonies in Africa than was Hitler, believed up to 1939 in the possibility of an Anglo-German alliance (an idea that Hitler had abandoned by late 1937), and wanted all Eastern Europe in the German economic sphere of influence. [33] Göring did not share Hitler's interest in Lebensraum ("living space") as for him, merely having Eastern Europe in the German economic sphere of influence was sufficient. [32] In this context, having Austria annexed to Germany was the key towards bringing Eastern Europe into Göring's desired Grossraumwirtschaft ("greater economic space"). [33]

Faced with problems in the Four Year Plan, Göring had become the loudest voice in Germany, calling for an Anschluss, even at the risk of losing an alliance with Italy. [34] In April 1937, in a secret speech before a group of German industrialists, Göring stated that the only solution to the problems with meeting the steel production targets laid out by the Four Year Plan was to annex Austria, which Göring noted was rich in iron. [34] Göring did not give a date for the Anschluss, but given that Four Year Plan's targets all had to be met by September 1940, and the current problems with meeting the steel production targets, suggested that he wanted an Anschluss in the very near-future. [34]

Hitler told Goebbels in the late summer of 1937 that eventually Austria would have to be taken "by force". [35] On 5 November 1937, Hitler called a meeting with the Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath, the War Minister Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, the Army commander General Werner von Fritsch, the Kriegsmarine commander Admiral Erich Raeder and the Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring recorded in the Hossbach Memorandum. At the conference, Hitler stated that economic problems were causing Germany to fall behind in the arms race with Britain and France, and that the only solution was to launch in the near-future a series of wars to seize Austria and Czechoslovakia, whose economies would be plundered to give Germany the lead in the arms race. [36] [37] In early 1938, Hitler was seriously considering replacing Papen as ambassador to Austria with either Colonel Hermann Kriebel, the German consul in Shanghai or Albert Forster, the Gauleiter of Danzig. [38] Significantly, neither Kriebel nor Forster were professional diplomats with Kriebel being one of the leaders of the 1923 Munich Beerhall putsch who had been appointed consul in Shanghai to facilitate his work as an arms dealer in China while Forster was a Gauleiter who had proven he could get along with the Poles in his position in the Free City of Danzig both men were Nazis who had shown some diplomatic skill. [38] On 25 January 1938, the Austrian police raided the Vienna headquarters of the Austrian Nazi Party, arresting Gauleiter Leopold Tavs, the deputy to Captain Josef Leopold, discovered a cache of arms and plans for a putsch. [38]

Following increasing violence and demands from Hitler that Austria agree to a union, Schuschnigg met Hitler at Berchtesgaden on 12 February 1938, in an attempt to avoid the takeover of Austria. Hitler presented Schuschnigg with a set of demands that included appointing Nazi sympathizers to positions of power in the government. The key appointment was that of Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Minister of Public Security, with full, unlimited control of the police. In return Hitler would publicly reaffirm the treaty of 11 July 1936 and reaffirm his support for Austria's national sovereignty. Browbeaten and threatened by Hitler, Schuschnigg agreed to these demands and put them into effect. [39]

Seyss-Inquart was a long-time supporter of the Nazis who sought the union of all Germans in one state. Leopold argues he was a moderate who favoured an evolutionary approach to union. He opposed the violent tactics of the Austrian Nazis, cooperated with Catholic groups, and wanted to preserve a measure of Austrian identity within Nazi Germany. [40]

On 20 February, Hitler made a speech before the Reichstag which was broadcast live and which for the first time was relayed also by the Austrian radio network. A key phrase in the speech which was aimed at the Germans living in Austria and Czechoslovakia was: "The German Reich is no longer willing to tolerate the suppression of ten million Germans across its borders." [41]

The Kristallnacht Pogroms in Austria

The November 1938 Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogroms were particularly brutal in Austria. Most of the synagogues in Vienna were destroyed, burned in full view of fire departments and the public. Jewish businesses were also vandalized and ransacked. Thousands of Jews were arrested and deported to the Dachau or Buchenwald concentration camps. Jewish emigration increased dramatically in response to the German incorporation of Austria and to Kristallnacht. Between 1938 and 1940, 117,000 Jews left Austria.

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On the one hand, it is correct that Germany did force a union onto Austria, a partnership that violated the peace treaties that ended World War I. On the other, the occupation was enthusiastically welcomed by a significant majority of the Austrian population.

The Austrian Republic had only come into existence in 1918, with the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at the end of the war. By 1934, the country had devolved into a civil war of sorts, which pitted the nationalists of the Christian Social Party, who favored independence, against the socialists, who pushed for economic if not political union with Germany.

In July 1934, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis, as part of a failed coup. The Christian Social party came out of the civil war victorious, and the place of Dollfuss was taken by Kurt Schuschnigg, who abolished other parties and imposed a semi-fascist regime on the country.

The question of union with Germany remained alive, however, and the Nazis maintained a constant campaign of terror against the Christian Social regime. In 1936, Schuschnigg agreed to end the ban of the Nazi party in Austria and accepted Nazis into his cabinet.

This did not satisfy Adolf Hitler, who upped his demands for incorporation of Austria into the Reich – part of a general foreign policy of Heims in Reich, literally, “home into the Reich,”, which called for bringing ethnic Germans living beyond the country’s borders under German sovereignty. In practice, this would include annexation of Austria, western Poland and Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland.

This was the prelude to the Anschluss, which was greeted by vocal protests from the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the Vatican, but not much more. On March 12, when German forces crossed the border into Austria, they faced no resistance, and were greeted with flowers. That same afternoon, Hitler arrived, crossing into the country at Braunau, his birthplace. Over the next few days, he toured the country, with the climax of his visit taking place in Vienna on March 15, where he appeared at a rally before some 200,000 people at the Heldenplatz.

A month later, a plebiscite on incorporation was held, and 99.7 percent of the population voted to approve. (By that time, some 70,000 potential dissenters had been rounded up and imprisoned.)

At the time of the Anschluss, Austria’s Jewish population was about 190,000 (the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates the number at 225,000), most of them living in Vienna. On Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938), most of Vienna’s synagogues were destroyed, and 27 Jews murdered, following which Jews began to be rounded up and imprisoned. Even before 1938, the Jews had begun to emigrate from the country, but now the trickle became a torrent, so that by December 1939, by which point the Nazis had instituted restrictions on Jewish involvement in society, only 57,000 are thought to have remained in the country.

Mass deportations began in October 1941, with some 35,000 Jews being sent to ghettos in Poland and Eastern Europe, where they were killed by Einsatzgruppen, and another 15,000 finding their deaths in Auschwitz. Within a year, only some 5,000 Jews remained in the country: They were either smuggled out of Austria, or spent the rest of the war in hiding.

Anschluss (The New Order)

The Anschluss, also known as the Anschluss Österreichs, refers to the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938.

The idea of an Anschluss (a united Austria and Germany that would form a "Greater Germany") began after the unification of Germanyexcluded Austria and the German Austrians from the Prussian-dominated German Empire in 1871. Following the end of World War I with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1918, the newly formed Republic of German-Austria attempted to form a union with Germany, but the Treaty of Saint Germain (10 September 1919) and the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) forbade both the union and the continued use of the name "German-Austria" (Deutschösterreich) and stripped Austria of some of its territories, such as the Sudetenland.

Prior to the Anschluss, there had been strong support from people of all backgrounds in both Austria and Germany for unification of the two countries. In the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy—with Austria left as a broken remnant, deprived of most of the territories it ruled for centuries and undergoing a severe economic crisis—the idea of unity with Germany seemed attractive also to many citizens of the political Left and Center. Had the WWI victors allowed it, Austria would have united with Germany as a freely taken democratic decision. But after 1933 desire for unification could be identified with the Nazis, for whom it was an integral part of the Nazi "Heim ins Reich"concept, which sought to incorporate as many Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans outside Germany) as possible into a "Greater Germany".

In the early 1930s, there was still significant resistance in Austria—even among some Austrian Nazis—to suggestions that Austria should be annexed to Germany and the Austrian state dissolved completely. Consequently, after the German Nazis, under the Austrian-born Adolf Hitler, took control of Germany (1933), their agents cultivated pro-unification tendencies in Austria, and sought to undermine the Austrian government, which was controlled by the Austrofascist Fatherland Front. During an attempted coup in 1934, Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis. The defeat of the coup prompted many leading Austrian Nazis to go into exile in Germany, where they continued their efforts for unification of the two countries.

In early 1938, under increasing pressure from pro-unification activists, Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg announced that there would be a referendum on a possible union with Germany to be held on 13 March. Portraying this as defying the popular will in Austria and Germany, Hitler threatened an invasion and secretly pressured Schuschnigg to resign. The referendum was canceled. On 12 March, the German Wehrmachtcrossed the border into Austria, unopposed by the Austrian military the Germans were greeted with great enthusiasm. A plebiscite held on 10 April officially ratified Austria's annexation by the Reich.