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Paving the Way for Lebensraum: The Anschluss

on Mon, 03/12/2012 - 21:12

Austria, nestled between Germany and Italy, possessed a long history as a dominant European power. However, after the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been dissolved with Austria remaining as a small, central European state; a shadow of its former imposing Imperial greatness. Austria therefore represented a ripe target for a predator such as Hitler.

In February 1938, Hitler coerced Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg into placing Nazi sympathizers in important government positions. Hitler also laid the groundwork for an Anschluss, political union, through delivering a series of public speeches on the issue. Chancellor Schuschnigg protested, and sought to undercut Hitler by attempting to call a public referendum on the issue.  Hitler orchestrated a coup from within the Austrian government and ordered Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart to declare himself head of a provisional government and invite German support through military intervention.

On March 12, 1938 German tanks roared across the Austrian border, leading lengthy columns of grey clad German troops; ostensibly in support of the new Austrian government. The Austrian military and police, lacking orders to act against the invasion, stood aside before Germany’s overwhelming show of strength. The Nazi propaganda machine proclaimed Anschluss the following day. Hitler’s popularity soared within Germany, along with his power and monstrous ego. Hitler translated foreign policy success into domestic repression. Adolf Eichmann led his “Jewish Section” of the Sicherheitsdienst or SD (Security Service) with ruthless efficiency, increasing the pressure on the Jews within the Reich as never before. Meanwhile, as Hitler absorbed Austria into the German Reich he next set his sights on Czechoslovakia.

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