After the First World War, both Austria-Hungary and the German Empire were abolished, and many hoped that the Republic of German Austria would be unified with the German Republic into a Greater Germany that would include all Germans.
Threats of invasion[change | change source]
Adolf Hitler, who was born in Austria, met Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg on 12 February 1938 in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, and ordered him to end the ban on political parties, reinstate full party freedom, release all imprisoned members of the Nazi Party and let them take part in the government.
Hitler threatened an invasion as he wanted a union of Austria and Germany.
Schuschnigg realised that his new ministers were trying to take over from him. To get support, Schuschnigg allowed socialists and communists to appear in public again. The parties had been banned on 12 February 1934, during the Austrian Civil War. The communists said that they supported the Austrian government. The socialists wanted more promises from Schuschnigg before they were willing to side with him.
Independence plebiscite[change | change source]
On 9 March, Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite on the independence of Austria for 13 March.
To help him win, Schuschnigg set the minimum voting age at 24. Those who supported Nazism and union with Germany tended to be young and so the move stopped them from voting.
Also, supporters of independence were given ballots at the polls, but opponent had to bring their own.
Hitler said that the plebiscite would be subject to major fraud and that Germany would not accept it. Also, the German Ministry of Propaganda issued press reports that riots had broken out in Austria and many Austrians were calling for German troops to restore order. Schuschnigg immediately said publicly that the reports of riots were false.
In a radio broadcast, he announced his resignation, said that he accepted the changes and allowed the Nazis to take over the government to avoid bloodshed.
Meanwhile, Austrian President Wilhelm Miklas refused to appoint Seyss-Inquart as chancellor and asked other Austrian politicians instead. However, the Nazis were well organised, and within hours, managed to take control of many parts of Vienna, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which controlled the police. As Miklas continued to refuse to appoint a Nazi government, and Seyss-Inquart still could not send a telegram in the name of the Austrian government to demand German troops to restore order, Hitler became furious. At about 10 p.m., well after Hitler had signed and issued the order for the invasion, Göring and Hitler gave up on waiting and sent a forged telegram that pretended to be a request by the Austrian government for German troops to enter Austria. Around midnight, after nearly all critical offices and buildings had fallen into Nazi hands in Vienna, and the main party members of the old government had been arrested, Miklas finally appointed Seyss-Inquart as chancellor.
German troops march into Austria[change | change source]
On the morning of 12 March, the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht crossed the German-Austrian border. It was not stopped by the Austrian Army, but its troops were greeted by cheering Austrian Germans with Hitler salutes, Nazi flags and flowers.
The annexation of Austria without a shot being fired is therefore sometimes called the Blumenkrieg (war of flowers).
Hitler's car crossed the border in the afternoon at Braunau, his birthplace. In the evening, he arrived at Linz and was welcomed at the city hall. Goering, in a telephone call that evening, said, "There is unbelievable jubilation in Austria. We ourselves did not think that sympathies would be so intense."
On 2 April 1938, 200,000 Austrians gathered on the Heldenplatz (Square of Heroes) to hear Hitler proclaim the Anschluss. Hitler later commented, "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."
The Anschluss was given immediate effect by a law on 13 March that was subject to ratification by a plebiscite. Austria became the province of Ostmark, and Seyss-Inquart was appointed as its governor. The plebiscite was held on 10 April and officially recorded a support of 99.73% of the voters.
Most historians agree that the result was not fixed even though the voting process was neither free nor secret. Officials were present directly beside the voting booths and received the voting ballot by hand, unlike a free vote in which the voting ballot is inserted into a closed box. In some parts of Austria, the plebiscite on 13 March was held despite the Wehrmacht's presence in Austria since it took up to three days to occupy every part of Austria. For instance, in Innervillgraten, 95% of the village voted for Austria's independence.
Austria remained part of the Third Reich until the end of World War II, when a provisional government declared the Anschluss null und nichtig (null and void) on April 27 1945. After the war, the Allies occupied Austria, which was recognised and treated as a separate country, but sovereignty was restored only by the Austrian State Treaty and the Austrian Declaration of Neutrality, both in 1955, largely because of the rapid development of the Cold War and disputes between the Soviet Union and its former allies over foreign policy.
References[change | change source]
- Anschluss (help·info) (ˈʔanʃlʊs; German: "connection") also known as the Anschluss Österreichs (help·info)
- "1938: Austria". MSN Encarta. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
- Mayerhofer (1998). "Österreichs Weg zum Anschluss im März 1938" (in German). Wiener Zeitung Online. Archived from the original on 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2007-03-11. Detailed article the on the events of the Anschluss, in German.
- "Video: Hitler proclaims Austria's inclusion in the Reich (2 MB)". Archived from the original on 2009-03-18. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
- "Anschluss". Spartacus Educational. Archived from the original on 2005-06-21. Retrieved 2007-03-11.
- "Die propagandistische Vorbereitung der Volksabstimmung". Austrian Resistance Archive. 1988. Archived from the original on 2007-04-04. Retrieved 2007-03-11.