An Essay on The Annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany 12/3/1938
The appalling trampling upon the free and noble Austria by the Nazi Party and its standing Army, to establish German tutelage in 1930’s Austria without even a gun raised in anger in opposition.
1. Opening Remarks
Austria had been part of the Hapsburg Empire pre 1918 and therefore had not been included in Bismarck’s Germany created in 1871. The Hapsburgs had retained their sovereignty despite losing the battle of Koniggratz to Bismarck’s Army in 1866. The Hapsburg Empire then fought alongside the Imperial Germany Army in the Great War to her defeat and dismantlement of the Hapsburg Empire which had been centred on Vienna and Budapest (The dual Monarchy) in 1918. Austria was created out of this dual monarchy as an independent sovereign state in 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles as with several other Central and South Eastern European nations: e.g. Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria.
Germany under Hitler broke the Treaty of Versailles by annexing Austria in 1938 and thereby unifying Austria with Nazi Germany. The Western Allies: Britain and France in particular and even the USA stood idly by in the face of this flagrant breach by Germany of her treaty obligations. Those allies were bound to take action through the League of Nations to stop and rectify this rape of Austria – nothing was done to preserve Austria from Nazi hegemony. The woman who is raped can be pummelled into submissive acquiescence as with Austria. Yes, Austria was the victim of a rapacious dictatorship hell bent on ruling Europe militarily and politically and she was brutally raped.
3. How was this rape carried out under the noses of the allies and democratic Austrians?
By organizing a mass demonstration and impugning the attempt at a referendum by the lawful government in March 1938 and thereby effectively the German Nazis frightened that referendum into the bushes. Hitler used his military muscle to invade Austria knowing Britain and France would not declare war over Austria despite it being at the heart of Europe and with a very special lineage. Hitler was the bully sheltering behind the supposed majority of Austrians who desired the Anschluss as it is called. Once Hitler had invaded there was no chance of fair play – the illegal demands with menaces had openly been made. The Nazis said there was an almost 100% support for the annexation on 10th April 1938 by plebiscite. That clearly speaks for itself as complete fantasy. The plebiscite was simply unrealistic to the extreme. By then the Nazis had occupied Austria militarily and 70,000 people had been arrested. Austria had been softened up for the plebiscite and the vote was not secret. Nazi propaganda known to be fallacious also had its effect on the ordinary Austrian. How could the Austrians have got the Germans out of Austria if they had voted against annexation. Clearly such an outcome to evict the Germans was pie in the sky. Britain and France had made clear by the time of the plebiscite (10/4/38) they were not taking action against Germany, sheer defeatism. We were not at war with Nazi Germany when clearly we should have been. Austria had no choice but to acquiesce reluctantly and silently in her rape or receive more punishment. The signals coming from Britain and France and the USA were “do not make life more difficult for yourself.” Hitler had a field day in his homecoming to his much loved Vienna and Austria of his early life.
4. The Catholic Church
Interestingly the Catholic Church who had no military power exerted strong moral pressure on Germany over the annexation. Cardinal Pacelli the Vatican Secretary of State and later Pope Pius XII condemned pro-German Austrian Bishops for supporting the Anschluss. He went on to say forcefully the annexation was not compatible with God’s Law. Strong and true words indeed. Austria was and is a strongly Roman Catholic Country. Pacelli’s stand is quite remarkable in the light of France and British vacillation and his outright and defiant condemnation of the actions of Nazi Germany with all its burgeoning power is truly courageous for a modern day Pope.
The matter turns on England and France. The USA was in isolationism and would not be tempted out of it. Oh! for a Johnson or Kennedy to take the helm. How should Britain and France have reacted? We should firstly have secured Russian support long before the Nazi-Soviet Pact (August 1939). With Russian support for the Anglo-French alliance Germany was weaker considerably. Russia was a potential threat to Poland’s frontiers but not mainland Britain or continental France. Russia had every reason to fear Germany’s military might to her west (look at World War 1). Russia was our natural ally and by the Anschluss Germany staked her claim to lebensraum (hunger for land) in Central and Eastern Europe. That hunger would lead Hitler into war with Russia as Stalin knew full well. One dictator knows another. Don’t fool yourself there was no trust between Stalin and Hitler. They would eventually fight each other to a standstill at Stalingrad. Stalin could see the rape of Austria and was prepared for the gang bang in Poland (1939). When Barbarossa came in June 1941 Stalin had his troops to meet it and he knew he could stretch German resources and communication lines as at Stalingrad 1942/43. He was one step ahead of Hitler who would never make the tactical withdrawal. Why not let Austria enter the war on the German side: Because Hitler wanted his cake and eat it. Too much too soon. Austria was pillaged as was Poland and Western Russia by Hitler. The old Austria died in 1938 – the edelweiss was never to blossom and grow again save in the hearts of Captain von Trapp and his spouse Maria.