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Anschluss


The ''' (; German for "link-up"), also known as the ''', was the 1938 de facto annexation of Austria into Greater Germany by the Nazi regime.

Austria was annexed to the German Third Reich on 12 March 1938. There had been several years of pressure from Germany and there were many supporters within Austria for the ''"Heim ins Reich"''-movement, both Nazis and non-Nazis. Earlier, Nazi Germany had provided support for the Austrian National Socialist Party (Austrian Nazi Party) in its bid to seize power from Austria's Austrofascist leadership.

Fully devoted to remaining independent but under considerable pressure from both German and Austrian Nazis, Austria's Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg tried to hold a referendum to ask the Austrian people whether they wished to remain independent or merge into Germany. Although Schuschnigg expected Austria to vote in favour of maintaining autonomy, a well-planned coup d'état by the Austrian Nazi Party of Austria's state institutions in Vienna took place on 11 March, prior to the referendum which was cancelled.

With power quickly transferred over to Germany, Wehrmacht troops entered Austria to enforce the Anschluss. The Nazis held a plebiscite–asking the people to ratify what had already been done–within the following month, where they claim to have received 99.73 percent of the vote.

Although the Allies were committed to upholding the terms of the treaties of Versailles and St. Germain, which specifically prohibited the union of Austria and Germany, their reaction was only verbal and moderate. No fighting ever took place and even the strongest voices against the annexation, particularly Fascist Italy, France and the United Kingdom (the "Stresa Front") remained at peace.

The Anschluss was among the first major steps in Adolf Hitler's long-desired creation of an empire including German-speaking lands and territories Germany had lost after World War I, although Austria had never been a part of the (in 20th-century terms) German state. Already prior to the 1938 annexation, the Rhineland was remilitarized and the Saar region was returned to Germany after 15 years of occupation through a plebiscite. After the Anschluss, the predominantly German Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia was taken, with the rest of the country becoming a protectorate of Germany in 1939. That same year, Memelland was returned from Lithuania, the final peaceful territorial aggrandizement before the start of World War II.

Austria ceased to exist as a fully-independent nation until late 1945. A Provisional Austrian Government was set up on 27 April 1945, and was legally recognized by the Allies in the following months, but it was not until 1955 that Austria regained full sovereignty.

Situation after World War I








The idea of grouping all Germans into one state had been the subject of inconclusive debate since the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. The system of spheres of influence in Europe, developed at Vienna in 1815, depended upon the fragmentation of the German and Italian states, not their consolidation. Consequently, a German nation united under one banner presented significant questions: Who were the Germans? Where was Germany?, but also, Who was in charge?, and, importantly, Who could best defend "Germany", whoever, whatever, and wherever it was? Different groups offered different solutions to this problem. In the ''Kleindeutschland'' (little, or "lesser," Germany) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of Prussia; in the ''Großdeutsche Lösung'' (Greater Germany) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of the Austrian state. This controversy, called dualism, dominated Prusso-Austrian diplomacy, and the politics of the German states, for the next twenty years.

In a series of diplomatic and military moves, the Chancellor of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck increasingly isolated Austria from its traditional position of influence in broader German affairs. The defeat of Austria in the Austro-Prussian War eliminated Austrian influence north of its border, allowed for the creation of the North German Confederation and consolidated the German states through Prussia, enabling the creation of a German Empire in 1871.

When Austria-Hungary broke up in 1918, many German-speaking Austrians hoped to join with Germany in the realignment of Europe. On 12 November 1918, German Austria was officially declared a republic. The provisional national assembly drafted a provisional constitution that stated that "German Austria is a democratic republic" (Article 1) and "German Austria is a component of the German Republic" (Article 2). Later plebiscites in the provinces of Tyrol and Salzburg yielded majorities of 98 and 99 percent in favor of a unification with Germany.

The Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Saint-Germain (both signed in 1919) explicitly vetoed the inclusion of Austria within a German state. This measure was criticized in the by the drafter of the German Weimar Constitution Hugo Preuss, who saw the prohibition as as a contradiction of the Wilsonian principle of self-determination of peoples.

Both France and the United Kingdom feared the power of a larger Germany, and had already begun to dis-empower the current one. Austrian particularism, especially among the nobility, also played a huge role; Austria was Roman Catholic, while Germany was dominated more by Protestants, especially in government. The constitutions of the Weimar Republic and the First Austrian Republic included the political aim of unification, and this aim was widely supported by democratic parties. In the early 1930s popular support for union with Germany remained overwhelming, and the Austrian government looked to a possible customs union with Germany in 1931.

However, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power in Germany left the Austrian government with little enthusiasm for such formal ties. Austrian-born Hitler had promoted an "all-German Reich" from the early beginnings of his leadership in the Nazi Party and had publicly stated as early as 1924 in ''Mein Kampf'' that he would attempt a union, by force if necessary.

Austria shared the economic turbulence of post-1929 Europe with a high unemployment rate and unstable commerce and industry. Similar to its northern and southern neighbours, these uncertain conditions made the young democracy very vulnerable. The First Republic, dominated from the late 1920s by the Catholic nationalist Christian Social Party (CS), gradually disintegrated from 1933 (dissolution of parliament and ban of the Austrian National Socialists) to 1934 (Austrian Civil War in February and ban of all remaining parties except the CS). The government evolved into a pseudo-fascist, corporatist model of one-party government which combined the CS and the paramilitary Heimwehr with absolute state domination of labour relations and no freedom of the press (''see Austrofascism and Patriotic Front'').

Power was centralized in the office of the chancellor, who was empowered to rule by decree.

The predominance of the Christian Social Party (whose economic policies were based on the papal encyclical ''Rerum Novarum'') was an Austrian phenomenon in that Austria's national identity had strong Catholic elements which were incorporated into the movement, by way of clerical authoritarian tendencies which are certainly not to be found in Nazism. Both Engelbert Dollfuss and his successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, turned to Austria's other fascist neighbour, Italy, for inspiration and support. Indeed, the statist corporatism often referred to as Austrofascism bore more resemblance to Italian Fascism than German National Socialism. Benito Mussolini was able to support the independent aspirations of the Austrian dictatorship until his need for German support in Ethiopia (''see Second Italo-Abyssinian War'') forced him into a client relationship with Berlin that began with the 1937 Berlin–Rome Axis.

Chancellor Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis on 25 July 1934, in a failed coup. The second civil war within only one year followed, lasting until August 1934. Afterward many leading Austrian Nazis fled to Germany and continued to coordinate their actions from there. The remaining Austrian Nazis started to make use of terrorist attacks against Austrian governmental institutions, causing a death toll of more than 800 between 1934 and 1938.

Dollfuss' successor, Schuschnigg, who followed the political course of Dollfuss, took drastic actions against the Nazis, including the rounding up of Nazis (and Social Democrats) in internment camps.

The Anschluss of 1938



Hitler's first moves



In early 1938 Hitler had consolidated his power in Germany and was ready to reach out to fulfil his long-planned expansion. After a lengthy period of pressure by Germany, Hitler met Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg on 12 February 1938, in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, and demanded that he lift the ban on political parties, reinstate full party freedoms, release all imprisoned members of the Nazi party and let them participate in the government. Otherwise, he would take military action. Schuschnigg complied with Hitler's demands and appointed Arthur Seyss-Inquart, a pro-Nazi lawyer, as interior minister and another Nazi, Edmund Glaise-Horstenau, as a minister without portfolio.

Before the February meeting, Schuschnigg was already under considerable pressure from Germany. This may be seen in the demand to remove the chief of staff of the Austrian Army, Alfred Jansa, from his position in January 1938. Jansa and his staff had developed a scenario for Austria's defense against a German attack, a situation Hitler wanted to avoid at all costs. Schuschnigg subsequently complied with the demand. Detailed article the on the events of the Anschluss, in German.

During the following weeks Schuschnigg realized that his newly-appointed ministers were working to take over his authority. Schuschnigg tried to gather support throughout Austria and inflame patriotism among the people. For the first time since 12 February 1934, (the time of the Austrian Civil War), Socialists and Communists could legally appear in public again. The Communists announced their unconditional support for the Austrian government, understandable in light of Nazi pressure on Austria. The Socialists demanded further concessions from Schuschnigg before they were willing to side with him.

Schuschnigg announces a referendum



On 9 March, as a last resort to preserve Austria's independence, Schuschnigg scheduled a plebiscite on the independence of Austria for 13 March. To secure a large majority in the referendum, Schuschnigg set the minimum voting age at 24 in order to exclude younger voters who largely sympathized with Nazi ideology. Holding a referendum was a highly risky gamble for Schuschnigg; on the next day it became apparent that Hitler would not simply stand by while Austria declared its independence by public vote. Hitler declared that the referendum would be subject to major fraud and that Germany would not accept it. In addition, the German ministry of propaganda issued press reports that riots had broken out in Austria and that large parts of the Austrian population were calling for German troops to restore order. Schuschnigg immediately responded publicly that reports of riots were false.

Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg on 11 March, demanding that he hand over all power to the Austrian National Socialists or face an invasion. The ultimatum was set to expire at noon, but was extended by two hours. However, without waiting for an answer, Hitler had already signed the order to send troops into Austria at one o'clock, issuing it to Hermann Göring only hours later.

Schuschnigg desperately sought support for Austrian independence in the hours following the ultimatum. Realizing that neither France nor the United Kingdom was willing to take steps, he resigned as chancellor that evening. In the radio broadcast in which he announced his resignation, he argued that he accepted the changes and allowed the Nazis to take over the government in order to avoid bloodshed.

Meanwhile, Austrian President Wilhelm Miklas refused to appoint Seyss-Inquart as chancellor and asked other Austrian politicians such as Michael Skubl and Sigismund Schilhawsky to assume the office. However, the Nazis were well organised. Within hours they managed to take control of many parts of Vienna, including the ministry of internal Affairs (controlling the police). As Miklas continued to refuse to appoint a Nazi government and Seyss-Inquart still could not send a telegram in the name of the Austrian government demanding German troops to restore order, Hitler became furious. At about 10pm, well after Hitler had signed and issued the order for the invasion, Göring and Hitler gave up on waiting and published a forged telegram containing a request by the Austrian Government for German troops to enter Austria. Around midnight, after nearly all critical offices and buildings had fallen into Nazi hands in Vienna and the main political party members of the old government had been arrested, Miklas finally conceded to appoint Seyss-Inquart chancellor.

German troops march into Austria



Cheering crowds greet the Germans in Vienna.

On the morning of 12 March the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht crossed the German–Austrian border. They did not face resistance by the Austrian Army – on the contrary, the German troops were greeted by cheering Austrians with Hitler salutes, Nazi flags and flowers. Because of this the Nazi invasion is also called the ''Blumenkrieg'' (war of flowers). For the Wehrmacht this invasion was the first big test of its machinery. Although the invading forces were badly organized and coordination between the units was poor, it mattered little because no fighting took place. It did serve as a warning to German commanders in future military operations, such as that against Czechoslovakia.

Hitler's car crossed the border in the afternoon at Braunau, his birthplace. In the evening, he arrived at Linz and was given an enthusiastic welcome in the city hall. The atmosphere was so intense that Göring, in a telephone call that evening, stated: "There is unbelievable jubilation in Austria. We ourselves did not think that sympathies would be so intense."

Hitler announces the Anschluss in the Heldenplatz, Vienna, 15 March 1938.

Hitler's further travel through Austria changed into a triumphal tour that climaxed in Vienna, on 2 April 1938, when around 200,000 Austrians gathered on the Heldenplatz (Square of Heroes) to hear Hitler proclaim the Austrian Anschluss. Hitler later commented: "Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say: even in death they cannot stop lying. I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier (into Austria) there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators."

The Anschluss was given immediate effect by legislative act on 13 March, subject to ratification by a plebiscite. Austria became the province of Ostmark, and Seyss-Inquart was appointed governor. The plebiscite was held on 10 April and officially recorded a support of 99.73 percent of the voters.

Voting ballot from 10 April 1938. The ballot text reads "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?" The large circle is labelled "Yes", the smaller "No".

Hitler's brutal methods to emasculate any opposition were immediately implemented in the weeks preceding the plebiscite. Even before the first German soldier crossed the border, Heinrich Himmler and a few SS officers landed in Vienna to arrest prominent representatives of the First Republic such as Richard Schmitz, Leopold Figl, Friedrich Hillegeist and Franz Olah.

During the few weeks between the Anschluss and the plebiscite, Social Democrats, Communists and other potential political dissenters, as well as Jews, were rounded up and either imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. Within only a few days of 12 March, 70,000 people had been arrested. The plebiscite itself was subject to large-scale propaganda and to the abrogation of the voting rights of around 400,000 people (nearly 10 percent of the eligible voting population), mainly former members of left-wing parties and Jews.

While historians concur that the result itself was not manipulated, the voting process was neither free nor secret. Officials were present directly beside the voting booths and received the voting ballot by hand (in contrast to a secret vote where the voting ballot is inserted into a closed box). In some remote areas of Austria the referendum on the independence of Austria on 13 March had been held despite the Wehrmacht's presence in Austria (it took up to three days to occupy every part of Austria). For instance, in the village of Innervillgraten a majority of 95 percent voted for Austria's independence.

A largely unhindered voting process occurred in the Italian harbour city of Gaeta, where an extraterritorial vote of German and Austrian clerics, studying at the German college of Santa Maria dell'Anima, took place. The vote was concluded on board the German battleship ''Admiral Scheer'', which was anchored in the harbour. Contrary to the overall result, these clerical votes rejected the Anschluss by over 90 percent, an incident which became known at the time as the "Shame of Gaeta" (''Vergogna di Gaeta'', ''Schande von Gaeta'').

Austria remained part of the Third Reich until the end of World War II, when a preliminary Austrian government declared the Anschluss ''null und nichtig'' (null and void) on 27 April 1945. After the war, then Allied-occupied Austria was recognized and treated as a separate country. It was not restored to sovereignty until the Austrian State Treaty and Austrian Declaration of Neutrality, both of 1955, largely due to the rapid development of the Cold War and disputes between the Soviet Union and its former allies over its foreign policy.

Reactions and consequences of the Anschluss




Seyss-Inquart and Hitler in Vienna, March 1938

The picture of Austria in the first days of its existence in the Third Reich is one of contradictions: at one and the same time, Hitler's terror regime began to tighten its grip in every area of society, beginning with mass arrests and thousands of Austrians attempting to flee in every direction; yet Austrians could be seen cheering and welcoming German troops entering Austrian territory. Many Austrian political figures did not hesitate to announce their support of the Anschluss and their relief that it happened without violence.

Cardinal Theodor Innitzer (a political figure of the CS) declared as early as 12 March: "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 followed suit some days later. Vatican Radio, however, immediately broadcast a vehement denunciation of the German action, and Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of State, ordered Innitzer to report to Rome. Before meeting the Pope, Innitzer met Pacelli, who had been outraged by Innitzer's statement. He made it clear that Innitzer needed to retract; he was made to sign a new statement, issued on behalf of all the Austrian bishops, which provided: "The solemn declaration of the Austrian bishops ... was clearly not intended to be an approval of something that was not and is not compatible with God's law". The Vatican newspaper also reported that the bishops' earlier statement had been issued without approval from Rome.

Robert Kauer, president of the minority Lutheran Church in Austria, greeted Hitler on 13 March as "saviour of the 350,000 German Protestants in Austria and liberator from a five-year hardship". Even Karl Renner, the most famous Social Democrat of the First Republic, announced his support for the Anschluss and appealed to all Austrians to vote in favour of it on 10 April.

The international response to the expansion of Germany may be described as moderate. ''The Times'' commented that 200 years before, Scotland had joined England as well, and that this event would not really differ much. On 14 March the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, noted in the House of Commons:


His Majesty's Government have throughout been in the closest touch with the situation. The Foreign Secretary saw the German Foreign Minister on the 10thof March and addressed to him a grave warning on the Austrian situation and upon what appeared to be the policy of the German Government in regard to it.... Late on the 11thof March our Ambassador in Berlin registered a protest in strong terms with the German Government against such use of coercion, backed by force, against an independent State in order to create a situation incompatible with its national independence.


However, the speech concluded:

I imagine that according to the temperament of the individual the events which are in our minds to-day will be the cause of regret, of sorrow, perhaps of indignation. They cannot be regarded by His Majesty's Government with indifference or equanimity. They are bound to have effects which cannot yet be measured. The immediate result must be to intensify the sense of uncertainty and insecurity in Europe. Unfortunately, while the policy of appeasement would lead to a relaxation of the economic pressure under which many countries are suffering to-day, what has just occurred must inevitably retard economic recovery and, indeed, increased care will be required to ensure that marked deterioration does not set in. This is not a moment for hasty decisions or for careless words. We must consider the new situation quickly, but with cool judgement... As regards our defence programmes, we have always made it clear that they were flexible and that they would have to be reviewed from time to time in the light of any development in the international situation. It would be idle to pretend that recent events do not constitute a change of the kind that we had in mind. Accordingly we have decided to make a fresh review, and in due course we shall announce what further steps we may think it necessary to take.


Within this speech Chamberlain also stated in the House of Commons: "The hard fact is that nothing could have arrested what has actually happened [in Austria] unless this country and other countries had been prepared to use force."

The moderate reaction to the Anschluss (the reaction from America being strikingly similar to the British position) was the first major consequence of the strictly followed appeasement British foreign policy strategy. The international reaction to the events of 12 March 1938, led Hitler to conclude that he could use even more aggressive tactics in his ''roadmap'' to expand the Third Reich, as he would later in annexing the Sudetenland. The relatively-bloodless Anschluss helped pave the way for the Treaty of Munich in September 1938 and the annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, because it reinforced appeasement as the right way for the United Kingdom to deal with Hitler's Germany.

Legacy



The Anschluss: annexation or union?



The word ''Anschluss'' outside the context of March 1938 is properly translated as "joinder", "connection", "unification" or "political union". In contrast, the German word ''Annektierung'' that would mean military annexation unambiguously was and is not commonly used in this context. The usage of the term ''Anschluss'' has been widespread before and in 1938 describing an incorporation of Austria into Germany. Calling the incorporation of Austria into Nazi Germany an "Anschluss", that is a unification or joinder, was also part of the propaganda used in 1938 by Hitler and the Nazis to create the impression the events of March 1938 were not backed and enforced by military pressure. Hitler himself stressed the meaning of the events numerous times following the "Anschluss" and described the incorporation of Austria as the return of it to its original home (''Heimkehr''). The word ''Anschluss'' endured the years during and following World War II, letting the term, despite its non-correlating to the actual events and propaganda usage in 1938, stand for the events that took place.

Some historical sources, like the ''Encyclopædia Britannica'', describe the Anschluss as an "annexation" rather than a union. From a factual view of the events that were mainly driven by the German military power and political pressure within Austria and from the outside, the term ''annexation'' is a closer description than the term ''Anschluss''. It fails to present the differences between the Anschluss and other annexations of Nazi Germany backed by force, namely that large parts of the Austrian population either supported or were indifferent to the incorporation of Austria into the Third Reich.

The term also fails to take into context the political machinations of the principals (Hitler, Dolfuss, Schuschnigg, et al.;) and should more properly be termed "illegal annexation" due to the abdication of responsibility by the leaders and the political agendas of other nations.

The Second Republic


The Moscow Declaration



The Moscow Declaration of 1943, signed by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, included a "Declaration on Austria", which stated the following:


The governments of the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States of America are agreed that Austria, the first free country to fall a victim to Hitlerite aggression, shall be liberated from German domination.

They regard the annexation imposed on Austria by Germany on 15 March 1938, as null and void. They consider themselves as in no way bound by any charges effected in Austria since that date. They declare that they wish to see re-established a free and independent Austria and thereby to open the way for the Austrian people themselves, as well as those neighbouring States which will be faced with similar problems, to find that political and economic security which is the only basis for lasting peace.

Austria is reminded, however, that she has a responsibility, which she cannot evade, for participation in the war at the side of Hitlerite Germany, and that in the final settlement account will inevitably be taken of her own contribution to her liberation.


To judge from the last paragraph and subsequent determinations at the Nuremberg Trial, the declaration was mostly intended to serve as propaganda aimed at stirring Austrian resistance, although there are Austrians counted as Righteous Among the Nations. There never was an effective Austrian armed resistance of the sort found in other countries under German occupation, although the exact text of the declaration is said to have a somewhat complex drafting history. At Nuremberg, Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Franz von Papen, in particular, were both indicted under count one (conspiracy to commit crimes against peace) specifically for their activities in support of the Austrian Nazi Party and the Anschluss, but neither was convicted of this count. In acquitting von Papen, the court noted that his actions were in its view political immoralities but not crimes under its charter. Seyss-Inquart was convicted of other serious war crimes, most of which took place in Poland and the Netherlands, was sentenced to death and executed.

Austrian identity and the "victim theory"



After World War II many Austrians sought comfort in the idea of Austria as "the Nazis' first victim". Although the Nazi party was promptly banned, Austria did not have the same thorough process of de-Nazification at the top of government which was imposed on Germany for a time. Lacking outside pressure for political reform, factions of Austrian society tried for a long time to advance the view that the Anschluss was only an annexation at the point of a bayonet.

This view of the events of 1938 has deep roots in the 10 years of Allied occupation and the struggle to regain Austrian sovereignty: the ''victim theory'' played an essential role in the negotiations on the Austrian State Treaty with the Soviets, and by pointing to the Moscow Declaration, Austrian politicians heavily relied on it to achieve a solution for Austria different from the division of Germany into separate Eastern and Western states. The state treaty, alongside the subsequent Austrian declaration of permanent neutrality, marked important milestones for the solidification of Austria's independent national identity during the course of the following decades.

As Austrian politicians of the left and right attempted to reconcile their differences in order to avoid the violent conflict that had dominated the First Republic, discussions of both Austrian Nazism and Austria's role during the Nazi-era were largely avoided. Still, the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) had advanced, and still advances, the argument that the establishment of the Dollfuss dictatorship was necessary in order to maintain Austrian independence. On the other hand, the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) argues that the Dollfuss dictatorship stripped the country of the democratic resources necessary to repel Hitler; yet it ignores that Hitler himself was indigenous to Austria.

Political events



For decades, the victim theory established in the Austrian mind remained largely undisputed. The Austrian public was only rarely forced to confront the legacy of the Third Reich – most notably during the events of 1965 concerning Taras Borodajkewycz, a professor of economic history notorious for making anti-Semitic remarks when Ernst Kirchweger, a concentration camp survivor, was killed by a right-wing protester during riots. It was not until the 1980s that Austrians were finally massively confronted with their past. The main catalyst for the start of a ''Vergangenheitsbewältigung'' was the so-called Waldheim affair. The Austrian reply to allegations during the 1986 presidential election campaign that Kurt Waldheim, the successful candidate and former UN Secretary-General, had been a member of the Nazi party and of the infamous SA (he was later absolved of direct involvement in war crimes) was that scrutiny was an unwelcome intervention in the country's internal affairs. Despite the politicians' reactions to international criticism of Waldheim, the Waldheim affair started the first serious major discussion on Austria's past and the Anschluss.

Another main factor for Austria and its coming to terms with the past emerged in the 1980s: Jörg Haider and the rise of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). The party had combined elements of the pan-German right with free-market liberalism since its foundation in 1955, but after Haider had ascended to the party chairmanship in 1986, the liberal elements became increasingly marginalized while Haider began to openly use nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric. He was often criticised for tactics such as the ''völkisch'' (ethnic) definition of national interest ("Austria for Austrians") and his apologism for Austria's past, notably calling members of the Waffen-SS "men of honour". Following an enormous electoral rise in the 1990s peaking in the 1999 elections, the FPÖ, now purged of its liberal elements, entered a coalition with the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), led by Wolfgang Schüssel, that met international condemnation in 2000. This coalition triggered the regular ''Donnerstagsdemonstrationen'' (Thursday demonstrations) in protest against the government, which took place on the Heldenplatz, where Hitler had greeted the masses during the Anschluss. Haider's tactics and rhetoric, which were often criticised as sympathetic to Nazism, again forced Austrians to reconsider their relationship to the past.

But Haider is not alone in making controversial remarks about Austria's past: Haider's coalition partner, former Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, in a 2000 interview with the ''Jerusalem Post'' stated that Austria was the first victim of Hitler-Germany.

Literature



Tearing into the simplism of the ''victim theory'' and the time of the Austrofascism, Thomas Bernhard's last play, ''Heldenplatz'', was highly controversial even before it appeared on stage in 1988, fifty years after Hitler's visit. Bernhard's achievement was to make the elimination of references to Hitler's reception in Vienna emblematic of Austrian attempts to claim their history and culture under questionable criteria. Many politicians from all political factions called Bernhard a ''Nestbeschmutzer'' (so damaging the reputation of his country) and openly demanded that the play should not be staged in Vienna's Burgtheater. Kurt Waldheim, who was at that time still Austrian president called the play "a crude insult to the Austrian people".

The Historical Commission and outstanding legal issues



The SS raid a Jewish community center, Vienna, March 1938.

In the context of the postwar Federal Republic of Germany, one encounters a ''Vergangenheitsbewältigung'' ("struggle to come to terms with the past") that has been partially institutionalised, variably in literary, cultural, political, and educational contexts (its development and difficulties have not been trivial; see, for example, the Historikerstreit). Austria formed a ''Historikerkommission'' ("Historian's Commission" or "Historical Commission") in 1998 with a mandate to review Austria's role in the Nazi expropriation of Jewish property from a scholarly rather than legal perspective, partly in response to continuing criticism of its handling of property claims. Its membership was based on recommendations from various quarters, including Simon Wiesenthal and Yad Vashem. The Commission delivered its report in 2003. Noted Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg refused to participate in the Commission and in an interview stated his strenuous objections in terms both personal and in reference to larger questions about Austrian culpability and liability, comparing what he thought to be relative inattention to the settlement governing the Swiss bank holdings of those who died or were displaced by the Holocaust:


I personally would like to know why the WJC World Jewish Congress has hardly put any pressure on Austria, even as leading Nazis and SS leaders were Austrians, Hitler included... Immediately after the war, the US wanted to make the Russians withdraw from Austria, and the Russians wanted to keep Austria neutral, therefore there was a common interest to grant Austria victim status. And later Austria could cry poor – though its per capita income is as high as Germany's. And, most importantly, the Austrian PR machinery works better. Austria has the opera ball, the imperial castle, Mozartkugeln [a chocolate]. Americans like that. And Austrians invest and export relatively little to the US, therefore they are less vulnerable to blackmail. In the meantime, they set up a commission in Austria to clarify what happened to Jewish property. Victor Klima, the former chancellor, has asked me to join. My father fought for Austria in the First World War and in 1939 he was kicked out of Austria. After the war they offered him ten dollars per month as compensation. For this reason I told Klima, no thank you, this makes me sick.


The Simon Wiesenthal Center continues to criticise Austria (as recently as June 2005) for its alleged historical and ongoing unwillingness aggressively to pursue investigations and trials against Nazis for war crimes and crimes against humanity from the 1970s onwards. Its 2001 report offered the following characterization:


Given the extensive participation of numerous Austrians, including at the highest levels, in the implementation of the Final Solution and other Nazi crimes, Austria should have been a leader in the prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators over the course of the past four decades, as has been the case in Germany. Unfortunately relatively little has been achieved by the Austrian authorities in this regard and in fact, with the exception of the case of Dr. Heinrich Gross which was suspended this year under highly suspicious circumstances (he claimed to be medically unfit, but outside the court proved to be healthy) not a single Nazi war crimes prosecution has been conducted in Austria since the mid-1970s.


In 2003, the Center launched a worldwide effort named "Operation: Last Chance" in order to collect further information about those Nazis still alive that are potentially subject to prosecution. Although reports issued shortly thereafter credited Austria for initiating large-scale investigations, there has been one case where criticism of Austrian authorities arose recently: The Center has put 92-year old Croatian Milivoj Asner on its 2005 top ten list. Asner fled to Austria in 2004 after Croatia announced it would start investigations in the case of war crimes he may have been involved in. In response to objections about Asner's continued freedom, Austria's federal government has deferred to either extradition requests from Croatia or prosecutorial actions from Klagenfurt, neither of which appears forthcoming (as of June 2005). Extradition is not an option since Asner also holds Austrian citizenship, having lived in the country from 1946 to 1991.

Austrian political and military leaders in Nazi Germany



*Adolf Hitler
*Ernst Kaltenbrunner
*Arthur Seyss-Inquart
*Odilo Globocnik
*Amon Göth
*Lothar Rendulic
*Alfred Ritter von Hubicki
*Alexander Löhr
*Franz Böhme
*Otto Skorzeny
*Julius Ringel
*Adolf Eichmann
*Erhard Raus
*Hans Fischböck

anschluss
Source: Wikipedia