Austria before the 1938 Anschluss into Germany, as described by its Chancellor (“Austrian Requiem” by Kurt von Schuschnigg)

Kurt von Schuschnigg was a Viennese lawyer and the pseudo-fascist (but anti-Nazi) Chancellor of Austria from 1934 to 1938, his position being terminated in March 1938 when the German Nazis moved in and announced the Anchluss (the absorption of Austria into the German Reich).  He was then arrested, and spent the war years in prison in Vienna and then Munich, followed by being held in special sections of several concentration camps (including Dachau) reserved for high level political prisoners.  He was freed after the end of the war, when he came to the United States and (believe it or not) taught political science at St. Louis University for almost 20 years before returning to Austria where he passed away.

He wrote a number of books, the first being “Austrian Requiem”, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1946, not long after his release from prison.  Divided into three parts, the book discusses his years as Chancellor, his view on European and Austrian politics and economics following World War I and up through the Hitler pre-war years, and his five years as a prisoner.  Not surprisingly, this is a very interesting book.

The position of Austria during the 1930s is presented from a very different perspective than I remember seeing before.  The economic problems caused by the Nazi takeover of Germany and the consequent loss of Austria’s biggest external trade market.  The growth of a Nazi movement in Austria, which because it was outlawed, was an underground movement whose members infiltrated all branches of the Austrian governments, including (as it turned out to Schuschnigg’s surprise) the offices closest to the Chancellor.  The increasing inability of Austrians of differing political viewpoints to communicate with each other (sound familiar?), with the liberals and socialists on one side, and the fascists and Nazis (he makes it clear that these were not necessarily the same people) on the other, virtually paralyzing the national government.  The strength (at the beginning of the decade) of the relationship between Mussolini’s Italy and Austria, but how this changed when Italy allied itself with Germany and was forced to put economic pressure on Austria. The increasing differences between Austria and Nazi Germany, happening at the same time that virtually all Austrians felt that Austrians were Germans and should not ally themselves with the enemies of Germany.  How many Austrians would have supported an Anschluss with Germany if Germany was not Nazi-led.  How Austrian nationalists, including Schuschnigg, who believed in the importance of an independent Austria, were becoming a minority, but a stubborn one.

He also speaks of Austria’s relationship with its other neighbors, including Hungary (its former partner-in-empire) and the new country of Czechoslovakia (which he believes was condemned from the beginning because, like the old Austrian empire, it was composed of too many ethnic groups who could never reach permanent accommodation with each other).

There is also emphasis on the imbalance of power between Germany and Austria, and how Austria was never in a position to fight Germany without sure defeat, plus loss of life and property.  His one visit with Hitler in Berchtesgaden is reported in detail, giving a sense of Hitler’s negotiating (if you can call it that) style, also very interesting.

But, wait……. something is missing.  The Jews.  At the time of the Anschluss, about 10% of Vienna was Jewish – that is close to 200,000 people.  Many were able to immigrate after the Nazis came in, and before war was declared against Poland 18 months later.  And the vast majority of the remainder were killed during the war.  Schuschnigg doesn’t mention them.  He does talk about the arrest of a Rothschild who was in the prison cell next to him, and he says that many of the pre-1938 immigrants to Vienna from Czechoslovakia were Jewish (without editorializing), and that Hitler had anti-Semitic policies.  But the fate of Vienna’s important Jewish population during the period before the Anschluss (when illegal Nazi activity was pervasive) and after is left unreported.

What does this mean?  What was Schuschnigg’s position towards Jews, during his Chancellorship, during the war, and during his stay in the United States?  I don’t know.  And a quick look on the internet for anything written by him on the subject after the war turns up nothing.

I wonder.


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