What did Hitler achieve through the Anschluss?

Background current

On March 11, 1938, Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Austria. At that time, many Austrians cheered the "Anschluss" to the German Empire. After the end of the war, however, the newly founded Second Republic presented itself as a victim. How is the role of the country during National Socialism remembered today?

German troops in Austria on March 12, 1938. (& copy picture alliance / Heritage Images)

Since the end of the First World War, large parts of the population in the German Reich and in the Republic of Austria had hoped for the unification of the two states - but the victorious allied powers prohibited this. After the National Socialists came to power in the German Reich on January 30, 1933, National Socialists also attempted a coup in Austria on July 25, 1934. This was supported by Hitler, but was unsuccessful.

In 1938, as part of the German National Socialists' expansion plans to Eastern and Central Europe, Austria was the first country in the sights of the NSDAP. On February 12, 1938, Hitler met the Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg and wanted to force an agreement on him through which the Austrian National Socialists, who had been banned in Austria since 1933, were to be allowed again and also to participate in the government.

Schuschnigg's contradiction

But Schuschnigg resisted. He did not want to give up his dictatorial power in the Austro-Fascist "corporate state" he introduced in 1934 - an authoritarian one-party system based on Italian fascism that was organized as a corporate state. So he announced a referendum for the independence of Austria. Hitler then set a military ultimatum: Schuschnigg should hand over his office to the leader of the Austrian National Socialists, Arthur Seyß-Inquart. Otherwise, German troops would march in. Schuschnigg tried in vain to get support from the Western powers. He finally resigned on March 11, 1938. When Austria's Federal President Wilhelm Miklas refused to appoint Seyss-Inquart as Austrian Federal Chancellor on the same day, Hitler issued the order to march.

Persecution of Jews in Austria

On the morning of March 12, 1938, the Wehrmacht crossed the border to Austria - and met no resistance whatsoever. On the contrary: the German troops were greeted enthusiastically. Three days later, in front of over a hundred thousand cheering people on Heldenplatz in Vienna, Hitler announced the "annexation" of Austria to the German Reich. In a "referendum that was by no means based on free and democratic principles," as Claudia Prinz writes for the German Historical Museum, they voted on April 10, 1938, according to official information, 99.73 percent of the Austrian population and 99.01 percent of the Germans for the "Anschluss". In the "Ostmark", as Austria was now called, there were massive riots against the Jewish population. In the first six weeks after the "Anschluss" over 70,000 Jews were arrested. On April 1, 1938, the transports to the Dachau concentration camp began.

Allies: "Victims of Austria"

During the Second World War Great Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union declared in the so-called Moscow Declaration of 1943 that the occupation of Austria was "null and void". Austria was "the first free country" to fall victim to Hitler's policy of aggression The declaration also states that Austria bears “a responsibility for participating in the war on the side of Hitler-Germany.” But the clause on Austria's responsibility was quickly forgotten. The narrative that Austria was Hitler's first victim was initially far more dominant When the country regained its sovereignty with the State Treaty of 1955, the Austrian Foreign Minister Leopold Figl succeeded in removing the reference to Austria's joint responsibility from the document. "Only with the Waldheim Affair in 1986 did this [victim thesis] come into play. wavered, and in 1991, Federal Chancellor Vranitzky, for the first time, an official representative of Mits chuld Österreichs ", wrote Meret Baumann, Austria correspondent of the" Neue Zürcher Zeitung ", in May 2015. The Waldheim affair describes the international debate about the involvement of the then Federal President Kurt Waldheims in National Socialist war crimes in the Wehrmacht. His Wehrmacht past caused the first major public debate about Austria's Nazi past.

Commemorative and commemorative year 2018

In the Austrian anniversary year 2018 - in which, among other things, the founding of the republic 100 years ago is celebrated - the "Anschluss" is also the focus of public interest. As early as 2016, the Austrian Federal Government set up an "Advisory Council for the Year of Commemoration and Remembrance 2018" chaired by former Federal President Heinz Fischer. He initiated the website www.oesterreich100.at, which lists information on the "Anschluss" and the November pogrom of 1938 as well as numerous events on the topic. One of the most innovative projects is the "Zeituhr 1938" of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. From March 11th, 6 pm, 220 key events of the "Anschluss" will be presented in chronological order - as a projection on the facade of the Federal Chancellery, as a live ticker on the Internet and as digital postcards for the smartphone. This multimedia processing of the "Anschluss" is primarily intended to reach young people and encourage them to come to terms with Austria's Nazi past.

ÖVP-FPÖ government: "Paradigm shift"

Regarding the "collective memory" of the "Anschluss" there are similar assessments in Austria from politics and science. The ÖVP-FPÖ government in office since December 2017 diagnosed "a paradigm shift" in Austrian politics in the last few decades - as the Federal Chancellery announced when asked. Today there is "the insight that Austria was not only a victim of National Socialist aggression, but that too Austrians were involved in the Nazi crimes and the Shoah ”.

Historian: "Multidimensional Events"

From the point of view of the historian Heidemarie Uhl from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the victim myth is "hardly relevant". The "Anschluss" is now seen as a "multi-dimensional event". Today, the "shared responsibility of Austrians" is in the foreground. For the most part, the "Anschluss" will certainly still be remembered as a German invasion, adds political scientist and historian Florian Wenninger from the University of Vienna. "Unlike in the past, however, it is no longer a taboo to talk about the fact that this military invasion is frenetically cheered "There is a heightened awareness that the Schuschnigg government" was not a noble defensive project against National Socialism, but rather a dictatorship that was unpopular in large parts of the population and acted in a bumbling manner towards Hitler. "

To research: "Inner connection" and pogrom

Both Uhl and Wenninger agree that two points still need to be worked on. "What we most lack is on the one hand an examination of the 'inner connection', that is, with the fact that when German troops arrived in many places, local Nazis were already able to take power," said Wenninger. "How the Austro-Fascist system imploded and Nazis were able to take over the reins of action as quickly as possible, should deserve more attention. ”On the other hand,“ the immediate hunt for the Jewish population ”continues to shock massively, emphasizes Uhl.“ The 'Anschluss' pogrom was not ordered from above. “In March 1938, Jews were forced to" clean "Vienna's streets. They were supposed to remove billboards, advertising pillars and shop windows from advertisements for the referendum on the independence of Austria on March 13, 1938 planned by the deposed Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg. Ordinary Viennese would have mocked the Jews and forced them to clean the streets. The purge "became popular amusement".

"Connection" present in the textbook

According to the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, the Austrian education system has had an intensive discussion of National Socialism and Austria's responsibility as a compulsory subject matter in the classroom since the 1970s. A learning website has been developed for schools for the "Anschluss" commemoration in 2018. At the center of the project are excerpts from video interviews with seven Austrian contemporary witnesses. They report on how they survived the Nazi terror. " The topic of 'connection' is included in every Austrian history book, ”confirms Professor Wolfgang Buchberger, head of the Federal Center for Social Learning at the Salzburg University of Education. "The political events in 1938 around the so-called Anschluss are described in particular, the mass enthusiasm at Hitler's speech at Heldenplatz in Vienna, the referendum on April 10, which cannot be described as free, and above all the Austrian victim myth in connection with it."

Warning of a personalizing image of history

The ministerially appointed textbook appraiser Buchberger also warns: In rare cases, a personalized representation of National Socialism is still available in schoolbooks - "in the sense that Hitler appears as an all-encompassing political agent." Even if the one-sided Hitler myth in the schoolbook has been broken According to a Salzburg study on "Dealing with National Socialism, the Holocaust and the Culture of Remembrance" in 2017, schoolchildren should "tend to present a personalized view of history" According to the history and political didactic Buchberger, the victim myth is definitely present among schoolchildren. "This must be clearly counteracted."

In a study by the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard" from 2013, 42% of those questioned saw Austria in a victim role with regard to the "Anschluss" to Germany. 61% were also of the opinion that the Nazi era in Austria had already been adequately dealt with. The Simon Wiesenthal Center (Jewish, politically active international non-governmental organization) had also criticized the Austrian authorities with regard to the persecution of Nazi perpetrators in a report from 2017. They accused the Austrian authorities of a lack of political will because in a For a period of forty years not a single Nazi war criminal was convicted in a court in Austria.

More on the subject: