Austria and 1938

Austria and 1938

Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau, an Austrian town near the German border. He conceptualised Austria as a part of a greater Germany; he was personally invested in this idea because of his birth-place. He engineered a concrete union between Germany and Austria in 1938 before Germany annexed Austria in an event known as Anschluss.

A union between Germany and Austria was forbidden under the terms of both the Treaty of Versailles (June 1919) and the Treaty of St Germain (September 1919). Hitler, however, was eager to break these Treaties and he had already pursued a policy of rearmament and re-militarized the Rhineland.

The Austrian Nazi party grew in popularity after Hitler's rise to the German chancellorship in the early 1930s. Austrian national feeling was generally pro-Anschluss.

Kurt Schuschnigg
Kurt Schuschnigg

In 1933 the Austrian Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, banned the Nazi party. He was murdered the next year (1934) by the Austrian Nazis in an attempted coup. The coup failed and the Italians honoured a pact with Austria to protect the country by massing her troops on the Brenner pass to prevent an invasion - sending a clear message to Germany.

By 1936, however, Italy had moved closer to Nazi Germany; at the end of 1936, Mussolini withdrew his protection of Austria. In 1937, he informed the Austrian Chancellor, Kurt Schuschnigg, that Italy would no longer defend Austria against outside aggression.

In February 1938, Hitler gave Schuschnigg a list of 10 demands. The most ambitious stipulation was that the Austrian Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart be made Minister of the Interior. This would give him control of the Austrian police. Hitler also demanded that Dr Hans Fischbōck, another Nazi sympathizer, be made Minister of Finance. Schuschnigg signed the agreement; in his memoirs he claimed that was forced to do so.

In March, however, Schuschnigg decided to order a plebiscite (a vote on one question) about whether the people of Austria wanted to be part of Germany or an independent country. If the plebiscite went ahead and the Austrians voted against Hitler, the Nazi leader would be in a challenging position. Hitler was angry: he demanded that Schuschnigg resign and the plebiscite be cancelled. If neither of these took place, he told the Austrian chancellor that he would order his military to invade Austria. He even threatened to turn Vienna into the "Spain of Austria", reminding the Austrians of the devastation inflicted upon Guernica in Spain by German and Italian bombers during the Spanish civil war.

Schuschnigg could not take this risk. He, and all his cabinet bar Seyss-Inquart, resigned. As the sole member of the Austrian government, Seyss-Inquart promptly invited German troops into Austria in Opens internal link in current windowMarch 1938. On 15 March 1938, Hitler entered Vienna in triumph. Huge cheering crowds welcomed him, surprising even Hitler with their size and enthusiasm. Austria was amalgamated into the German Greater Reich. Schuschnigg was arrested and imprisoned and quickly Austrian Jews lost their rights.

What of the rest of Europe? Mussolini, as expected, did nothing. Britain and France protested but did nothing else – just as Hitler had guessed. His takeover had been smooth and painless.

See also: The Czech Crisis of 1938

MLA Citation/Reference

"Austria and 1938". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.