March 12

This Day in History

World War II

Mar 12, 1938:

Hitler announces an Anschluss with Austria

On this day, Adolf Hitler announces an "Anschluss" (union) between Germany and Austria, in fact annexing the smaller nation into a greater Germany.

Union with Germany had been a dream of Austrian Social Democrats since 1919. The rise of Adolf Hitler and his authoritarian rule made such a proposition less attractive, though, which was an ironic twist, since a union between the two nations was also a dream of Hitler's, a native Austrian. Despite the fact that Hitler did not have the full approval of Austrian Social Democrats, the rise of a pro-Nazi right-wing party within Austria in the mid-1930s paved the way for Hitler to make his move. In 1938, Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, bullied by Hitler during a meeting at Hitler's retreat home in Berchtesgaden, agreed to a greater Nazi presence within Austria. He appointed a Nazi minister of police and announced an amnesty for all Nazi prisoners. Schuschnigg hoped that agreeing to Hitler's demands would prevent a German invasion. But Hitler insisted on greater German influence on the internal affairs of Austria-even placing German army troops within Austria--and Schu!

schnigg repudiated the agreement signed at Berchtesgaden, demanding a plebiscite on the question. Through the machinations of Hitler and his devotees within Austria, the plebiscite was canceled, and Schuschnigg resigned.

The Austrian president, Wilhelm Miklas, refused to appoint a pro-Nazi chancellor in Schuschnigg's stead. German foreign minister Hermann Goering then faked a crisis by engineering a "plea" for German assistance from inside the Austrian government (really from a German agent). On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria. Hitler announced his Anschluss, and a plebiscite was finally held on April 10. Whether the plebiscite was rigged or the resulting vote simply a testament to Austrian terror at Hitler's determination, the Fuhrer garnered a whopping 99.7 percent approval for the union of Germany and Austria.

Austria was now a nameless entity absorbed by Germany. It was not long before the Nazis soon began their typical ruthless policy of persecuting political dissidents and, of course, all Jewish citizens.

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