What Was the Annexation of Austria?

Nazi Parade in Austria, 1938.
Nazi Parade in Austria, 1938.

On March 12, 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Austria in what has popularly referred Anschluss. The idea of forming a “Greater Germany” by uniting Austria and Germany began immediately after the Unification of Germany in 1871. The unification had excluded German Austrians and Austria from the German Empire. Austria is a sovereign country in Central Europe divided into nine federated states. The land-locked country is bordered by Germany to the north. It is a predominately German-speaking country with the majority of the population communicating informally in several Bavarian dialects.

Historical Background of the Annexation

The ideal of all Germans forming one nation-state was floated in the 19th century, following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1809 and was debated until the fall of the German Confederation in 1866. Austria wanted the German states to unite under the leadership of German Austrian, which would have meant German states, as well as non-German regions of Austria, would have been part of the Greater Germany. After the end of World War I and the subsequent fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a new country called the Republic of German- Austria was formed comprising mainly of the German-speaking population within the fallen empire. The new country attempted to form a new union with Germany by the union was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the Treaty of Saint Germain (1919)

Nazi Germany and Austria

When Nazi, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, rose to power in the Weimer Republic, the government of Austria withdrew economic ties. Austria became a great target for German capital investment. By 1937, German’s interest in annexing Austria had increased. Austria was rich in labor and raw material and supplied its neighbors, especially Germany with resources such as magnesium, iron, and textile. In 1920, Hitler who was an Austrian German, and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) began demanding for the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany. The Nazi Party was determined to unite all the Germans including those who lived outside the German Reich.

The Annexation

The idea of Austria joining Germany had become popular and would have occurred through a democratic process had had the Austrian Nazi not begun a terrorist campaign. In early 1938, the Nazi Austrians conspired to forcefully seize the Austrian Government and unite Austria with Nazi Germany. When Kurt Von Schuschnigg (Austrian Chancellor) heard of the conspiracy, he reached out to Hitler with the hope of protecting his country’s independence. Instead, he was forced into naming a cabinet that included Austrian Nazis On March 9, 1938, the chancellor called for a referendum to try and solve the annexation problem. However, the growing pressure from Hitler forced him to resign on March 11, before the vote. The following day (March 12), Hitler led his troops into Austria where he was received by a cheering crowd. He appointed a new Nazi government and proclaimed Anschluss on March 13 and Austria effectively became a federal state of Germany. The Anschluss was declared void after World War II and Austria was re-established as an independent state.


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