Unmindful of the feverish goings on over the border in the Third Reich, Dr. Schuschnigg went to bed on the evening of March 10 firmly convinced, as he later testified, that the plebiscite would be a success for Austria and that the Nazis “would present no formidable obstacle.”† Indeed, that evening Dr. Seyss-Inquart had assured him that he would support the plebiscite and even broadcast a speech in its favor.
At half past five on the morning of Friday, March 11, the Austrian Chancellor was wakened by the ringing of the telephone at his bedside. Dr. Skubl, the Austrian chief of police, was speaking. The Germans had closed the border at Salzburg, he said. Rail traffic between the two countries had been halted. German troops were reported concentrating on the Austrian frontier.
By 6:15 Schuschnigg was on his way to his office at the Ballhausplatz, but he decided to stop first at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. There in the first dim light of dawn while early mass was being read he sat restlessly in his pew thinking of the ominous message from the chief of police. “I was not quite sure what it meant,” he later recalled. “I only knew that it would bring some change.” He gazed at the candles burning in front of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, looked furtively around and then made the sign of the cross, as countless Viennese had done before this figure in past times of stress.
At the Chancellery all was quiet; not even any disturbing dispatches had arrived during the night from Austria’s diplomats abroad. He called police headquarters and asked that as a precautionary measure a police cordon be thrown around the Inner City and the government buildings. He also convoked his cabinet colleagues. Only Seyss-Inquart failed to show up. Schuschnigg could not locate him anywhere. Actually the Nazi Minister was out at the Vienna airport. Papen, summarily summoned to Berlin the night before, had departed by special plane at 6 A.M. and Seyss had seen him off. Now the Number One quisling was waiting for the Number Two—Glaise-Horstenau, like Seyss a minister in Schuschnigg’s cabinet, like him already deep in treason, who was due to arrive from Berlin with Hitler’s orders on what they were to do about the plebiscite.
The orders were to call it off, and these were duly presented to Schuschnigg by the two gentlemen at 10 A.M. along with the information that Hitler was furious. After several hours of consultations with President Miklas, his cabinet colleagues and Dr. Skubl, Schuschnigg agreed to cancel the plebiscite. The police chief had reluctantly told him that the police, liberally sprinkled with Nazis who had been restored to their posts in accordance with the Berchtesgaden ultimatum, could no longer be counted on by the government. On the other hand, Schuschnigg felt sure that the Army and the militia of the Patriotic Front—the official authoritarian party in Austria—would fight. But at this crucial moment Schuschnigg decided—he says, in fact, that his mind had long been made up on the matter—that he would not offer resistance to Hitler if it meant spilling German blood. Hitler was quite willing to do this, but Schuschnigg shrank back from the very prospect.
At 2 P.M. he called in Seyss-Inquart and told him that he was calling off the plebiscite. The gentle Judas immediately made for the telephone to inform Goering in Berlin. But in the Nazi scheme of things one concession from a yielding opponent must lead quickly to another. Goering and Hitler then and there began raising the ante. The minute-by-minute account of how this was done, of the threats and the swindles employed, was recorded—ironically enough—by Goering’s own Forschungsamt, the “Institute for Research,” which took down and transcribed twenty-seven telephone conversations from the Field Marshal’s office beginning at 2:45 P.M. on March 11. The documents were found in the German Air Ministry after the war and constitute an illuminating record of how Austria’s fate was settled by telephone from Berlin during the next few critical hours.24
During Seyss’s first call to Goering at 2:45 P.M. the Field Marshal told him that Schuschnigg’s cancellation of the plebiscite was not enough and that after talking with Hitler he would call him back. This he did at 3:05. Schuschnigg, he ordered, must resign, and Seyss-Inquart must be named Chancellor within two hours. Goering also told Seyss then to “send the telegram to the Fuehrer, as agreed upon.” This is the first mention of a telegram that was to pop up throughout the frantic events of the next few hours and which would be used to perpetrate the swindle by which Hitler justified his aggression to the German people and to the foreign offices of the world.
Wilhelm Keppler, Hitler’s special agent in Austria, arriving in the afternoon from Berlin to take charge in Papen’s absence, had shown Seyss-Inquart the text of a telegram he was to send the Fuehrer. It requested the dispatch of German troops to Austria to put down disorder. In his Nuremberg affidavit, Seyss declared that he refused to send such a wire since there were no disorders. Keppler, insisting that it would have to be done, hurried to the Austrian Chancellery, where he was brazen enough to set up an emergency office along with Seyss and Glaise-Horstenau. Why Schuschnigg allowed such interlopers and traitors to establish themselves physically in the seat of the Austrian government at this critical hour is incomprehensible, but he did. Later he remembered the Chancellery as looking “like a disturbed beehive,” with Seyss-Inquart and Glaise-Horstenau holding “court” in one corner “and around them a busy coming and going of strange-looking men”; but apparently it never occurred to the courteous but dazed Chancellor to throw them out.
He had made up his mind to yield to Hitler’s pressure and resign. While still closeted with Seyss he had put through a telephone call to Mussolini, but the Duce was not immediately available and a few minutes later Schuschnigg canceled the call. To ask for Mussolini’s help, he decided, “would be a waste of time.” Even Austria’s pompous protector was deserting her in the hour of need. A few minutes later, when Schuschnigg was trying to talk President Miklas into accepting his resignation, a message came from the Foreign Office: “The Italian government declares that it could give no advice under the circumstances, in case such advice should be asked for.”25
President Wilhelm Miklas was not a great man, but he was a stubborn, upright one. He reluctantly accepted Schuschnigg’s resignation but he refused to make Seyss-Inquart his successor. “That is quite impossible,” he said. “We will not be coerced.” He instructed Schuschnigg to inform the Germans that their ultimatum was refused.26
This was promptly reported by Seyss-Inquart to Goering at 5:30 P.M.
SEYSS-INQUART: The President has accepted the resignation [of Schuschnigg] … I suggested he entrust the Chancellorship to me … but he would like to entrust a man like Ender …
GOERING: Well, that won’t do! Under no circumstances! The President has to be informed immediately that he has to turn the powers of the Federal Chancellor over to you and to accept the cabinet as it was arranged.
There was an interruption at this point. Seyss-Inquart put a Dr. Muehlmann, a shadowy Austrian Nazi whom Schuschnigg had noticed lurking in the background at Berchtesgaden and who was a personal friend of Goering, on the line.
MUEHLMANN: The President still refuses persistently to give his consent. We three National Socialists went to speak to him personally … He would not even let us see him. So far, it looks as if he were not willing to give in.
GOERING: Give me Seyss. [To Seyss] Now, remember the following: You go immediately together with Lieutenant General Muff [the German military attaché] and tell the President that if the conditions are not accepted immediately, the troops which are already advancing to the frontier will march in tonight along the whole line, and Austria will cease to exist … Tell him there is no time now for any joke. The situation now is that tonight the invasion will begin from all the corners of Austria. The invasion will be stopped and the troops held on the border only if we are informed by seven-thirty that Miklas has entrusted you with the Federal Chancellorship … Then call out the National Socialists all over the country. They should now be in the streets. So remember, a report must be given by seven-thirty. If Miklas could not understand it in four hours, we shall make him understand it now in four minutes.
But still the resolute President held out.
At 6:30 Goering was back on the phone to Keppler and Seyss-Inquart. Both reported that President Miklas refused to go along with them.
GOERING: Well, then, Seyss-Inquart has to dismiss him! Just go upstairs again and tell him plainly that Seyss will call on the National Socialist guards and in five minutes the troops will march in on my order.
After this order General Muff and Keppler presented to the President a second military ultimatum threatening that if he did not yield within an hour, by 7:30, German troops would march into Austria. “I informed the two gentlemen,” Miklas testified later, “that I refused the ultimatum … and that Austria alone determines who is to be the head of government.”
By this time the Austrian Nazis had gained control of the streets as well as of the Chancellery. About six that evening, returning from the hospital where my wife was fighting for her life after a difficult childbirth which had ended with a Caesarean operation, I had emerged from the subway at the Karlsplatz to find myself engulfed in a shouting, hysterical Nazi mob which was sweeping toward the Inner City. These contorted faces I had seen before, at the Nuremberg party rallies. They were yelling, “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! Hang Schuschnigg! Hang Schuschnigg!” The police, whom only a few hours before I had seen disperse a small Nazi group without any trouble, were standing by, grinning.
Schuschnigg heard the tramp and the shouts of the mob, and the sounds impressed him. He hurried to the President’s office to make a final plea. But, he says:
President Miklas was adamant. He would not appoint a Nazi as Austrian Chancellor. On my insistence that he appoint Seyss-Inquart he said again: “You all desert me now, all of you.” But I saw no other possibility than Seyss-Inquart. With the little hope I had left I clung to all the promises he had made me, I clung to his personal reputation as a practicing Catholic and an honest man.27
Schuschnigg clung to his illusions to the last.
The fallen Chancellor then proposed that he make a farewell broadcast and explain why he had resigned. He says that Miklas agreed, though the President would later dispute it. It was the most moving broadcast I have ever heard. The microphone was set up some five paces from where Dollfuss had been shot to death by the Nazis.
… The German government [Schuschnigg said] today handed to President Miklas an ultimatum, with a time limit, ordering him to nominate as Chancellor a person designated by the German government … otherwise German troops would invade Austria.
I declare before the world that the reports launched in Germany concerning disorders by the workers, the shedding of streams of blood and the creation of a situation beyond the control of the Austrian government are lies from A to Z. President Miklas has asked me to tell the people of Austria that we have yielded to force since we are not prepared even in this terrible hour to shed blood. We have decided to order the troops to offer no resistance.*
So I take leave of the Austrian people with a German word of farewell, uttered from the depth of my heart: God protect Austria!
The Chancellor might take leave but the stubborn President was not yet ready to. Goering learned this when he phoned General Muff shortly after Schuschnigg’s broadcast. “The best thing will be if Miklas resigns,” Goering told him.
“Yes, but he won’t,” Muff rejoined. “It was very dramatic. I spoke to him almost fifteen minutes. He declared that under no circumstances will he yield to force.”
“So? He will not give in to force?” Goering could not believe the words.
“He does not yield to force,” the General repeated.
“So he just wants to be kicked out?”
“Yes,” said Muff. “He is staying put.”
“Well, with fourteen children,” Goering laughed, “a man has to stay put. Anyway, tell Seyss to take over.”
There was still the matter of the telegram which Hitler wanted in order to justify his invasion. The Fuehrer, according to Papen, who had joined him at the Chancellery in Berlin, was now “in a state bordering on hysteria.” The stubborn Austrian President was fouling up his plans. So was Seyss-Inquart, because of his failure to send the telegram calling on Hitler to send troops into Austria to quell disorder. Exasperated beyond enduring, Hitler flashed the invasion order at 8:45 P.M. on the evening of March 11.* Three minutes later, at 8:48, Goering was on the phone to Keppler in Vienna.
Listen carefully. The following telegram should be sent here by Seyss-Inquart. Take the notes.
“The provisional Austrian Government, which after the resignation of the Schuschnigg Government considers it its task to establish peace and order in Austria, sends to the German Government the urgent request to support it in the task and to help it to prevent bloodshed. For this purpose it asks the German Government to send German troops as soon as possible.”
Keppler assured the Field Marshal he would show Seyss-Inquart the text of the “telegram” immediately.
“Well,” Goering said, “he does not even have to send the telegram. All he needs to do is say ‘Agreed.’”
One hour later Keppler called back Berlin. “Tell the Field Marshal,” he said, “that Seyss-Inquart agrees.”†
Thus it was that when I passed through Berlin the next day I found a screaming headline in the Voelkischer Beobachter: GERMAN AUSTRIA SAVED FROM CHAOS. There were incredible stories hatched up by Goebbels describing Red disorders—fighting, shooting, pillaging—in the main streets ofVienna. And there was the text of the telegram, issued by D.N.B., the official German news agency, which said that it had been dispatched by Seyss-Inquart to Hitler the night before. Actually two copies of the “telegram,” just as Goering had dictated it, were found in the German Foreign Office archives at the end of the war. Papen later explained how they got there. They were concocted, he says, sometime later by the German Minister of Posts and Telegraph and deposited in the government files.
Hitler had waited anxiously throughout the frenzied afternoon and evening not only for President Miklas to capitulate but for some word from Mussolini. The silence of Austria’s protector was becoming ominous. At 10:25 P.M. Prince Philip of Hesse called the Chancellery from Rome. Hitler himself grabbed the telephone. Goering’s technicians recorded the conversation that followed:
PRINCE: I have just come back from the Palazzo Venezia. The Duce accepted the whole thing in a very friendly manner. He sends you his regards…. Schuschnigg gave him the news … Mussolini said that Austria would be immaterial to him.
Hitler was beside himself with relief and joy.
HITLER: Then, please tell Mussolini I will never forget him for this!
PRINCE: Yes, sir.
HITLER: Never, never, never, no matter what happens! I am ready to make a quite different agreement with him.
PRINCE: Yes, sir. I told him that too.
HITLER: As soon as the Austrian affair has been settled I shall be ready to go with him through thick and thin—through anything!
PRINCE: Yes, my Fuehrer.
HITLER: Listen! I shall make any agreement. I am no longer in fear of the terrible position which would have existed militarily in case we had gotten into a conflict. You may tell him that I do thank him from the bottom of my heart. Never, never shall I forget it.
PRINCE: Yes, my Fuehrer.
HITLER: I shall never forget him for this, no matter what happens. If he should ever need any help or be in any danger, he can be convinced that I shall stick to him whatever may happen, even if the whole world gangs up on him.
PRINCE: Yes, my Fuehrer.
And what stand were Great Britain and France and the League of Nations taking at this critical moment to halt Germany’s aggression against a peaceful neighboring country? None. For the moment France was again without a government. On Thursday, March 10, Premier Chautemps and his cabinet had resigned. All through the crucial day of Friday, March 11, when Goering was telephoning his ultimatums to Vienna, there was no one in Paris who could act. It was not until the Anschluss had been proclaimed on the thirteenth that a French government was formed under Léon Blum.
And Britain? On February 20, a week after Schuschnigg had capitulated at Berchtesgaden, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden had resigned, principally because of his opposition to further appeasement of Mussolini by Prime Minister Chamberlain. He was replaced by Lord Halifax. This change was welcomed in Berlin. So was Chamberlain’s statement to the Commons after the Berchtesgaden ultimatum. The German Embassy in London reported fully on it in a dispatch to Berlin on March 4.31 Chamberlain was quoted as saying that “what happened [at Berchtesgaden] was merely that two statesmen had agreed upon certain measures for the improvement of relations between their two countries … It appeared hardly possible to insist that just because two statesmen had agreed on certain domestic changes in one of two countries—changes desirable in the interest of relations between them—the one country had renounced its independence in favor of the other. On the contrary, the Federal Chancellor’s speech of February 24 contained nothing that might convey the impression that the Federal Chancellor [Schuschnigg] himself believed in the surrender of the independence of his country.”
In view of the fact that the British Legation in Vienna, as I myself learned at the time, had provided Chamberlain with the details of Hitler’s Berchtesgaden ultimatum to Schuschnigg, this speech, which was made to the Commons on March 2, is astounding.* But it was pleasing to Hitler. He knew that he could march into Austria without getting into complications with Britain. On March 9, Ribbentrop, the new German Foreign Minister, had arrived in London to wind up his affairs at the embassy, where he had been ambassador. He had long talks with Chamberlain, Halifax, the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury. His impressions of the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, he reported back to Berlin, were “very good.” After a long conference with Lord Halifax, Ribbentrop reported directly to Hitler on March 10 as to what Britain would do “if the Austrian question cannot be settled peacefully.” Basically he was convinced from his London talks “that England will do nothing in regard to Austria.”33
On Friday, March 11, Ribbentrop was lunching at Downing Street with the Prime Minister and his associates when a Foreign Office messenger broke in with urgent dispatches for Chamberlain telling of the startling news from Vienna. Only a few minutes before, Chamberlain had asked Ribbentrop to inform the Fuehrer “of his sincere wish and firm determination to clear up German-British relations.” Now, at the receipt of the sour news from Austria, the statesmen adjourned to the Prime Minister’s study, where Chamberlain read to the uncomfortable German Foreign Minister two telegrams from the British Legation in Vienna telling of Hitler’s ultimatum. “The discussion,” Ribbentrop reported to Hitler, “took place in a tense atmosphere and the usually calm Lord Halifax was more excited than Chamberlain, who outwardly at least appeared calm and cool-headed.” Ribbentrop expressed doubts about “the truth of the reports” and this seems to have calmed down his British hosts, for “our leave-taking,” he reported, “was entirely amiable, and even Halifax was calm again.”34*
Chamberlain’s reaction to the dispatches from Vienna was to instruct Ambassador Henderson in Berlin to pen a note to Acting Foreign Minister von Neurath stating that if the report of the German ultimatum to Austria was correct, “His Majesty’s Government feel bound to register a protest in the strongest terms.”35 But a formal diplomatic protest at this late hour was the least of Hitler’s worries. The next day, March 12, while German troops were streaming into Austria, Neurath returned a contemptuous reply,36 declaring that Austro–German relations were the exclusive concern of the German people and not of the British government, and repeating the lies that there had been no German ultimatum to Austria and that troops had been dispatched only in answer to “urgent” appeals from the newly formed Austrian government. He referred the British ambassador to the telegram, “already published in the German press.”†
Hitler’s only serious worry on the evening of March 11 had been over Mussolini’s reaction to his aggression,‡ but there was some concern in Berlin too as to what Czechoslovakia might do. However, the indefatigable Goering quickly cleared this up. Busy though he was at the telephone directing the coup in Vienna, he managed to slip over during the evening to the Haus der Flieger, where he was official host to a thousand high-ranking officials and diplomats, who were being entertained at a glittering soiree by the orchestra, the singers and the ballet of the State Opera. When the Czech minister in Berlin, Dr. Mastny, arrived at the gala fete he was immediately taken aside by the bemedaled Field Marshal, who told him on his word of honor that Czechoslovakia had nothing to fear from Germany, that the entry of the Reich’s troops into Austria was “nothing more than a family affair” and that Hitler wanted to improve relations with Prague. In return he asked for assurances that the Czechs would not mobilize. Dr. Mastny left the reception, telephoned to his Foreign Minister in Prague, and returned to the hall to tell Goering that his country was not mobilizing and that Czechoslovakia had no intention of trying to interfere with events in Austria. Goering was relieved and repeated his assurances, adding that he was authorized to back them up by Hitler’s word too.
It may have been that even the astute Czech President, Eduard Beneš, did not have time to realize that evening that Austria’s end meant Czechoslovakia’s as well. There were some in Europe that weekend who thought the Czech government was shortsighted, who argued that in view of the disastrous strategic position in which Czechoslovakia would be left by the Nazi occupation of Austria—with German troops surrounding her on three sides—and considering too that her intervention to help save Austria might have brought Russia, France and Britain, as well as the League of Nations, into a conflict with the Third Reich which the Germans were in no condition to meet, the Czechs should have acted on the night of March 11. But subsequent events, which shortly will be chronicled here, surely demolish any such argument. A little later when the two big Western democracies and the League had a better opportunity of stopping Hitler they shrank from it. Anyway, at no time on the eventful day did Schuschnigg make a formal appeal to London, Paris, Prague or Geneva. Perhaps, as his memoirs indicate, he thought this would be a waste of time. President Miklas, on the other hand, was under the impression, as he later testified, that the Austrian government, which immediately had informed Paris and London of the German ultimatum, was continuing “conversations” with the French and British governments throughout the afternoon in order to ascertain their “frame of mind.”
When it became clear that their “frame of mind” was to do nothing more than utter empty protests President Miklas, a little before midnight, gave in. He appointed Seyss-Inquart Chancellor and accepted his list of cabinet ministers. “I was completely abandoned both at home and abroad,” he commented bitterly later.
Having issued a grandiose proclamation to the German people in which he justified his aggression with his usual contempt for the truth and promised that the Austrian people would choose their future in “a real plebiscite”—Goebbels read it over the German and Austrian radio stations at noon on March 12—Hitler set off for his native land. He received a tumultuous welcome. At every village, hastily decorated in his honor, there were cheering crowds. During the afternoon he reached his first goal, Linz, where he had spent his school days. The reception there was delirious and Hitler was deeply touched. The next day, after getting off a telegram to Mussolini—“I shall never forget you for this!”—he laid a wreath on the graves of his parents at Leonding and then returned to Linz to make a speech:
When years ago I went forth from this town I bore within me precisely the same profession of faith which today fills my heart. Judge the depth of my emotion when after so many years I have been able to bring that profession of faith to its fulfillment. If Providence once called me forth from this town to be the leader of the Reich, it must in so doing have charged me with a mission, and that mission could only be to restore my dear homeland to the German Reich. I have believed in this mission, I have lived and fought for it, and I believe I have now fulfilled it.
On the afternoon of the twelfth, Seyss-Inquart, accompanied by Himmler, had flown to Linz to meet Hitler and had proudly proclaimed that Article 88 of the Treaty of St. Germain, which proclaimed Austria’s independence as inalienable and made the League of Nations its guarantor, had been voided. To Hitler, carried away by the enthusiasm of the Austrian crowds, this was not enough. He ordered Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, an undersecretary in the Ministry of the Interior who had been rushed by his Minister, Frick, to Vienna to draft a law making Hitler President of Austria, to come at once to Linz. Somewhat to the surprise of this legal expert, the Fuehrer instructed him, as he later deposed at Nuremberg, to “draft a law providing for a total Anschluss.”39
This draft Stuckart presented to the newly formed Austrian government in Vienna on Sunday, March 13, the day on which Schuschnigg’s plebiscite was to have been held. President Miklas, as we have seen, refused to sign it, but Seyss-Inquart, who had taken over the President’s powers, did and late that evening flew back to Linz to present it to the Fuehrer. It proclaimed the end of Austria. “Austria,” it began, “is a province of the German Reich.” Hitler shed tears of joy, Seyss-Inquart later recalled.40 The so-called Anschluss law was also promulgated the same day at Linz by the German government and signed by Hitler, Goering, Ribbentrop, Frick and Hess. It provided for “a free and secret plebiscite” on April 10 in which the Austrians could determine “the question of reunion with the German Reich.” The Reich Germans, Hitler announced on March 18, were also to have a plebiscite on the Anschluss, along with new elections to the Reichstag.
Hitler did not make his triumphal entry into Vienna, where he had lived so long as a tramp, until the afternoon of Monday, March 14. He was delayed by two unforeseen developments. Despite the delirium of the Austrians at the prospect of seeing the Fuehrer in the capital, Himmler asked for an extra day to perfect security arrangements. He was already carrying out the arrest of thousands of “unreliables”—within a few weeks the number would reach 79,000 in Vienna alone. Also the vaunted German panzer units had broken down long before they got within sight of Vienna’s hills. According to Jodl, some 70 per cent of the armored vehicles were stranded on the road from Salzburg and Passau to Vienna, though General Guderian, who commanded the panzer troops, later contended that only 30 per cent of his forces became stalled. At any rate, Hitler was furious at the delay. He remained in Vienna only overnight, putting up at the Hotel Imperial.
Still, this triumphant return to the former imperial capital which he felt had rejected him and condemned him in his youth to a starved and miserable gutter life and which was now acclaiming him with such tumultuous jubilation could not have failed to revive his spirits. The ubiquitous Papen, rushing by plane from Berlin to Vienna to get in on the festivities, found Hitler in the reviewing stand opposite the Hofburg, the ancient palace of the Hapsburgs. “I can only describe him,” Papen later wrote, “as being in a state of ecstasy.”*
He remained in this state during most of the next four weeks, when he traversed Germany and Austria from one end to the other whipping up public fervor for a big Ja vote in favor of the Anschluss. But in his exuberant speeches he missed no opportunity to vilify Schuschnigg or to peddle the by now shopworn lies about how the Anschluss was achieved. In his address to the Reichstag on March 18 he asserted that Schuschnigg had “broken his word” by his “election forgery,” adding that “only a crazy, blinded man” could have behaved in such a manner. On March 25 atKoenigsberg the “election forgery” had become in Hitler’s mind “this ridiculous comedy.” Letters had been found, Hitler claimed, proving that Schuschnigg had deliberately double-crossed him by seeking delays in augmenting the Berchtesgaden agreement until “a more propitious hour to stir up foreign countries against Germany.”
In Koenigsberg Hitler also answered the taunts of the foreign press at his use of brutal force and his trickery in having proclaimed the Anschluss without even waiting for the decision of the plebiscite:
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 … Under the force of this impression I decided not to wait until April tenth but to effect the unification forthwith …
If this sounded less than logical—or honest—to foreign ears, there is no doubt that it made a great impression on the Germans. When at the conclusion of his Reichstag speech Hitler implored, in a voice choked with emotion, “German people, give me another four years so that I can now exploit the accomplished union for the benefit of all!” he received an ovation so overwhelming that it dwarfed all his former triumphs at this tribune.
The Fuehrer wound up his election campaign in Vienna on April 9, on the eve of the polling. The man who had once tramped the pavements of this city as a vagabond, unwashed and empty-bellied, who but four years before had assumed in Germany the powers of the Hohenzollern kings and had now taken upon himself those of the Hapsburg emperors, was full of a sense of God-given mission.
I believe that it was God’s will to send a youth from here into the Reich, to let him grow up, to raise him to be the leader of the nation so as to enable him to lead back his homeland into the Reich.
There is a higher ordering and we all are nothing else than its agents. When on March 9 Herr Schuschnigg broke his agreement, then in that second I felt that now the call of Providence had come to me. And that which then took place in three days was only conceivable as the fulfillment of the wish and the will of this Providence.
In three days the Lord has smitten them! … And to me the grace was given on the day of the betrayal to be able to unite my homeland with the Reich! …
I would now give thanks to Him who let me return to my homeland in order that I might now lead it into my German Reich! Tomorrow may every German recognize the hour and measure its import and bow in humility before the Almighty, who in a few weeks has wrought a miracle upon us!
That a majority of Austrians, who undoubtedly would have said Ja to Schuschnigg on March 13, would say the same to Hitler on April 10 was a foregone conclusion. Many of them sincerely believed that ultimate union with any kind of Germany, even a Nazi Germany, was a desirable and inevitable end, that Austria, cut off from its vast Slavic and Hungarian hinterland in 1918, could not in the long run exist decently by itself, that it could only survive as part of the German Reich. In addition to these Austrians were the fanatical Nazis whose ranks were swelling rapidly with jobseekers and jobholders attracted by success and anxious to improve their position. Many Catholics in this overwhelmingly Catholic country were undoubtedly swayed by a widely publicized statement of Cardinal Innitzer welcoming Nazism to Austria and urging a Ja vote. *
In a fair and honest election in which the Social Democrats and Schuschnigg’s Christian Socials would have had freedom to campaign openly the plebiscite, in my opinion, might have been close. As it was, it took a very brave Austrian to vote No. As in Germany, and not without reason, the voters feared that their failure to cast an affirmative ballot might be found out. In the polling station which I visited in Vienna that Sunday afternoon, wide slits in the corner of the polling booths gave the Nazi election committee sitting a few feet away a good view of how one voted. In the country districts few bothered—or dared—to cast their ballots in the secrecy of the booth; they voted openly for all to see. I happened to broadcast at seven-thirty that evening, a half hour after the polls had closed, when few votes had yet been counted. A Nazi official assured me before the broadcast that the Austrians were voting 99 per cent Ja. That was the figure officially given later—99.08 per cent in Greater Germany, 99.75 in Austria.
And so Austria, as Austria, passed for a moment out of history, its very name suppressed by the revengeful Austrian who had now joined it to Germany. The ancient German word for Austria, Oesterreich, was abolished. Austria became the Ostmark and soon even that name was dropped and Berlin administered the country by Gaue (districts) which corresponded roughly to the historic Laender such as Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria and Carinthia. Vienna became just another city of the Reich, a provincial district administrative center, withering away. The former Austrian tramp become dictator had wiped his native land off the map and deprived its once glittering capital of its last shred of glory and importance. Disillusionment among the Austrians was inevitable.
For the first few weeks the behavior of the Vienna Nazis was worse than anything I had seen in Germany. There was an orgy of sadism. Day after day large numbers of Jewish men and women could be seen scrubbing Schuschnigg signs off the sidewalk and cleaning the gutters. While they worked on their hands and knees with jeering storm troopers standing over them, crowds gathered to taunt them. Hundreds of Jews, men and women, were picked off the streets and put to work cleaning public latrines and the toilets of the barracks where the S.A. and the S.S. were quartered. Tens of thousands more were jailed. Their worldly possessions were confiscated or stolen. I myself, from our apartment in the Plosslgasse, watched squads of S.S. men carting off silver, tapestries, paintings and other loot from the Rothschild palace next door. Baron Louis de Rothschild himself was later able to buy his way out of Vienna by turning over his steel mills to the Hermann Goering Works. Perhaps half of the city’s 180,000 Jews managed, by the time the war started, to purchase their freedom to emigrate by handing over what they owned to the Nazis.
This lucrative trade in human freedom was handled by a special organization set up under the S.S. by Heydrich, the “Office for Jewish Emigration,” which became the sole Nazi agency authorized to issue permits to Jews to leave the country. Administered from the beginning to the end by an Austrian Nazi, a native of Hitler’s home town of Linz by the name of Karl Adolf Eichmann, it was to become eventually an agency not of emigration but of extermination and to organize the slaughter of more than four million persons, mostly Jews. Himmler and Heydrich also took advantage of their stay in Austria during the first weeks of the Anschluss to set up a huge concentration camp at Mauthausen, on the north bank of the Danube near Enns. It was too much trouble to continue to transport thousands of Austrians to the concentration camps of Germany. Austria, Himmler decided, needed one of its own. Before the Third Reich tumbled to its fall the non-Austrian prisoners were to outnumber the local inmates and Mauthausen was to achieve the dubious record as the German concentration camp (the extermination camps in the East were something else) with the largest number of officially listed executions—35,318 in the six and a half years of its existence.
Despite the Gestapo terror led by Himmler and Heydrich after the Anschluss Germans flocked by the hundreds of thousands to Austria, where they could pay with their marks for sumptuous meals not available in Germany for years and for bargain-priced vacations amid Austria’s matchless mountains and lakes. German businessmen and bankers poured in to buy up the concerns of dispossessed Jews and anti-Nazis at a fraction of their value. Among the smiling visitors was the inimitable Dr. Schacht, who, despite his quarrels with Hitler, was still a minister (without portfolio) in the Reich cabinet, still the president of the Reichsbank, and who was overjoyed with the Anschluss. Arriving to take over the Austrian National Bank on behalf of the Reichsbank even before the plebiscite, he addressed the staff of the Austrian bank on March 21. Ridiculing the foreign press for criticizing Hitler’s methods of effecting the union, Dr. Schacht stoutly defended the methods, arguing that the Anschluss was “the consequence of countless perfidies and brutal acts of violence which foreign countries have practiced against us.
“Thank God … Adolf Hitler has created a communion of German will and German thought. He bolstered it up with the newly strengthened Wehrmacht and he then finally gave the external form to the inner union between Germany and Austria….
“Not a single person will find a future with us who is not wholeheartedly for Adolf Hitler … The Reichsbank will always be nothing but National Socialist or I shall cease to be its manager.”
Whereupon Dr. Schacht administered to the Austrian staff an oath to be “faithful and obedient to the Fuehrer.”
“A scoundrel he who breaks it!” Dr. Schacht cried, and then led his audience in the bellowing of a triple “Sieg Heil!”42
In the meantime Dr. Schuschnigg had been arrested and subjected to treatment so degrading that it is difficult to believe that it was not prescribed by Hitler himself. Kept under house arrest from March 12 until May 28, during which time the Gestapo contrived to prevent him from getting any sleep by the most petty devices, he was then taken to Gestapo headquarters at the Hotel Metropole in Vienna, where he was incarcerated in a tiny room on the fifth floor for the next seventeen months. There, with the towel issued to him for his personal use, he was forced to clean the quarters, washbasins, slop buckets and latrines of the S.S. guards and perform other various menial tasks thought up by the Gestapo. By March 11, the first anniversary of his fall, he had lost fifty-eight pounds, but the S.S. doctor reported that his condition was excellent. The years of solitary confinement and then of life “among the living dead” in some of the worst of the German concentration camps such as Dachau and Sachsenhausen that followed have been described by Dr. Schuschnigg in his book.*
Shortly after his arrest he was allowed to marry by proxy the former Countess Vera Czernin, whose marriage had been annulled by an ecclesiastical court,† and in the last war years she was permitted to share his existence in the concentration camps along with their child, who was born in 1941. How they survived the nightmare of imprisonment is a miracle. Toward the end they were joined by a number of other distinguished victims of Hitler’s wrath such as Dr. Schacht, Léon Blum, the former French Premier, and Madame Blum, Pastor Niemoeller, a host of high-ranking generals and Prince Philip of Hesse, whose wife, Princess Mafalda, the daughter of the King of Italy, had been done to death by the S.S. at Buchenwald in 1944 as part of the Fuehrer’s revenge for Victor Emmanuel’s desertion to the Allied side.
On May 1, 1945, the eminent group of prisoners, who had been hastily evacuated from Dachau and transported southward to keep them from being liberated by the Americans advancing from the West, arrived at a village high in the mountains of southern Tyrol. The Gestapo officers showed Schuschnigg a list of those who, on Himmler’s orders, were to be done away with before they fell into the hands of the Allies. Schuschnigg noted his own name and that of his wife, “neatly printed.” His spirits fell. To have survived so much so long—and then to be bumped off at the last minute!
On May 4, however, Schuschnigg was able to write in his diary:
At two o’clock this afternoon, alarm! The Americans! An American detachment takes over the hotel. We are free!
Without firing a shot and without interference from Great Britain, France and Russia, whose military forces could have overwhelmed him, Hitler had added seven million subjects to the Reich and gained a strategic position of immense value to his future plans. Not only did his armies flankCzechoslovakia on three sides but he now possessed in Vienna the gateway to Southeast Europe. As the capital of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna had long stood at the center of the communications and the trading systems of Central and Southeast Europe. Now that nerve center was in German hands.
Perhaps most important to Hitler was the demonstration again that neither Britain nor France would lift a finger to stop him. On March 14 Chamberlain had addressed the Commons on Hitler’s fait accompli in Austria, and the German Embassy in London had got off to Berlin a succession of urgent telegrams on the course of the debate. There was not much for Hitler to fear. “The hard fact is,” Chamberlain declared, “that nothing could have arrested what actually has happened [in Austria]—unless this country and other countries had been prepared to use force.”
The British Prime Minister, it became clear to Hitler, was unwilling not only to employ force but even to concert with the other Big Powers about halting Germany’s future moves. On March 17 the Soviet government had proposed a conference of powers, within or without the League of Nations, to consider means of seeing that there was no further German aggression. Chamberlain took a chilly view of any such meeting and on March 24, in the House of Commons, publicly rejected it. “The inevitable consequence of any such action,” he said, “would be to aggravate the tendency towards the establishment of exclusive groups of nations which must … be inimical to the prospects of European peace.” Apparently he overlooked, or did not take seriously, the Rome–Berlin Axis or the tripartite Anti-Comintern Pact of Germany, Italy and Japan.
In the same speech Chamberlain announced a decision of his government which must have been even more pleasing to Hitler. He bluntly rejected the suggestion not only that Britain should give a guarantee to come to the aid of Czechoslovakia in case she were attacked but also that Britain should support France if the French were called upon to implement their obligations under the Franco–Czech pact. This forthright statement eased Hitler’s problems considerably. He now knew that Britain would also stand by when he took on his next victim. If Britain held back would not France also? As his secret papers of the next few months make clear, he was sure of it. And he knew that, by the terms of the Russian pacts with France and Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union was not obliged to come to the aid of the Czechs until the French moved first. Such knowledge was all that he needed to enable him to go ahead at once with his plans.
The reluctant German generals, Hitler could assume after the success of the Anschluss, would no longer stand in his way. If he had any doubts at all on this, they were removed by the denouement of the Fritsch affair.
As we have seen,* General von Fritsch’s trial before a military court of honor on charges of homosexualism had been abruptly suspended on its opening day, March 10, when Field Marshal Goering and the commanders of the Army and Navy were convoked by Hitler to handle more urgent affairs in connection with Austria. The trial resumed on March 17, but in view of what had happened in the interval it was bound to be anti-climactic. A few weeks before, the senior generals had been confident that when the military court exposed the unbelievable machinations of Himmler and Heydrich against Fritsch not only would their fallen Commander in Chief be restored to his post in the Army but the S.S., perhaps even the Third Reich, possibly even Adolf Hitler, would be shaken to a fall. Vain and empty hope! On February 4, as has been recounted, Hitler had smashed the dreams of the old officer corps by taking over command of the armed forces himself and cashiering Fritsch and most of the high-ranking generals around him. Now he had conquered Austria without a shot. After this astounding triumph, nobody in Germany, not even the old generals, had much thought for General von Fritsch.
True, he was quickly cleared. After some browbeating from Goering, who could now pose as the fairest of judges, the blackmailing ex-convict, Schmidt, broke down in court and confessed that the Gestapo had threatened his life unless he implicated General von Fritsch—a threat, incidentally, which was carried out anyway a few days later—and that the similarity of names between Fritsch and Rittmeister von Frisch, whom he had actually blackmailed for homosexualism, had led to the frame-up. No attempt was made by Fritsch or the Army to expose the Gestapo’s real role, nor the personal guilt of Himmler and Heydrich in cooking up the false charges. On the second day, March 18, the trial was concluded with the inevitable verdict: “Proven not guilty as charged, and acquitted.”
It was a personal exoneration for General von Fritsch but it did not restore him to his command, nor the Army to its former position of some independence in the Third Reich. Since the trial was held in camera, the public knew nothing of it or of the issues involved. On March 25 Hitler sent a telegram to Fritsch congratulating him on his “recovery of health.” That was all.
The deposed General, who had declined to point an accusing finger at Himmler in court, now made a final futile gesture. He challenged the Gestapo chief to a duel. The challenge, drawn up in strict accordance with the old military code of honor by General Beck himself, was given to General von Rundstedt, as the senior ranking Army officer, to deliver to the head of the S.S. But Rundstedt got cold feet, carried it around in his pocket for weeks and in the end forgot it.
General von Fritsch, and all he stood for, soon faded out of German life. But what did he stand for in the end? In December he was writing his friend Baroness Margot von Schutzbar a letter which indicated the pathetic confusion into which he, like so many of the other generals, had fallen.
It is really strange that so many people should regard the future with increasing fears, in spite of the Fuehrer’s indisputable successes during the past years …
Soon after the war I came to the conclusion that we should have to be victorious in three battles if Germany were to become powerful again:
1. The battle against the working class—Hitler has won this.
2. Against the Catholic Church, perhaps better expressed against Ultramontanism, and
3. Against the Jews.
We are in the midst of these battles and the one against the Jews is the most difficult. I hope everyone realizes the intricacies of this campaign.43
On August 7, 1939, as the war clouds darkened, he wrote the Baroness: “For me there is, neither in peace nor in war, any part in Herr Hitler’s Germany. I shall accompany my regiment only as a target, because I cannot stay at home.”
That is what he did. On August 11, 1938, he had been named colonel in chief of his old regiment, the 12th Artillery Regiment, a purely honorary title. On September 22, 1939, he was the target of a Polish machine gunner before beleaguered Warsaw, and four days later he was buried with full military honors in Berlin on a cold, rainy, dark morning, one of the dreariest days, according to my diary, I ever lived through in the capital.
With Fritsch’s discharge as Commander in Chief of the German Army twenty months before, Hitler had won, as we have seen, a complete victory over the last citadel of possible opposition in Germany, the old, traditional Army officer caste. Now, in the spring of 1938, by his clever coup in Austria, he had further established his hold on the Army, demonstrating his bold leadership and emphasizing that he alone would make the decisions in foreign policy and that it was the Army’s role merely to supply the force, or the threat of force. Moreover, he had given the Army, without the sacrifice of a man, a strategic position which rendered Czechoslovakia militarily indefensible. There was no time to lose in taking advantage of it.
On April 21, eleven days after the Nazi plebiscite on Austria, Hitler called in General Keitel, Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces, to discuss Case Green.
* Which happened to be the fourth anniversary of the slaughter of the Austrian Social Democrats by the Dollfuss government, of which Schuschnigg was a member. On February 12, 1934, seventeen thousand government troops and fascist militia had turned artillery on the workers’ flats in Vienna, killing a thousand men, women and children and wounding three or four thousand more. Democratic political freedom was stamped out and Austria thereafter was ruled first by Dollfuss and then by Schuschnigg as a clerical-fascist dictatorship. It was certainly milder than the Nazi variety, as those of us who worked in both Berlin and Vienna in those days can testify. Nevertheless it deprived the Austrian people of their political freedom and subjected them to more repression than they had known under the Hapsburgs in the last decades of the monarchy. The author has discussed this more fully in Midcentury Journey.
* Later Dr. Schuschnigg wrote down from memory an account of what he calls the “significant passages” of the one-sided conversation, and though it is therefore not a verbatim record it rings true to anyone who has heard and studied Hitler’s countless utterances and its substance is verified not only by all that happened subsequently but by others who were present at the Berghof that day, notably Papen, Jodl and Guido Schmidt. I have followed Schuschnigg’s account given in his book Austrian Requiem and in his Nuremberg affidavit on the meeting.4
† It is evident that Hitler’s warped version of Austro–German history, which, as we have seen in earlier chapters, was picked up in his youth at Linz and Vienna, remained unchanged.
* Papen’s version (see his Memoirs, p. 420) is somewhat different, but that of Schuschnigg rings more true.
* Wilhelm Canaris was head of the Intelligence Bureau (Abwehr) of OKW.
* According to the testimony of President Miklas during a trial of an Austrian Nazi in Vienna after the war, the plebiscite was suggested to Schuschnigg by France. Papen in his memoirs suggests that the French minister in Vienna, M. Puaux, a close personal friend of the Chancellor, was the “father of the plebiscite idea.” He concedes, however, that Schuschnigg certainly adopted it on his own responsibility.18
* The stricken passages were found after the war in the archives of the Italian Foreign Ministry.
* Drawing the frontier at the Brenner was a sop to Mussolini. It meant that Hitler would not be asking for the return of the southern Tyrol, which was taken from Austria and awarded to Italy at Versailles.
† In all fairness, it should be pointed out that Schuschnigg’s plebiscite was scarcely more free or democratic than those perpetrated by Hitler in Germany. Since there had been no free elections in Austria since 1933, there were no up-to-date polling lists. Only those persons above twenty-four were eligible to vote. Only four days’ notice of the plebiscite had been given to the public, so there was no time for campaigning even if the opposition groups, the Nazis and the Social Democrats, had been free to do so. The Social Democrats undoubtedly would have votedJa, since they regarded Schuschnigg as a lesser evil than Hitler and moreover had been promised the restoration of political freedom. There is no question that their vote would have given Schuschnigg a victory.
* In his postwar testimony already referred to, Miklas denied that he asked Schuschnigg to say any such thing or that he even agreed that the broadcast should be made. Contrary to what the retiring Chancellor said, the President was not yet ready to yield to force. “Things have not gone so far that we must capitulate,” he says he told Schuschnigg. He had just turned down the second German ultimatum. He was standing firm. But Schuschnigg’s broadcast did help to undermine his position and force his hand. As we shall see, the obstinate old President held out for several hours more before capitulating. On March 13, he refused to sign the Anschluss law snuffing out Austria’s independent existence which Seyss-Inquart, at Hitler’s insistence, promulgated. Though he surrendered the functions of his office to the Nazi Chancellor for as long as he was prevented from carrying them out, he maintained that he never formally resigned as President. “It would have been too cowardly,” he later explained to a Vienna court. This did not prevent Seyss-Inquart from announcing officially on March 13 that “the President, upon request of the Chancellor,” had “resigned from his office” and that his “affairs” were transferred to the Chancellor.28
* Marked “Top Secret” and identified as Directive No. 2 of Operation Otto, it read in part: “The demands of the German ultimatum to the Austrian government have not been fulfilled … To avoid further bloodshed in Austrian cities, the entry of the German armed forces into Austria will commence, according to Directive No. 1, at daybreak of March 12. I expect the set objectives to be reached by exerting all forces to the full as quickly as possible. (Signed) Adolf Hitler.”29
† Actually, Seyss-Inquart tried until long after midnight to get Hitler to call off the German invasion. A German Foreign Office memorandum reveals that at 2:10 A.M. on March 12 General Muff telephoned Berlin and stated that on the instructions of Chancellor Seyss-Inquart he was requesting that “the alerted troops should remain on, but not cross, the border.” Keppler also came on the telephone to support the request. General Muff, a decent man and an officer of the old school, seems to have been embarrassed by his role in Vienna. When he was informed by Berlin that Hitler declined to halt his troops he replied that he “regretted this message.”30
* In his testimony at Nuremberg Guido Schmidt swore that both he and Schuschnigg informed the envoys of the “Big Powers” of Hitler’s ultimatum “in detail.”32 Moreover, the Vienna correspondents of the Times and the Daily Telegraph of London, to my knowledge, also telephoned their respective newspapers a full and accurate report.
* Churchill has given an amusing description of this luncheon in The Gathering Storm (pp. 271–72).
† The lies were repeated in a circular telegram dispatched by Baron von Weizsaecker of the Foreign Office March 12 to German envoys abroad for “information and orientation of your conversations.” Weizsaecker stated that Schuschnigg’s declaration concerning a German ultimatum “was sheer fabrication” and went on to inform his diplomats abroad: “The truth was that the question of sending military forces … was first raised in the well-known telegram of the newly formed Austrian government. In view of the imminent danger of civil war, the Reich government decided to comply with this appeal.”37 Thus the German Foreign Office lied not only to foreign diplomats but to its own. In a long and ineffectual book written after the war Weizsaecker, like so many other Germans who served Hitler, maintained that he was anti-Nazi all along.
‡ In his testimony at Nuremberg on August 9, 1946, Field Marshal von Manstein emphasized that “at the time when Hitler gave us the orders for Austria his chief worry was not so much that there might be interference on the part of the Western Powers, but his only worry was as to how Italy would behave, because it appeared that Italy always sided with Austria and the Hapsburgs.”38
* Yet underneath the ecstasy, and unnoticed by the shallow Papen, there may have burned in Hitler a feeling of revenge for a city and a people which had not appreciated him as a young man and which at heart he despised. This in part may have accounted for his brief stay. Though a few weeks later he would publicly say to the burgomaster of Vienna, “Be assured that this city is in my eyes a pearl—I will bring it into a setting which is worthy of it,” this was probably more electioneering propaganda than an expression of his inner feelings. These feelings were revealed to Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi Governor and Gauleiter of Vienna during the war, at a heated meeting at the Berghof in 1943. Describing it during his testimony at Nuremberg, Schirach said:
Then the Fuehrer began with, I might say, incredible and unlimited hatred to speak against the people of Vienna…. At four o’clock in the morning Hitler suddenly said something which I should now like to repeat for historical reasons. He said: “Vienna should never have been admitted into the Union of the Greater Germany.” Hitler never loved Vienna. He hated its people.41
Papen’s own festive spirits on March 14 were spoiled that same day when he learned that Wilhelm von Ketteler, his close friend and aide at the German Legation, had disappeared under circumstances which indicated foul play by the Gestapo. Three years before, another friend and collaborator at the legation, Baron Tschirschky, had fled to England to escape certain death from the S.S. At the end of April Ketteler’s body was fished out of the Danube, where Gestapo thugs in Vienna had thrown it after murdering him.
* A few months later, on October 8, the cardinal’s palace opposite St. Stephen’s Cathedral was sacked by Nazi hooligans. Too late Innitzer had learned what National Socialism was, and had spoken out in a sermon against the Nazi persecution of his Church.
* Austrian Requiem.
† At this time Schuschnigg was a widower.
* See previous chapter.