Scenes from the Anschluss
March 12, 1938
The Anschluss was announced by Hitler on March 12, 1938. There was supposed to have been a plebiscite (direct vote by the public) on the next day, but Hitler didn’t want to chance it so he went ahead and moved across the border. Kurt von Schuschnigg was the chancellor and against the annexation, but he was overruled and later resigned. The President initially refused to appoint a pro-Nazi chancellor, but he eventually capitulated.
The plebiscite was eventually held, and passed, on April 10, but it was under unfair circumstances and no doubt influenced by the Nazi terror. Apparently, Hitler was very emotional about returning to his homeland and was greeted jubilantly by the crowds of Austrians. The Austrians were, after all, German speaking peoples, and that further bolstered the Nazi narrative of being liberators. Hitler saw it as a union of the German people. The result of the Anschluss was the disappearing of Austria for a short period of time. The Jews were immediately subject to poor treatment, half would escape before the start of the war and half would die.
The behavior of the Nazis in Vienna is known to have been particularly appalling. This is where the infamous forced street scrubbing (by Jews) occurred, and many other landmarks were ransacked or destroyed. The concentration camp Mathausen was built to accommodate the new influx of prisoners. Apparently, Kurt von Schuschnigg was treated in the most degrading manner and forced to clean latrines and confined to a small room.
The Anschluss had other implications besides just the annexation of Austria. Czechoslovakia was rendered completely vulnerable to German aggression. It was also the seal on Hitler’s absolute power over the army and therefore the fall from grace of the elite generals, who were the last vestiges of Old Prussian-centric Germany.
Hitler was considering multiple options for how to annex Austria. He needed something quick, but also couldn’t look like he was blatantly aggressive towards a foreign power without any provocation. He decided to have a German foreign minister assassinated, blame it on the Austrians, and then use that as an excuse to attack. Luckily for Franz von Pappen – who was going to be the German official that got shot – Austria folded without a single bullet.