“1939 – The War That Had Many Fathers,” by Gerd Schultze-Rhonhof.
The author continues with an examination of the details behind Hitler’s annexation of Austria into Germany. I suspect that, in the eyes of the politically correct, the author will cross some lines when it comes to describing the actions of Hitler.
The author attempts to answer the question: “What induced my father’s generation to follow Adolf Hitler into a new war, just 20 years after the end of World War I?”
As he makes clear in the title, the author finds many “fathers” of this war – it isn’t solely Hitler that plunged Europe into a new darkness just twenty years after the last. Conceptually, the author is on safe ground here – many historians also find several actions by all parties that led to the Second World War.
Now, to the Anschluss. First, from Wikipedia:
The Anschluss, also known as the Anschluss Österreichs, was the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938. This was in contrast with the Anschluss movement (Austria and Germany united as one country), which had been attempted since as early as 1918 when the Republic of German-Austria attempted union with Germany which was forbidden by the Treaty of Saint Germain and Treaty of Versailles peace treaties.
Schultze-Rhonhof provides a somewhat different interpretation. The translator of this work begins by explaining the term “Anschluss”:
…the word has traditionally been translated into English as “annexation.” But German has other words which properly note “annexation”… And since “annexation”…may refer to a unification against the will of the people annexed and since Germany at the Nuremburg Trials was explicitly charged with having “annexed” Austria against the will of its people, Schultze-Rhonhof believes that “annexation” is a mistranslation of Anschluss and has requested that I… translate the noun Anschluss rather as “union,” unification,” or “reunification…” (Page 109, translator’s footnote)
As I mentioned in an earlier post, in Germany after the Second World War, it is required that all decisions of Nuremberg must be respected – including within the education curriculum. This includes the charge of annexation.
This does not seem inconsistent with the definition here:
…union, especially the political union of Austria with Germany in 1938. Origin: 1920–25; < German: consolidation, joining together
So was it annexation, or union?
Applying definitional purity to the term does not necessarily explain the actions of Germany to cause this “union” between Austria and Germany in 1938. To better explain his position, the author begins with a look at the history – extending more than 1000 years:
The community of the German lands as a state, including those which later form the state of Austria, begins in the year 911 with the election of Konrad I as King of East Frankenreich…. (Page 120)
Conrad I (German: Konrad; c. 890 – 23 December 918), called the Younger, was Duke of Franconia from 906 and King of Germany from 911 to 918, the only king of the Conradine (or Franconian) dynasty. Though Conrad never used the title rex Teutonicorum ("king of the Germans") nor rex Romanorum ("King of the Romans"), he was the first king of East Francia who was elected by the rulers of the German stem duchies as successor of the last Carolingian ruler Louis the Child. His Kingdom of Germany evolved into the Holy Roman Empire upon the coronation of Emperor Otto I in 962.
German “stem duchies”:
The Stem duchies (German: Stammesherzogtümer, from Stamm, literally "tribe") were essentially the domains of the old Germanic tribes of the area associated with the Frankish Kingdom, especially the Eastern part upon the 843 partition by the Treaty of Verdun, in the Early Middle Ages.
The author identifies several of the princes that take turns wearing the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, ending up with a prince from the House of Hapsburg:
So the pieces of land belonging to House of Hapsburg are for nearly a millennium an integral part of the German Reich, and the Hapsburg princes during the last 368 years are at the same time the Kings and Kaisers of Germany. (Page 120-121)
Eventually, culminating with the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866, the control of the empire comes to the Prussians. As if to demonstrate the hodge-podge of borders, states, and tribes still in evidence at this time, consider the alliances for the battle:
The Kaiser [of Hapsburg] in this war leads once again the majority of all German states, the kingdoms of Hannover, Saxony, Württemberg and Bavaria…. On the side of Prussia stand only the Principality of Lippe and the Duchy of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha…. (Page 122)
In this battle, as in much of European history (and much of history everywhere), there is little that resembles the boundaries of the current states – note that many of the participants were entities with dis-continuous lands.
The author is not describing this history for the purpose of demonstrating a legal claim by Hitler on Austria, but instead to demonstrate the long and traditional ties of the people that populated this part of Europe.
Meanwhile, there have been discussions and assemblies beginning in the mid-nineteenth century regarding the future composition of Germany:
In October 1848 in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt, the German National Assembly stands before the question of whether Germany in the future should be a “little Germany” (Kleindeutschland) without Austria, or a “Great Germany” (Großdeutschland) that includes the German principalities of Hapsburg. (Page 150)
In 1871, the decision is ultimately made for the little Germany. But the story doesn’t end. After the Great War, the desire to reunite is demonstrated in both Germany and Austria, including the nearly unanimous vote in Austria of a law that Austria will become an integral part of Germany. In Germany, similar events occur. (Page 124) This is before they see the terms waiting for them in Paris.
…the victorious powers immediately put the kibosh on this kind of self-determination by the peoples. When the Austrian delegation arrives at Saint-Germain, it is immediately told that it is forbidden for the Republic of Austria to attach itself to Germany…. (Page 124-125)
State Chancellor Dr. Renner makes a protest, based on Wilson’s 14 points: He receives the answer that this in no way applies to the defeated. (Page 125)
On this point and virtually every other, there is no negotiation regarding the points in the treaty. To emphasize the point, Renner is given only a few days to approve the treaty under the threat of renewing the food blockade, which anyway was kept in force for more than seven months after the end of hostilities. Germany, with a similar clause inserted, is held under similar threat of blackmail.
After the treaty, the economies of both Germany and Austria are struggling. Hyperinflation and unemployment are symptomatic of the situation. In 1931, Germany and Austria conclude an Economic and Customs Union. This is determined by the Court of The Hague to be a breach of Article 88 of the Treaty of Saint-Germaine.
After crisis follows crisis in the Austrian Parliament, the parliament deposes Chancellor Dollfuss on 15 March 1933. Dollfuss reacts by having the police occupy the parliament building, no longer allowing the National Council to meet. Thereafter, Austria is functionally operating as a dictatorship. (Page 129)
Kurt Schusnigg follows as chancellor after the death of Dollfuss. It is Schussnigg that meets with Hitler on 12 February 1938, receiving Hitler’s terms for resolving the separation of Germany and Austria – as was desired by the two states immediately after the Great War. Schussnigg along with others in the Austrian government, attempt to circumvent Hitler’s ultimatum by publicly calling for a referendum. He announces this on 9 March, with the referendum to be held on 13 March – in just four days.
Despite the various attempts to bring union between Germany and Austria since the end of the Great War – including parliamentary votes to this effect in both countries in 1919 – and significant public support, Schussnigg’s intent is to ensure the referendum for “yes” to an independent Austria will pass. He attempts this by manipulating the voting process, for example:
- There are no current voter rolls, the last national election being held eight years earlier.
- The oversight and counting of the vote will be carried out only by members within the Austrian government – officials from any opposition will be excluded.
- The minimum voting age is raised to 24, Schussnigg believing that younger voters will be more inclined to vote for Anschluss.
- The members of the public sector will vote together as a bloc the day before the national election, under supervision of a superior authority; they must cast their votes in the open.
- The ballots available at the polling stations are preprinted only with a “Yes” – in other words, yes to independence. In order to vote “No” to independence (and therefore yes to Anschluss), the voter must bring a piece of paper with the word “No” on it….
“A ballot…with ‘Yes’ printed or written on one side is valid, even if the word is crossed out or if there are other words alongside it. Also partially torn pieces of paper with ‘Yes’ printed or written on them count as yes-votes. Those persons who wish to vote ‘No’ must, according to the above regulation, write ‘No’ by hand on a piece of paper of the same size. Pieces of paper containing the word ‘No’ along with some additional words are invalid. Completely empty ballots count as yes-votes….” (Page 139)
- Finally, the timing of the election (without prior consultation of the cabinet) is unconstitutional.
On 11 March, Ministers Seyss-Inquart and Glaise-Horstenau, both Austrian National Socialists and in contact already with the Nazis in Germany, presented an ultimatum to Chancellor Schussnigg in their name and the name of other cabinet members. In this letter, they demanded several conditions regarding the proposed referendum – fundamentally asking for proper time and inclusion of all political parties in the propaganda and monitoring. This ultimatum came with a one hour deadline. (Page 139-140)
Hitler, of course, is using the laws of Austria to his advantage and towards his objectives. The demands, according to Schultze-Rhonhof, are asking for nothing more than fairness and compliance with the law and constitution. In any case, Schussnigg agrees to discuss the conditions but not the timing of the elections. After this, Seyss-Inquart calls Minister Göring in Germany.
In the meantime, Hitler has already acted. On 10 March, the day after the announcement of the election, Hitler gives the order that Wehrmacht divisions are to march into Austria on 12 March – one day before the scheduled elections. His orders still leave open that other measures are still possible to avoid the military march, and also that Austrians are to be treated like brothers, not enemies.
Before this directive was issued, there were apparently no orders in Germany for an invasion of Austria. It is a few hours after Hitler issues this directive that Göring receives the previously noted call from Seyss-Inquart. Upon this call, Hitler decides there is no alternative but to march. (Page 141-142)
Schussnigg is notified that the time is up – he must resign and place Seyss-Inquart in the position of Chancellor. Eventually, the replacement is made, but by this time Hitler will not call off the invasion. German troops come into Austria, greeted by cheers. By the evening of 13 March, after the signing into law in both Germany and Austria the various necessities recognizing the new relationship of the two countries, the Anschluss is complete.
One month later, on 10 April, a referendum is held for the reunification. It passes with 99.73% in favor. (Page 150)
Of course, there are two possible interpretations of this result. One, certainly, is that the election was manipulated and / or many voted for Anschluss out of fear of getting on the wrong side of the Nazis. Alternatively, given the very poor condition of the Austrian economy and the resurgence of the German economy under Hitler, many saw this change as an opportunity for economic salvation. My suspicion – and I am no expert on this election, so it is speculation – is that both likely came into play.
There is one certainty. After the Great War, the Allies, when they had control of the situation, could have held the elections as promised by Wilson and as the Germans and Austrians believed (at the time of their surrender, and until they travelled to Paris) would be held. This, the Allies did not do. At that time, there was quite clear support in both countries for a reunion, and further attempts were made in the years following – attempts rebuffed by the Allies.
As the author makes clear – and many in the west have written the same both before and after these events in 1938 – this was one of many grievances held by the Germans, and exploited politically by Hitler. From the viewpoint of the Germans, this was a wrong being righted.
Worse for the fate of Europe, this event increased Hitler’s confidence. He was able to directly violate the rules of Versailles and Saint-Germaine – without the concurrence of the United States, France, or Britain. He was able to proceed to Austria also against the advice of many of his generals (as had also occurred in the Rhineland).
What Hitler learned, rightly or wrongly, was that the Allies would not stop him and that his generals were too cautious.
What the author suggests is that the Anschluss, from the eyes of many in Germany and Austria at the time, was nothing more than the Germans forcing fulfillment of a promise made by Wilson.