The word ‘Anschluss’ refers to the official annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March, 1938. Prior to the annexation, there had been strong support (in both Austria and Germany) for the union of both countries. The Hapsburg Monarchy and the Austrian Empire had been in favor of the Greater German Solution.
The idea was to unite all German-speaking people into one state, under one rule. The annexation, however, changed global perceptions with regards to grouping all German people together, irrespective of choice.
Below is the time-line describing the important events leading up to the annexation of Austria.
By the end of the First World War, Austria had been completely excluded from internal German affairs for more than fifty years. Popular opinion within Austria favored a union with Germany, but this was forbidden by the Peace Treaties (Treaty of Versailles and Treaty of Saint Germaine).
The prohibition of the Anschluss failed to provide the right of self-determination to many Germans living outside of Germany. The constitutions of both the Wiemar Republic and the First Austrian Republic supported a unified state. The Austrian government began to search for a way to unify with Germany once and for all.
Austria suffered greatly during the Great Depression. The country had a high unemployment rate and an unstable industry. However, when the Nazis rose to power in Germany, Austria started to back away from its initial desire of a union with Germany.
A political establishment in Wiemar Germany, it was the precursor to the Nazi Party. Officially known as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, it lasted for only one year, from 1919 to 1920. When Hitler joined the party, he was the fifty-fifth member. He became its most active orator after his first speech for the DAP at the Hofbräukeller (a restaurant in Munich). The DAP was converted to the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 1920.
The 25-point Program was the German adaptation of Jung’s earlier Austro-Bohemian Program. The National Socialist Program (1920) stated, ‘We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people’s right to self-determination.’ The Program, other than claiming that the German race was superior and must be given the power to rule, also stated that the central parliament must be given unlimited authority over the entire Reich and its organizations in general.
Hitler wanted to create a Great German Reich and dethrone the Hapsburg’s, who he claimed were ‘the most miserable dynasty ever ruling.’
By the end of the First World War, the Austrian empire was in ruins. Austria was reduced to the main, mostly German-speaking areas of its former empire. As a result, it adopted the name The ‘Republic of German-Austria’. Since the Treaty of Versailles forbade any union between Germany and Austria, the name was changed to the ‘First Austrian Republic’.
The country became overrun by fascism when Chancellor Dollfuss dissolved the parliament in 1933. However, political competition with the Austrian Nazi Party created upheaval and eventually led to the Austrian Civil War, and the fall of the First Austrian Republic. When Austria finally re-emerged on the international scene at the end of the Austrian Civil War, it was a changed country.
The Austro-German Agreement was signed between Austria (represented by Schuschnigg) and Germany (represented by Hitler) on July 11, 1936. In accordance with the charter, Germany agreed to recognize Austria as an independent, sovereign nation while Austria, for her part, agreed to favor Germany in its policies.
These were a series of economic measures introduced by Adolf Hitler in Germany after he came to power. Hermann Wilhelm Göring, who was President of the Reichstag and one of the most powerful political figures in Nazi Germany, was put in charge of these changes. The plan focused on the rearmament of Germany. Hitler wished to make the country self-sufficient within a four-year time period.
The Plan focused on reducing the rate of unemployment, undertaking numerous public work projects, increasing automobile production and, finally, rebuilding the nation’s military defenses.
By this time, Hitler had begun to feel strong enough to create a union with Austria for a unified German Reich. Since this was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles, he planned his tactics carefully. The Austrian Nazi Party was ordered to stir up trouble within the country. As a result, they began to hold parades, set buildings aflame, and organized fights in an attempt to create havoc. The Austrian government was forced to ban the Party to put a stop to the attacks.
Kurt Schuschnigg was the Chancellor of the First Republic of Austria. While he accepted Austria’s German lineage, he was strongly opposed to Hitler’s plan to absorb Austria into the German Reich and fought to remain independent. On February 12, 1938, he met Hitler at his Berghof residence to smooth the worsening relations between the two countries.
However, Hitler met him with a list of demands that he presented as an ultimatum, threatening to invade Austria if Schuschnigg did not give all important government jobs to Nazi-sympathizers. He also demanded that all imprisoned Nazis were to be immediately reinstated and amnestied. Further, a hundred officers would be exchanged between the armies of both countries.
Schuschnigg was forced to sign the agreement before he was allowed to leave Berchtesgaden. When Britain and France refused to help Austria against Nazi advances, Schuschnigg announced his intention to hold a plebiscite and let the people of Austria decide for themselves. Hitler, in response, moved his troops to the Austrian border and demanded that Schuschnigg call off the plebiscite or face an attack. Schuschnigg had no other choice but to resign immediately.
Seyss-Inquart, the Nazi Minister of Interior appointed by Schuschnigg as a result of Hitler’s coerced agreement, immediately asked Hitler to send the German Army into Austria upon taking office. On March 13, 1938, the German Army invaded Austria using this invitation as an ‘official invitation’ from Austria.