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From Women in European History

Page created by: Nick Santoro Spring 2009

Preceding Events

In March of 1938, Nazi Germany “unified” with Austria by taking up a military presence there. This Anschluss, as it came to be known, had a lasting and profoundly negative impact on Austria’s Jewish population, as they were turned upon by their Aryan Austrian neighbors who had little choice in obeying Hitler’s racial ideas. Overall, the Anschluss demonstrated that human beings act in their own self-interest even when faced with decisions that endanger the rights of others.

The events that set the Anschluss in motion began early in 1938. In February, Hitler held several meetings with Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg. During these meetings, Hitler demanded that Schuschnigg allow imprisoned Nazi party members to be released and to participate in the Austrian government; it was previously Austrian policy to oppress and expel Nazi’s within the country. Faced with Hitler’s threat of invasion by a strengthened German army, Schuschnigg was forced to make concession after concession to the Germans in 1938 before eventually resigning in March. German troops marched into Austria the day after this resignation to cheering crowds of Austrians on March 12. The blame for the occurrence of the Anschluss, however, falls on the Western European Allied Powers, England and France, who followed a strategy of appeasement with Hitler and thus did not step in when the feeble Austrian government asked for help against his advances. Here is a clear demonstration of nations acting in their own self-interest to prolong an inevitable war.

Another illustration of this self-interest principle taking effect occurred in April 1938. Edith Hahn Beer, a Holocaust survivor and an Austrian recounts in her memoir, “On April 10, 1938, more than ninety percent of the Austrians voted “yes” to union with Germany.”[1] With this act, a majority of Austrians fearfully endorsed the new Nazi regime and effectively condemned its country's Jewish citizens to misery and death.

Cheering Austrians greet the Nazis as they march into the country from http://www.annefrankguide.net

Effects on Austrian Jews

Austria is often referred to as "the first victim" of Nazi aggression. Author Adi Wimmer disagrees and instead narrows the category down to the Austrian Jews who are the victims of the Anschluss. In his article "Expelled and Banished: the Exile Experience of Austrian Anschluss Victims in Personal Histories and Literary Documents," he points to the incredible amount of Austrian cooperation with the Nazis.[2] He writes that, "Considerably more Austrians than Germans in terms of population percentages were SS guards in the concentration camps. Adolph Eichmann and eighty percent of his staff were Austrian." Wimmer also recounts the ordeals of the true victims of the Anschluss, the Jews of Austria. "Much of the evidence of Austrian cooperation with Hilter was swept under the rug, belittled, or forgotten. Amongst the victims of the collective amnesia were those 132,000 Jews who managed to leave...Almost all of them were subjected to rituals of humiliation, had to beg for visas, were faced with the dire prospect of losing all of their material possessions." These Jews were the fortunate ones as thousands of others were shipped off to work or death camps. Wimmer's article brings to light the betrayal of many Jewish Austrians by their Aryan countrymen. These Aryan Austrians, whether out of fear or deep seeded European anti-semitism, ignored or participated in the Final Solution that was enacted in front of their eyes.


  1. Beer, Edith Hahn, and Susan Dworkin. The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust. New York, NY: Rob Weisbach Books, 1999.
  2. Wimmer, Adi. “Expelled and Banished:” The Exile Experience of Austrian Anschluss Victims in Personal Histories and Literary Documents. Journal of European Studies: Vol. 20; 1990.

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