The 11th of March 1938 AD
Debate still rages about the nature of the Anschluss in March 1938, when Austria became a part of Hitler’s Germany. Was Austria the victim of an invasion? Or did that country welcome Nazi control? The two are not mutually exclusive.
The situation in Austria prior to the move was hardly cream-cakes and democracy: civil wars had erupted earlier in the decade; the Depression had devastated the country’s economy; the influence of Hitler was evident, particularly among the young in Austria; and the government was already authoritarian.
Hitler made it clear in Mein Kampf that he intended to bring about a union with Austria. The Nazis in Austria had already tried to seize power in a coup in 1934. When in March 1938 a plebiscite was announced to decide on union with Germany (in the expectation of a strong rejection of the idea) Hitler acted, emboldened by the lack of reaction to his retaking of the Saar region, and fearing the vote might go against him. Himmler flew to Vienna to arrest key opposition figures; German troops poured unopposed over the border. Neville Chamberlain may not have terrified Hitler by announcing ‘a fresh review’ to decide what steps to take ‘in due course’.
On April 2 Hitler was able to address a huge adoring crowd in Vienna; by that time thousands of potential opponents had been detained. The plebiscite was arranged for April 10, when 99.73 per cent supposedly voted in favour of the union. Admittedly hundreds of thousands of those likely to vote against it were excluded from the process; and the voting was not secret; but it is hard not to conclude the vast majority of Austrians welcomed the Nazis, a far cry from The Sound of Music victim status Austria assumed after the war, and still likes to cling to.
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