The Anschluss Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After being thwarted in a 1934 attempt to subvert and overthrow the government of the neighboring Republic of Austria, Adolf Hitler capitalized on the growing friction between Italy and the Allied Powers to bluff, cajole, and intimidate his way into initiating a bloodless invasion that incorporated the formerly independent Austrian state into the greater German Reich.

Summary of Event

An Austrian German by birth, Adolf Hitler had long harbored a desire to implement Anschluss, a concept that might be broadly defined as the union of all Germans in one land. When Hitler became Germany’s chancellor on January 30, 1933, and established a totalitarian regime, Anschluss and the incorporation of Austria into his Germanic Third Reich became not only a possibility but also a priority. On July 25, 1934, Austrian Nazis assassinated Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss and attempted a coup, but they were stymied when Dollfuss’s successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, assumed control. Matters were made more complicated when Italian dictator Benito Mussolini threatened to deploy Italian troops to the Brenner Pass to prevent the German military from advancing into Austrian territory. Hitler had hoped to use the Nazi uprising in Vienna as a justification for taking control of the area, but he was compelled to abandon the idea. [kw]Anschluss, The (Feb. 12-Apr. 10, 1938) Anschluss Nazi Germany;Anschluss Austria;invasion by Germany Germany;invasion of Austria World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];prewar period [g]Austria;Feb. 12-Apr. 10, 1938: The Anschluss[09700] [g]Germany;Feb. 12-Apr. 10, 1938: The Anschluss[09700] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Feb. 12-Apr. 10, 1938: The Anschluss[09700] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 12-Apr. 10, 1938: The Anschluss[09700] [c]World War II;Feb. 12-Apr. 10, 1938: The Anschluss[09700] Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;Anschluss Schuschnigg, Kurt von Seyss-Inquart, Arthur Miklas, Wilhelm Schmidt, Guido Mussolini, Benito Göring, Hermann Papen, Franz von Ribbentrop, Joachim von Chamberlain, Neville

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Although on that occasion Hitler had been forced to back down, the situation had changed by early 1938. The German military machine had been transformed into a powerful entity through Hitler’s repeated violations of the rearmament clauses of the treaties signed at Versailles and Locarno, and German-Italian relations had undergone a complete turnaround: Hitler and Mussolini were now on the most cordial of terms. The Austrian Nazis, now led by lawyer Arthur Seyss-Inquart, were waging a terrorist campaign against the Austrian government, and Seyss-Inquart accelerated his efforts in early 1938 so that the German government would have a greater pretext for armed intervention.

Confident of success, Hitler summoned von Schuschnigg and his foreign secretary, Guido Schmidt, to a conference at Berchtesgaden on February 12, 1938. The German chancellor launched a hysterical, abusive verbal attack and threatened the Austrians with dire consequences if they did not meet his demands. This invective so unnerved von Schuschnigg that he signed the document presented to him by the new Nazi foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Franz von Papen, Germany’s ambassador to Austria. In doing so, von Schuschnigg also pledged to meet a number of Nazi demands: Before February 18, he would appoint Seyss-Inquart as his interior minister, free all imprisoned Austrian Nazis, and name Nazis to head the ministries of war and finance. Von Schuschnigg’s concessions went quite a distance toward surrendering Austrian sovereignty.

Somewhat recovered from his return to Vienna, the shaken von Schuschnigg attempted to undo some of the damage. In a defiant speech in the Austrian parliament on February 24, von Schuschnigg ruled out further concessions and reaffirmed Austria’s sovereignty. Seyss-Inquart’s response was to unleash mobs of Nazis to riot and terrorize the population; since the Interior Ministry directed the police, nothing was done to prevent the violence. The chaos provided an excellent subterfuge for German military intervention, and so von Schuschnigg resorted to two desperate expedients: He sought assistance from Mussolini and announced, in a speech on March 9, that a plebiscite on the question of whether or not to unite Austria with Germany would be presented to the Austrian electorate on March 13. Had they been allowed to vote, Austrians surely would have rejected the Anschluss, and this would have seriously undercut Hitler’s assertions that the vast majority of Austrians wanted to merge with the Third Reich.

After an initial burst of rage, Hitler ordered that preparations for a military move into Austria be prepared under the code name Case Otto. On March 10, responding to Hitler’s request, Mussolini abandoned Austria and stated his support for Anschluss. On March 11, von Schuschnigg was confronted with the massing of German troops along his borders and a demand from Hitler and Field Marshal Hermann Göring that the plebiscite be canceled. No sooner had von Schuschnigg done so than Göring upped the ante, insisting that von Schuschnigg be replaced by Seyss-Inquart. Although von Schuschnigg resigned, Austrian president Wilhelm Miklas refused to confirm Seyss-Inquart as chancellor. The stalemate lasted into the evening: The sixty-six-year-old Miklas refused to bend, even under intense pressure, until nearly midnight. By this time the invasion was already under way; Seyss-Inquart had long since agreed to authorize the arrival of German troops.

The German army entered without opposition, and the path was cleared for Hitler to make his triumphant entrance. On March 13, an Anschluss law was drafted, and Hitler drove into Vienna the next day. A plebiscite on the Anschluss was scheduled to take place on April 10. By that time it had become obvious that there would be no interference from the Western European democracies. France’s government had fallen on March 11, and the French were not able to re-form a ministry until the German takeover was complete. In Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop worked to assuage the government of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, which was already committed to appeasement. In a March 14 speech to Parliament, Chamberlain announced his acceptance of what had transpired and his reluctance to resort to force. With the Gestapo arresting Austrian opponents of the Nazi regime and intimidating all dissenting voices, the results of the April 10 plebiscite were—as a foregone conclusion—overwhelmingly in support of the Anschluss.

Significance

The Anschluss was a significant stepping-stone in Hitler’s grand scheme to build German military strength and secure both domination over Western Europe and the destruction of the Soviet Union. The success of the Anschluss contributed to Hitler’s delusory legend of invincibility, and it foreshadowed a pattern that would be repeated in nearly every formerly sovereign state that fell to Nazi influence. In each of these cases, Jewish populations were singled out for the persecution that would culminate in the Holocaust. Anschluss Nazi Germany;Anschluss Austria;invasion by Germany Germany;invasion of Austria World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];prewar period

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bischof, Gunter, Anton Pelinka, and Alexander Lassner, eds. The Dollfuss-Schuschnigg Era in Austria: A Reassessment. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2003. Emphasis in placed on the foreign policy miscalculations of the Schuschnigg regime, which the authors see as a major factor behind the implementation of the Anchluss in Austria.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eimerl, Sarel. Hitler over Europe: The Road to World War II. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972. Falls somewhat short in its depiction of the role of the international community in this affair and views the implementation of the Anschluss as not being a smoothly run operation as much as it was a haphazard adventure that was carried to fruition through Hitler’s brazen psychological ploys.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kershaw, Ian. Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. Concludes that the key to the success of the Anschluss was Hitler’s dexterity in steering the middle road between the extremist views of Göring and those of Papen.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill; Alone, 1932-1940. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988. Asserts that the plebiscite issue marked the critical point in Hitler’s decision to annex Austria openly rather than maintain the sham of a puppet state.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. 30th anniversary ed. New York: Ballantine, 1991. Classic work presents one of the most complete accounts available of Hitler’s browbeating of Schuschnigg and Schmidt at Berchtesgaden. As a foreign correspondent in Vienna, the author was witness to many events connected to the Anschluss.

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