Joyous celebrations elcoming the German soldiers occurred througout Austria. There is no doubt looking at the images that Austrians wanted to be part of the new German Reich. German playwright Carl Zuckmayer (1896-1977) had moved to Austria in 1936 fleeing Hitler and the NAZIs. He described what happened in Vienna in his autobiography. Vienna during the first few days of the Anchluss was a city transformed "into a nightmare painting of Hieronymus Bosch." It writes that is was as if, " Hades had opened its gates and vomited forth the basest, most despicable, most horrible demons. In the course of my life I had seen something of untrammeled human insights of horror or panic. I had taken part in a dozen battles in the First World War, had experienced barrages, gassings, going over the top. I had witnessed the turmoil of the post-war era, the crushing uprisings, street battles, meeting hall brawls. I was present among the bystanders during the Hitler Putsch in 1923 in Munich. I saw the early period of Nazi rule in Berlin. But none of this was comparable to those days in Vienna. What was unleashed upon Vienna had nothing to do with seizure of power in Germany ... What was unleashed upon Vienna was a torrent of envy, jealousy, bitterness, blind, malignant craving for revenge. All better instincts were silenced ... only the torpid masses had been unchained ... It was the witch's Sabbath of the mob. All that makes for human dignity was buried." [Zuckmayer] Unlike some such events, this was not an invention of Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry. There was widespread support for Anschluss among the Austrian people. [Davidson, p. 192.] The Anschluss became known as the "flower war" as flowers and arms outstraeched in the NAZI salute greeted the Wehrmacht as they drove toward Vienna. Hitler entered Austria the following day (March 13). Hiter motored into Austria and was jubiantly cheered by people lining the roads and streets. Speaking before a jubilent crowd in Linz, announced the "Anschluss" (Annexation) of Austria into the German Reich.
Unlike some such events, this was not an invention of Goebbels's Propaganda Ministry. The NAZIs took some steps to ensure a positive reception. Expecting Austrians to vote in favor of continued autonomy in a Referendum scheduled for March 13, the NAZIs launched a carefully planned internal overthrow by the Austrian Nazi Party (March 11). This prevented the Referendum. SS Commander Heinrich Himmler and a group of SS officers lflew into Vienna to organize the arrest of prominent Austrian officials who had attempted to opose the Anchluss. This included Richard Schmitz, Leopold Figl, Friedrich Hillegeist and Franz Olah. Once the Austrian police were fully under NAZI control. mass arrests began. Targets included Social Democrats, Communists and others mostly likely to resist NAZI control.
Also arrested in large numbers were Jews. Those arrested were inprisoned in Austrian jails or trabsported to the well prepared concentratioin camps in the Reich. Within only a few days the arrests had exceeded 70,000 people.
There was widespread support for Anschluss among the Austrian people. [Davidson, p. 192.] Joyous celebrations welcoming the German soldiers who crossed the border occurred througout Austria (March 11). There is no doubt looking at the images that Austrians wanted to be part of the new German Reich. We see cheering grounds that assembled on their own volition. There was cheering and bands playing. Photographiv images clealy show a jubilent approval of the Anschluss. These were not manufactured crowds. And the look on the faces of the people in the crods leave no doubt as to how the Vienese and ither Austrians felt.
While most photographs of the Anscluss focus on the celebrations, not photographed were the mass arrests underway. Thousand of Austrians were arrested and held in Austrian jails are transported across the now non-esistent border to concentration camps in the Reich. Thousands of Austrians also tried to escape..
Many importabt Austrians not arrested publically proclaimed their support of the Anschluss as well as relief that it was accomplished without violence. Cardinal Theodor Innitzer, an important figure in the Catholic nationalist Christian Social Party (CS), declared March 12, ""The Viennese Catholics should thank the Lord for the bloodless way this great political change has occurred, and they should pray for a great future for Austria. Needless to say, everyone should obey the orders of the new institutions." The other Austrian bishops would soon follow with similar statements which the Vatican did not approve.
Austrian minority Protestants were even more approving than Catholics. Robert Kauer, president of the Lutheran Church in Austria, greeted Hitler (March 13). He welcomed Hitler as "saviour of the 350,000 German Protestants in Austria and liberator from a five-year hardship". Karl Renner, the best known Social Democrat of the First Republic, announced his support appealed to all Austrians to vote in favor in the Referdum scheduled April 10.
The Wehrmacht crossed the Austrian border (March 11). There were no shots fired, except as one author mentions, Jews commoting suiside. [Roberts, p. 7.] They encountered wuidespread popular support. The Anschluss became known as the "flower war" as flowers and arms outstraeched in the NAZI salute greeted the Wehrmacht as they drove toward Vienna. The Wehrmacht would acquire a forbidable abnd feared reputation during Wotld War II. And they would commit terrible attricities, often supporting SS operations against civilians. But in the early years the Wehrmacht was welcomed by the German populations that Hitler brought back into the Reich, such as the Saaerland (1935) or the remilitarizatiion of the Rhinreland (1936). The Anschluss was more of these operations. As was the Sudetenland a few months later (October 1938). The men of the Wehrmacht much have felt great pride with these achivements. It would not be hard to understand that they saw themselves as liberators. This only changed shortly before the war when Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht into what remained of Czechoslovskia (March 1939). This was Hitler's first seizure of a non-German populstion. The images we have found all show a very positive Austrian respinse to the Wehrmacht. This reception could have not have been mnufactured. There werw Austrians who opposed the Anschluss. Some were arrested. Others understanding the depths of the public reaction had the good sence to be quiet. There are countless images of Austrians warmly receiving the Wehrmacht, both crowds and individuals.
Hitler entered Austria the following day (March 13). He motored into Austria and was jubiantly cheered by people lining the roads and streets. Hitler and the GWehrmacht were greeted by huge crowds in places such as Braunau, Linz, Salzburg, and Vienna. All seemed happy, actually hubilent, over both Hitler and the Anschluß. Speaking before a jubilent crowd in Linz, announced the 'Anschluß' (Annexation) of Austria into the German Reich. Linz was the town of his youth. Next he arrived in Vienna. He spoke to cheering crowds. A packed stadium greeted the Führer in alburg. The well-orchestrated arrival at the Heldenplatz in Vienna was broadcast by radio around the world. The sound of an enthusiastic crowd was loud. There were also bands playing. An Austrian broadcaster provided commentary with often adoring commennts. There were crows outbursts as Hitler came into view. There were also an English commentator. The Austrian reaction to Hitler was not staged, it was genuine and intense. Historians often explain the connection between the German people in part as the work of Goebbels propaganda campaign and control of the media. But this was not the case in Austria at the time of the Anschluß. Hitler clearly had a message that resonated with many, not all, but with large numbers of Germans and Austrians. This is not to say that the Austrians cheering Hitler had the Holocaust and attrocities in mind, but they clearly liked what they heard.
German playwright Carl Zuckmayer (1896-1977) had moved to Austria in 1936 fleeing Hitler and the NAZIs. He described what happened in Vienna in his autobiography. Vienna during the first few days of the Anchluss was a city transformed "into a nightmare painting of Hieronymus Bosch." It writes that is was as if, " Hades had opened its gates and vomited forth the basest, most despicable, most horrible demons. In the course of my life I had seen something of untrammeled human insights of horror or panic. I had taken part in a dozen battles in the First World War, had experienced barrages, gassings, going over the top. I had witnessed the turmoil of the post-war era, the crushing uprisings, street battles, meeting hall brawls. I was present among the bystanders during the Hitler Putsch in 1923 in Munich. I saw the early period of Nazi rule in Berlin. But none of this was comparable to those days in Vienna. What was unleashed upon Vienna had nothing to do with seizure of power in Germany ... What was unleashed upon Vienna was a torrent of envy, jealousy, bitterness, blind, malignant craving for revenge. All better instincts were silenced ... only the torpid masses had been unchained ... It was the witch's Sabbath of the mob. All that makes for human dignity was buried." [Zuckmayer]
World reaction to this Anschluss was essentially neutral. There was a muted reaction from the BBC, following Chamberlain's appeasment inistive. We are less sure about French radio, CBS reporters Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer had been trying to report to Americans on what was happening in Eyurope. They broadcast a news Roundtable (March 13). [Shirer] Shirer was in London and Murrow in Vienna. A few newspaper reporters also wrote about the Anschluss.
The Referdum that the Austrian Republic had scheduled on March 13 was cancelled by the NAZIs. In afew isolated areas, that Referndum was held. In the small village of Innervillgraten, a majority of 95 percent voted for independence. The Anschluss went into effect immediately by a legislative act (March 13). This was subject to ratification by a popular plebiscite. Austria wiuthin the German Reich became the province of Ostmark. Hitler appointed Seyss-Inquart governor. The plebiscite was held (April 10). The official tally was 99.73 percented voted JA by marling the larger of two cirles on the ballot. Yhe ballot read "Do you agree with the reunification of Austria with the German Reich that was enacted on 13 March 1938, and do you vote for the party of our leader Adolf Hitler?" There seems little doubt that Austrians voted strongly for the Anschluss, but 79.73 percent seems unlikely. Goebels organized an extensive propaganda campaign to support a yest vote. The wide-spread arrests of course supressed tge no vote, both because so many people had been rrested and others feared arrest. In addition, the voting fights of about 0.4 million people were revoked. This was about 10 percent of the electorate. This included: members of left-wing parties (socislists and communists) and Jews. And therecwas aee of intimidation at the polls. NAZI officials stood beside the voting booths. Voters handed their ballots to them rather than depositing them directly in the ballot boxes. One small group of Austrians voted without intemidation in Italian port of Gaeta. Here a group of German and Austrian clerics were studying at the German college of Santa Maria dell'Anima. They voted on the German pocket battleship (heavy cruiser) Admiral Scheer, which happened to be in the harbor. The small group of clerics rejected the Anschluss by over 90 percent. When the NAZIs learned about it, the incident became known as the 'Shame of Gaeta' (Schande von Gaeta).
Historians differ as to the extent of support for the Anschluss among Austrians. There is little doubt, however, that there was wideapread popular support for union with the Reich. This leads go the question of why.
A reader asks, "Why were the Germans so welcomed into Austria. The country had been an empire itself and had a long history. Yet the Nazis were welcomed?" That is a complicated question which would requite a whole book to fully answer. Here we can only suggest some threads that interested readers my want to follow. Austrians spoke German and generally shared a common culture and history with the rest of Germany. Medevial Germany never coalesed into a nation state, but rather formed the Holy Roman Empire the electors of which usually close an Austrian Hapsburg emperor. Austriansot not only saw themselves as Germans, but also as the leaders of Germany. After the Napoleonic Wars and the rise of nationalism in Germany, the question became if Germany would be unified by Austria or Prussia, the two strongest German states. This question was settled by the Austro-Prussian War (1866). Bismarck's clever diplomacy pursued a soft peace with Austria. King Wilhelm wanted a harsher peace as did many Prussian nationalists. Bismarck was criticized, but laid the foundation for raprochment between Prussia (and the new German Empire) and Austria. Austriaas excluded from Germany, but allowed to form its own empire in cooperation with the Hungarians. Austria-Hungary was backed by Germany over Serbia which set off World War I. The two countries fought the War together. Defeat in World War I stripped the Austrians of their empire. Many Austrians at that time wanted to join Germany, but that was prohibited by the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919). The loss of their empire was a shock for the Austrians. They went from bring a major European power and the center of a vast empire to being a small powerless state of little consequence. There were also a range of adverse economic consequences of this which caused economic problems and dissatisfaction. The Depressiuon helped grow the local NAZI Party as jt did in Germany. Many Austrians were impressed with Hitler and the new Germany and wanted to be part of it. Austrians could receive German radio broadcasts and were apparently enthralled with Hitler as the Germans. He had an image of a modern, energetic leader. (All the horrors we know about oday were not yet known at the time.) Also German propaganda constantly went on an on about the great NAZI economic achievements. They wanted to become part of the German world again. And after the Anschluss the Austrians were exposed to a heavy does of propaganda. Anti Anschluss voices were silenced which must have been a factor in the Referendum vote.
Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.
Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (Harper Collins: New York, 2011), 712p.
Shirer, William L., 20th Century Journey: A Memoir of a Life and the Times Vol. II, 'The Nightmare Years'. (Little, Brown & Company, New York. 1984).
Zuckmayer, Carl. Als wär's ein Stück von mir (As if it were part of myself).
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