Source: Year of Reckoning – by G. Ward Price, Chapter IX
Mr. Ward Price
Most of the month following upon the Anschluss was taken up in Germany and Austria with intensive propaganda for the plebiscite fixed for April 10.
It may seem strange that a Government with such avowed contempt for democratic methods should trouble to hold a referendum on a step which, even if it were unpopular, could scarcely be cancelled.
But though the Nazis rate leadership far above the ballot-box as the governing element in the State, they know that mammoth demonstrations of any kind automatically impress the human mind. Fifty Storm Troopers marching along the street are so common a sight in Germany that no one turns his head to look at them, but 500,000 Storm Troopers, parading through the streets of Nuremberg, provide the climax of the great Annual Party Congress. A gigantic vote for the Government has its effect not only on the German people but on the outside world as well. It also frees the administration from the charge of denying opportunities for the expression of political convictions.
Though the result of the plebiscite was a foregone conclusion, it did not necessarily give a false picture of the sentiments of the Germans and Austrians. It is difficult for the British, who have never had to experience a long period of national humiliation, to realise how the Anschluss stirred the hearts of the Germans. To the people of the Reich, it came as the first clear assertion outside their own frontiers of their new international standing. After twenty years, during most of which they had been sufferers and suppliants, they took pride in seeing their Government impose its will in defiance of Germany’s former conquerors, brushing aside their protests in contemptuous terms.
The Austrians, for their part, had so long been depressed and discouraged that in their view any change must be for the better. Some doubtless regretted that the heavy hand of Nazi repression would now control a country of such long easy-going and liberal traditions and that the Austrian Jews were doomed to become either victims or fugitives. But they were careful to conceal such sentiments, and the majority of both nations felt strong satisfaction in the amalgamation of the two Germanic stocks, combined with full confidence that it would prove to the benefit of both.
When Herr Hitler arrived in Vienna on April 9 to wind up a tour of oratory that had taken him all over Germany, he delivered the most eloquent and interesting speech of the many I have heard him make. It was an analysis of his own career, tracing the steps by which he rose from obscurity to the leadership of the Reich, then achieved its restoration as a Great Power, and finally fulfilled his boyhood ambition to unite the land of his birth with the country of his adoption.
He stood on a high pulpit, raised at one end of the long and lofty hall of the North-West Railway Station, which had been transformed by a white and gold awning overhead stretching its whole length, and by draperies along its walls.
As a young man, said Hitler, he had had no concern with politics. His sole ambition then was to be an architect. For four years he had remained a nameless soldier. He had never tried to become a politician or a journalist. He had never made a speech. Those were the days when Germany was being steadily ruined. The men then in power bore the responsibility for her downfall. And it had been the sight of the havoc which they wrought that had decided him to take up politics.
“As I lay half-blinded in hospital, I realised that those who had wrecked Germany could never restore her. Seeing my country ruined and its people divided, I made for the first time the resolve to speak.
“It was clear to me that, if the cleft between bourgeoisie and proletariat were not healed, Germany would be wrecked. Each of these factions hoped for foreign help. The bourgeoisie looked towards Geneva; the proletariat towards Moscow.
“And even these divisions were endlessly sub-divided. There were forty-seven political parties in Germany.
“I saw that no party could unite Germany; that her salvation could not come from Monarchy or Republic, from any Church or group, from bourgeoisie or proletariat. I studied all their programmes and records.
“Germany did not fall into my lap like ripe fruit. I worked bitterly hard for fifteen years. You cannot deny that I worked harder than all your earlier leaders,” proclaimed Hitler fiercely. “For years I had no single day’s rest. I used to speak every day that I was not prevented by hoarseness. My foreign critics sometimes say my success is based on terror. I could impose no terror then. It was my antagonists who had all the power.
“I never found a loyal adversary,” he interjected bitterly. “They never said ‘Give him a chance,’ but only ‘Lock him up!’ or ‘Kill him!’
“I hated to use force against my fellow-Germans, and I only did so when force was used against me. Then, however, I employed it with vigour, for I had been a soldier.
“I know that I have critics and detractors, but we can neglect them. Our critics are growing old, and we have won their children to our cause.
“Nineteen years ago I was a completely unknown man. Now I stand here with a great nation behind me, ready for anything. After achieving all this, do you suppose that such opposition as still exists can count for anything? I never gave in when I was weak, when I was in prison, or when I was forbidden to speak in public. And to-day the power is in my hands! “
The Führer’s strident voice rose to a shout. His face was flushed and his eyes blazed. In one of his triumphant gestures, he swept the microphone in front of him off its stand, and sent it crashing to the floor.
Listening to such an harangue, one appreciates how completely the German nation is dominated by the personality of this man, who, in turn, reacts to the impulses of his own temperament with the assurance of a prophet believing himself inspired. Of the 75,000,000 Germans under Hitler’s rule as he delivered his speech in Vienna, more than half were hearing his words as they resounded from the wireless receivers fixed in the streets of every town, or rang out in restaurants, theatres and cinemas; in all factories and workshops; in German mines below the ground; in German ships on the high seas and in millions of private homes, besides being printed in every newspaper next day. To Germans, every syllable uttered by the Führer on such an occasion is sacrosanct and constitutes an unchallengeable pronouncement upon the subject with which it deals.
“In the last five years, out of the once wretched and disorganised German people has grown a nation stronger and prouder than ever before,” he declared dramatically. “Have I not the right to stand here? This is my home! I do not know if Schuschnigg’s name will be remembered a hundred years from now, but I know that mine will as the greatest son of Austria!”
The sense of personal destiny that explains much in Herr Hitler’s character found expression in his words.
“I believe it to have been the will of God” he said, “that a boy from this country should have become the Head of the German nation, and then united his homeland to the Reich. Otherwise, one would have to doubt Divine Providence. There is a Supreme Power, and we are but instruments in its hands. When, on March 9, Schuschnigg broke his pledge to me, I made up my mind that the time had come, and in three days he was broken. On the very day for which he had planned that treasonable plebiscite, I brought my homeland into the Reich. I render thanks to God, Who showed me the way.”
In a climax of high-power publicity, the preparations for the plebiscite came to an end. On the Kahlenberg, Leopoldsberg, Cobenzl and other heights around Vienna, red swastikas glowed through the night. Giant bombers cruised in the dark over every Austrian town, flashing, in red electric lights from the underside of their wings, that slogan which had brought about the Anschluss, “Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Führer.”
I spent the actual plebiscite day, Sunday, April 10, in visiting polling-booths. To some I went alone and unannounced. Into others I was taken with a party of journalists under the charge of Government officials. There was nothing to suggest that pressure was being brought to bear on the voters. Herr Buerckel, the organiser, had ordered polling-papers to be marked in the privacy of the curtained booths. I saw one or two men demonstratively make their cross in the “Yes” circle before the eyes of the polling-officers, accompanying the act with a loud “Heil Hitler!”, but so many other voters took their green envelopes and ballot-papers out of sight that they obviously did not fear being noted as hostile to the regime through doing so.
The former Austrian President, Dr. Miklas, who had lost his office a month before, sent a message to Dr. Seyss-Inquart to say that he intended to vote for the Anschluss. Cardinal Innitzer, the Archbishop of Vienna, walked over to a polling-booth at 8.0 a.m., and gave the Hitler salute as he came out. The day before I had myself seen two swastika emblems, surrounded by wreaths of gilt laurel, on the walls of the Cardinal’s palace, while above its door hung a large Nazi flag. In St. Stephen’s Cathedral that morning, which was Palm Sunday, many men bearing palms were also wearing swastika arm-bands.
The 70,000 Czechs and 15,000 Slovaks living in Vienna were allowed to vote at special polling booths, a privilege which they had always enjoyed. In Germany soldiers are excluded from elections, but the members of the Austrian Army were authorised to take part in the plebiscite.
Around midnight that evening the results of the voting were announced by Dr. Seyss-Inquart to a dense crowd filling the largest concert-hall in Vienna. They showed that out of 4,284,795 who had gone to the polls in Austria, 4,273,884, or 99.75 per cent., had said “Yes” to the Anschluss. We heard Herr Buerckel communicate this result on the wireless to Herr Hitler sitting in Berlin, and receive the Führer’s congratulation in return.
There was loud cheering, but, looking down from the gallery, I could not help thinking that this final interment of the old Austria deserved a more dignified setting.
Here was the last fraction of the 52 millions of people who had once lived under the House of Habsburg passing out of independent existence. Soon “Austria,” a name so great in history, would be used no more except to identify one of the smaller German provinces.
The reading of the figures by which, as everyone had expected, the annexation of Austria to Germany was confirmed to within a fraction of unanimity, completed a process which had begun when the Vienna Government took the first step towards the Great War by issuing its ultimatum to Serbia.
It had not been the cement of common welfare that held the mosaic of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire together, but only the tie of dynastic union.
Of its 52,000,000 inhabitants, nearly one-half were Slavs, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ruthenians, Croats and Slovenes. These had enjoyed the special favour of the Imperial House. The inferiority to which the Germans of Austria believed that they were relegated under Habsburg rule was the influence which caused Hitler as a youth to make pan-Germanism his life’s ideal.
The German element in Austria numbered twelve millions. The Hungarians were ten millions, and there was a Latin fringe, consisting of Rumanians in Transylvania, and Italians at Trieste and in the Trentino, which amounted to four millions. Austria-Hungary also contained 1,500,000 Jews, mainly concentrated in Galicia and in the capital itself.
The lack of solidarity in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire was so obvious and long-standing that it was accepted as normal. The Hungarians held jealously to the constitutional privileges secured to them under the “Compromise” by which the Dual Monarchy took its final form. The Czechs refused to talk German, and formed a nationalist physical-training movement called the Sokols, which were really political clubs.
In most countries, the effect of war is to compose internal differences and consolidate national unity. In Austria-Hungary it had the reverse effect. Sections of the non-German races set themselves to gain their independence in the upheaval. The Czechs deserted to the Russians or the French; Croats went over to the Serbs; Italians of Trieste or Trentino joined up with their kinsmen fighting against the Government whose subjects they were.
With the defeat of the Central Empires, nationalistic claims became more clamorous. In some cases, they were supported by a record of services rendered to the Allies.
The. statesmen who drafted the terms of peace in Paris tried to prevent the reconstitution of the formidable block of Powers known in the war as the Central Empires by splitting up Austria-Hungary into its constituent parts. M. Tardieu, who was one of them, has argued that they had no choice, as the Dual Monarchy had already been dissolved in anticipation by the war-treaties of alliance made with Italy, Serbia, Rumania, and with representatives of the Nationalist elements in Poland and Bohemia. They failed to realise that this measure, by creating a series of small, weak States in Central Europe, would make it easier for Germany to establish her authority over them when she regained her national strength.
Not only did the Allied Powers overlook the disastrous consequences of disrupting a State which had given rise to the international axiom that “If Austria did not exist, it would be necessary to invent her,” but they followed conflicting policies in the Central European area which they had thus dissected.
The French subsidised the Little Entente, of which one State, Czecho-Slovakia, was wholly, and the other two, Rumania and Jugoslavia, were partly built up out of the wreckage of Austria-Hungary. Italy, on the other hand, supported the revisionist claims of Hungary, which the Little Entente had been formed to oppose. Great Britain disinterested herself entirely from Central European affairs.
In the years immediately following the Peace Treaties, British and French Socialists protested strongly against the denial to Austria of the right to join up with Germany. They were just as vigorous in demanding the Anschluss in the early 1920’s as they were in denouncing it when it came about in the late 1930’s.
With the passage of time, it became increasingly apparent that the mutilated fraction of territory which still bore the name of Austria was incapable of economic survival.
There had been no Customs barrier inside the great expanse of 240,000 square miles of Central Europe making up the old Austrian Empire. From 1919 onwards a network of them crossed it in all directions, dividing mutually complementary areas into small autarchic States, each engaged in costly and ineffective efforts to achieve self- sufficiency.
The small country left by the Allied peace-makers to bear the name of “Austria” was no more than the isolated control-station of a great economic mechanism that had been broken up. Like a limbless trunk, the Austrian Republic could do nothing for itself.
Austria thus became Europe’s perpetual “deserving case.” After the abandonment of the fantastic scheme to collect Reparations from this ruined country by means of a local Allied Commission which cost more to maintain than the Government itself, repeated attempts were made to “put Austria on her feet.” Loans were made to her, backed by the League of Nations and by the British Government; advances were granted by the Bank of England; there were plans for exchange of products with the Little Entente; an agreement with Italy and Hungary, known as the Rome Protocols; and a scheme, launched at the ill-fated Stresa Conference, for the creation of a Danubian Confederation, of which nothing was ever afterwards heard.
After Stresa, the break-up of the Western Powers into hostile camps finally opened wide the door to German intervention in the affairs of an adjoining country of the same blood and language.
In this way was the forecast fulfilled which the German Ambassador, Prince Bulow, made on leaving Rome when Italy declared war on Germany in 1916:
“Even if we lose the war, we shall still be winners, because we shall annex Austria.”
In the roundabout way which human affairs so often take, the Allies, by the use they made of their victory, laid the basis for Germany’s future expansion into Austria, and thence over Eastern Europe.
So ended the division of the German race into North and South which began in 1756, when Frederick the Great started Prussia’s career of conquest by his sudden attack upon Maria Theresa in time of peace.
During the Anschluss, I met a French colleague who had been with me in Vienna after the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in 1914. He reminded me that at their funeral, as we watched the parade of Austrian generals in their white tunics and green-plumed cocked hats, I had said to him:
“Let us take a good look at this Austrian pomp and circumstance. It may be the last time we shall ever see it.” A month later, the war put an end to all the old splendour of Austrian life, so rich in romance, charm, tradition and ceremonial dignity.
It was now the turn of Austria herself to disappear. The Führer had boldly carried out a policy from which even his hero the Iron Chancellor himself had recoiled. After the German victory in the war of 1866, Bismarck replied to those who urged the extension of German authority to the Danube that Vienna could never be governed from Berlin. The speed of modern communications, however, makes that task much simpler.
There is a marked difference of temperament between these 7,000,000 Catholic South Germans and the highly nationalist and aggressive Prussian stock in whose hands the administration of the Nazi regime principally lies. But the Führer himself is Austrian-born, and the example of Italy has shown how effective the methods of education and organisation employed by a totalitarian regime can be in modifying the habits and outlook of a nation.
The continuance of this ruined fragment of the once great Austro-Hungarian Empire had been, since the war, no more than an historical anachronism. Like the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire or the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire, the annexation of Austria was the suppression of an institution which had long lost its vitality.
The imposing buildings and broad streets of Vienna were but the memorials, and no longer the appurtenances, of a robust nation. When Hitler drafted on a single sheet of paper in that small hotel on the Danube bank at Linz the brief decree which removed Austria from the map of Europe, he was writing only the final paragraph of a chapter of history whose first pages were the Treaty of St. Germain.
The tangible benefits of the Anschluss to Germany were considerable; the strategical and moral advantages it brought were greater still.
The annexation of Austria added to the German frontiers 32,000 square miles, which were 25,000 square miles more than Germany had lost under the Peace Treaties. Her population was increased by 6,786,000, 94 per cent. of these being Catholics and 200,000 Jews, who were practically all concentrated in Vienna, and of whom, by the end of 1938, one quarter had been forced to emigrate. The extension of Germany’s political influence in Central Europe may be measured by the fact that this expansion brought her into direct frontier contact with four fresh Central European States -Hungary, Jugoslavia, Italy and the Principality of Liechtenstein. She now has more neighbours than any other country in Europe, her borders touching:
Denmark, in the North;
Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France in the West;
Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Italy in the South;
Jugoslavia and Hungary in the South-East; and
Slovakia, Lithuania and Poland in the East.
Marshal Goering’s strong hand soon made itself felt at the economic levers of Austria. As Minister responsible for the Four Year Plan, the organisation of the resources of this new Province of the Ostmark came under his authority. A swarm of his expert advisers descended upon it, and within a week he had announced certain measures which were to be immediately put in hand. They were:
- The amalgamation of the Austrian and German currencies,
- Abolition of Customs duties between the two countries.
- A scheme for the exploitation of Austrian water-power.
- Large developments in the armament, mining, chemical and agricultural industries.
- The building of a new aeroplane factory and Air Force barracks.
- Improvement of the Austrian railway-system.
- The construction of 775 miles of motor-roads in Austria on the model of the German Autobahnen, and the building of four new bridges over the Danube. Within a month of the Anschluss, Herr Hitler in person had turned the first sod of the new motor-road to be built from Salzburg to Vienna, which will form part of the transcontinental auto- mobile route from the English Channel to the Bosphorus.
Marshal Goering himself had not been able to come to Austria with the Führer at the time of the Anschluss. “You have seen something that I have not seen. I envy you,” he said, when I called on him at Karinhall a week or two later.
“It was impossible for me to go while the Führer was there. He will never allow me even to travel on the same train or in the same car as himself; it is too risky.”
The Marshal accordingly paid the newly annexed territory a visit about a fortnight after the annexation, and made a State tour of the country, which included a journey down the Danube by steamer and took him to Mauterndorf, an old castle in Tyrol belonging to his mother’s family, where as a boy he had sometimes spent the summer-holidays.
The industrial equipment of Austria proved to be of poor quality. An expert examination of every factory was ordered, and even some of the best-known works in the country were found to be largely furnished with out- of-date plant, which was replaced without delay.
The greatest undertaking established there since the Anschluss is the Hermann Goering Iron Works, near Linz, for whose 50,000 employees an entirely new town was built close by.
One of the most serious of German forfeits under the Treaty of Versailles had been that of the iron ore of Lorraine, for since then the country had produced only about 20 per cent. of its national requirements in this material. Austria has largely made up the loss by bringing into the German stock additional deposits estimated at 220,000,000 tons with an iron-content of about 40 per cent. There is a mountain so rich in ore as to bear the name of Eisenberg.
Of timber Austria had plenty. Her annexation increased the forest-area of the Reich by 25 per cent. She possessed also mines of magnesite, graphite, copper, lead and salt.
In agricultural produce, the new territory was barely self-supporting, and the Anschluss did not diminish Germany’s own dependence upon imports for about one fourth of her food-supply. The annexation was, however, a paying proposition in the sense that Austria had a favourable trade balance of close on £2,000,000 a year. This was largely due to her flourishing tourist-industry and the income derived from transit goods-traffic.
The gold reserves of Vienna were estimated at £10,000,000, and were added to the scanty Reichsbank store of that metal which, according to published figures, was, at the time, down to £6,000,000. Austrian water-power was a national resource whose capacities had never been developed to more than about 10 per cent. They were calculated at 25,000 million kilowatt-hours annually.
But the advantages of the Anschluss were not to be measured in material gains alone. The Austrians benefited by the opening up to them of the vast German field of opportunity; by the stimulus of German energy and example, and by the increase of prestige which citizenship of a Great Power brings. The Reich, through the extension of its frontiers into the heart of Central Europe, won a dominating economic position in that part of the Continent. The principal road, river and rail communications of the Balkans with the West of Europe lay henceforth across German territory.
Some disturbance was caused in the summer of 1938 by a declaration from Dr. Funk, the German Minister of Economics, that his Government would not recognize the Austrian foreign debts, of which £17,000,000 had at various times been issued in the form of sterling bonds, bearing interest at 7 per cent., 4 ½ per cent. and 3 per cent., and guaranteed by the British Government. Of these, £11,000,000 were held by British investors. The United States also held $50,000,000 of Austrian liabilities, of which half consisted of the unpaid bill for food-supplies sent to relieve starvation in Austria after the war.
German repudiation of these debts was based upon the pretext that the loans had not been granted for economic reasons, but only for the political purpose of preventing union with the Reich.
It soon transpired, however, that this attitude had been taken up to secure a bargaining counter for obtaining a reduction in the rate of interest payable upon the Dawes and Young Reparation Loans, and within a fortnight from Dr. Funk’s speech of June 17, a German delegation in London had negotiated a settlement satisfactory enough for the prices of all Austrian and German securities on the Stock Exchange to advance considerably.
One benefit of the Anschluss to Austria became immediately effective. It was the disappearance of unemployment. Herr Buerckel, the newly-appointed Administrator, had told me on March 13 that the workless in that country numbered 600,000. Within a month, a very large proportion of these had been absorbed. In September I was informed by Dr. Seyss-Inquart that unemployment was down to 5 per cent.
For years the Austrian workless had been living on the scantiest of relief in collections of leaky wooden huts on the outskirts of Vienna and other towns, surrounded in winter by morasses of mud. Some of these squalid hovels had served, twenty years before, as prisoner-of-war camps or base hospitals, and had since been allowed to decay without repair.
In those that I visited around Vienna and Linz, families were living under the most abject conditions, as many as eight in a room, without bed-linen or change of clothing; with no sanitary arrangements; no water laid on, and the minimum of food and fuel. Stunted children splashed in the muddy lanes between the rows of huts. Many of these squatter-families kept rabbits-in one case even pigs-in the hovels where they lived.
With impressive speed, these people were organised on higher standards of citizenship. The men were drafted into the new jobs which sprang up in the stagnant industries directly German authority had been established; the children were gathered into creches and kindergartens, and the wives and mothers were provided with the elementary essentials of decent existence.
Even Colonel Sepp Dietrich, the commander of Hitler’s bodyguard, one of the toughest soldiers I know, was moved by the conditions in which he had found the poorest children of Vienna existing.
“I have 1700 men here,” he told me, “and out of their rations they are daily feeding 1100 children.”
Before the Anschluss was a month old, the German Government had made plans, at a cost of £2,000,000, to replace the Vienna slum-camps by proper housing-accommodation, and £400,000 was allotted to the supply of food and clothing for the Austrian poor whose need was greatest.
The “Bavarian Help Train” was sent to the working-class quarters of Vienna to bake bread and provide medical attention.
This “Help Train,” a gift from State technical employees to the Government, consists of a dozen giant motor-coaches elaborately fitted up. Some are equipped as surgeries; some as bakeries, or field-kitchens; some with pumps for dealing with floods, or for maintaining a water- supply. The idea was to create a mobile unit which could bring the conveniences of civilisation at high speed to any area which had been devastated by catastrophe, or where refugees had unexpectedly concentrated.
Seven dental ambulance-waggons were dispatched to tour the country, treating the children free. Holidays in Germany for the approaching summer were arranged for 10,000 Austrian workers and 10,000 children of war- veterans. Large camps were prepared for boys and girls of the poorer classes. It is by such measures of public welfare, and not only by tireless propaganda and mammoth parades, that the Nazi regime maintains its popularity with the mass of the German people.
The delight and relief displayed by the great majority of the population of Austria when the Anschluss was suddenly thrust upon them had thus a basis in practical benefit. The people were tired of being a poverty-stricken, divided little nation, uncertain of its future, incapable of self-defence, lacking the material resources necessary for prosperity, dependent upon the goodwill of stronger powers, whose capital city, and administrative, banking, industrial and commercial equipment, designed for a nation of 52,000,000, were now reduced to serving a land populated only by 5,000,000, most of them poor peasants.
For several years they had been looking on at the rapid development of their German kinsmen across the border into a highly organised and relatively prosperous nation, and though the regimentation which is the secret of Nazi success may not have been attractive to the Austrian temperament, there was no denying its efficiency and success. The energetic rulers of Germany knew what they wanted; they went after it ruthlessly, and no one in their own country or outside it seemed able to resist them.
At the time of the Anschluss, Austria felt like a small and bankrupt shopkeeper whose business has been taken over by a flourishing chain-store company. He may have sentimental regrets for the loss of his identity and independence, but he rejoices to be freed from anxieties and worries, and to gain the confidence that comes from association with a powerful and prosperous organisation.
This spirit, which brought about the ready Austrian acceptance of the Anschluss, was not understood in England, where the series of ultimatums issued by Herr Hitler on the evening of Friday, March 11, followed by the advance of German troops across the frontier, had created a mental picture of Germany enforcing her will upon a cowed and reluctant population.
Some of the enthusiasm for the Anschluss in Austria may have evaporated during the past year, since realisation seldom comes up to expectation.
The Viennese regret the fall of their historic city from the status of a European capital to that of a provincial town like Dresden or Stuttgart. Many former enthusiastic Austrian workers for the Nazi cause are disappointed that they have not got better jobs. The provinces declare that the falling-off in the number of British and other foreign visitors for summer-tours and winter-sports is not compensated by the large influx of North Germans who are far from being such free spenders.
But the utter poverty in which many Austrians lived has disappeared. As evidence of the increase of popular purchasing power, a Brewers’ Congress held at Vienna in April, 1939, reported that the sale of beer in Austria had trebled since the Anschluss.