Thursday, April 17, 2014

This Day In History: Liberation of Bergen-Belsen


Bergen-Belsen was one of the most notorious and lethal of the Nazi concentration camps. Located in northwest Germany, it was the site of Anne Frank’s death from typhus and the source of some of the first archival evidence of the atrocities of the Holocaust for many US citizens. On April 15, 1945, after five years of horror, the camp was finally liberated.

Bergen-Belsen was originally built to act as a prisoner of war camp. In 1943, it was doctored into the system of concentration camps to accommodate growing lists of Jewish prisoners. Many of the Jews held at Bergen-Belsen were seen as potential pawns that the Nazis wanted to use with rival nations for prisoner exchanges or currency.

In 1944, a women’s camp was set up, with the first deportation of female prisoners including 9,000 women and girls, mostly from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Over time more train cars filled with women turned up, including Anne and her sister Margot.

Finally, in the spring of 1945, British and Canadian forces negotiated a handover of the camp. The Nazi forces agreed to relinquish control over Bergen-Belsen due to fear of a typhus endemic.  On the afternoon of April 15, allied troops arrived.

Many of the soldiers involved in that liberation called it the worst scene they had ever witnessed. Upon discovering the emaciated prisoners, which numbered over 50,000, troops were desperate for a way to provide some nourishment.

Accounts of the futile attempts to feed the prisoners from their own Army rations—the inmates could keep nothing down—did much to paint a picture for people back home about how dire the situation had grown.

Of the living survivors at Bergen-Belsen, 13,000 would die within days, despite medical care and extreme efforts to keep them alive. In the aftermath, troops famously set the camp ablaze, so disgusted were they with what they had found. Before destroying much of the camp, however, the soldiers worked to bury the thousands of corpses scattered across the site’s grounds.
 
 

Friday, April 11, 2014

This Day In History: Liberation of Buchenwald

On April 11, 1945, the American Third Army liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany, a camp that will be judged second only to Auschwitz in the horrors it imposed on its prisoners.

As American forces closed in on the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, Gestapo headquarters at Weimar telephoned the camp administration to announce that it was sending explosives to blow up any evidence of the camp--including its inmates. What the Gestapo did not know was that the camp administrators had already fled in fear of the Allies. A prisoner answered the phone and informed headquarters that explosives would not be needed, as the camp had already been blown up, which, of course, was not true.

The camp held thousands of prisoners, mostly slave laborers. There were no gas chambers, but hundreds, sometimes thousands, died monthly from disease, malnutrition, beatings, and executions. Doctors performed medical experiments on inmates, testing the effects of viral infections and vaccines.

Among the camp's most gruesome characters was Ilse Koch, wife of the camp commandant, who was infamous for her sadism. She often beat prisoners with a riding crop, and collected lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the skin of camp victims.

Among those saved by the Americans was Elie Wiesel, who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

This Day In History: German Invasion of Norway and Denmark

In the early morning of April 9, 1940 (Wesertag; "Weser Day"), Germany invaded Denmark and
Norway, ostensibly as a preventive maneuver against a planned, and openly discussed, Franco-British occupation of Norway. After the invasions, envoys of the Germans informed the governments of Denmark and Norway that the Wehrmacht had come to protect the countries' neutrality against Franco-British aggression. Significant differences in geography, location and climate between the two countries made the actual military operations very dissimilar.
Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany's assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign. The name comes from the German for Operation Weser-Exercise (Unternehmen Weserübung), the Weser being a German river.

The invasion fleet's nominal landing time—Weserzeit ("Weser Time")—was set to 05:15 German time, equivalent to 04:15 Norwegian time.

Strategically, Denmark's importance to Germany was as a staging area for operations in Norway, and of course as a border nation to Germany which would have to be controlled in some way. Given Denmark's position in relation to the Baltic Sea the country was also important for the control of naval and shipping access to major German and Soviet harbors.
 
 
German invasion of Denmark. April 9, 1940
Small and relatively flat, the country was ideal territory for German army operations, and Denmark's small army had little hope. Nevertheless, in the early morning hours, a few Danish troops engaged the German army, suffering losses of 16 dead and 20 wounded. The Germans lost 203 soldiers, together with 12 armored cars and several motorcycles and cars destroyed. Four German tanks were damaged. One German bomber was also damaged. Two German soldiers were temporarily captured by the Danes during the brief fighting.

At 04:00 on 9 April 1940, the German ambassador to Denmark—Cecil von Renthe-Fink—called the Danish Foreign Minister Peter Munch and requested a meeting with him. When the two men met 20 minutes later, Renthe-Fink declared that German troops were at that moment moving in to occupy Denmark to protect the country from Franco-British attack. The German ambassador demanded that Danish resistance cease immediately and contact be made between Danish authorities and the German armed forces. If the demands were not met, the Luftwaffe would bomb the capital, Copenhagen.

As the German demands were communicated, the first German advances had already been made, with forces landing by ferry in Gedser at 03:55 and moving north. German Fallschirmjäger units had made unopposed landings and taken two airfields at Aalborg, the Storstrøm Bridge as well as the fortress of Masnedø, the latter being the first recorded attack in the world made by paratroopers.

German invasion of Norway. April 9, 1940.
At 04:20 local time, a reinforced battalion of German infantrymen from the 308th Regiment landed in Copenhagen harbor from the minelayer Hansestadt Danzig, quickly capturing the Danish garrison at the Citadel without encountering resistance. From the harbor, the Germans moved toward Amalienborg Palace to capture the Danish royal family. By the time the invasion forces arrived at the king's residence, the King's Royal Guard had been alerted and other reinforcements were on their way to the palace. The first German attack on Amalienborg was repulsed, giving Christian X and his ministers time to confer with the Danish Army chief General Prior.

Danish troops at Bredevad on the morning of the German attack. Two of these soldiers were killed in action later that day.

At 05:25, two squadrons of German Bf 110s attacked Værløse airfield on Zealand and wiped out the Danish Army Air Service by strafing. Despite Danish anti-aircraft fire, the German fighters destroyed ten Danish aircraft and seriously damaged another fourteen, thereby wiping out half of the entire Army Air Service.

Faced with the explicit threat of the Luftwaffe bombing the civilian population of Copenhagen, and only General Prior in favor of continuing to fight, the King Christian X and the entire Danish government capitulated at approximately 06:00 in exchange for retaining political independence in domestic matters.

The invasion of Denmark lasted less than six hours and was the shortest military campaign conducted by the Germans during the war. The rapid Danish capitulation resulted in the uniquely lenient occupation of Denmark, particularly until the summer of 1943, and in postponing the arrest and deportation of Danish Jews until nearly all of them were warned and on their way to refuge in Sweden. In the end, 477 Danish Jews were deported, and 70 of them lost their lives, out of a pre-war total of Jews and half-Jews at a little over 8,000.

Though Denmark had little immediate military significance, it had strategic and to some extent economic importance.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

This Day In History: German Invasion of Hungary

In March 1944, Hitler launched Operation Margarethe and ordered Nazi troops to occupy Hungary. Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, was confined to a castle, in essence placed under house arrest. Döme Sztójay, an avid supporter of the National Socialists, became the new Prime Minister. Sztójay governed with the aid of a National Socialist military governor, Edmund Veesenmayer. The Hungarian populace was not happy with their nation being reduced in effect to a German protectorate, but Berlin threatened to occupy Hungary with Slovak, Croat, and Romanian troops if they did not comply. The thought of these ancestral enemies on Hungarian soil was seen as far worse than German control.

After German troops occupied Hungary, mass deportations of Jews to German death camps in occupied Poland began. Between 15 May and 9 July, Hungarian authorities deported 437,402 Jews. All but 15,000 of these Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and 90% of those were immediately killed. One in three of all Jews killed at Auschwitz were Hungarian citizens. In early July 1944, Horthy stopped the deportations, and after the failed attempt on Hitler's life, the Germans backed off from pressing Horthy's regime to continue further, large-scale deportations, although some smaller groups continued to be deported by train.

In September 1944, Soviet forces crossed the Hungarian border. On 15 October, Horthy announced that Hungary had signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. The Hungarian army ignored the armistice, fighting desperately to keep the Soviets out. The Germans launched Operation Panzerfaust and, by kidnapping his son Miklós Horthy, Jr., forced Horthy to abrogate the armistice, depose the Lakatos government, and name the leader of the Arrow Cross Party, Ferenc Szálasi, as Prime Minister. Horthy resigned and Szálasi became Prime Minister of a new "Government of National Unity" (Nemzeti Összefogás Kormánya) controlled by the Germans. Horthy himself was taken to Germany as a prisoner. He ultimately survived the war and spent his last years exiled in Portugal, dying in 1957.

By signing the Peace Treaty of Paris, Hungary again lost all the territories that it had gained between 1938 and 1941. Neither the Western Allies nor the Soviet Union supported any change in Hungary's pre-1938 borders. The Soviet Union annexed Subcarpathia, which is now part of Ukraine.

The Treaty of Peace with Hungary signed on 10 February 1947 declared that "The decisions of the Vienna Award of 2 November 1938 are declared null and void" and Hungarian boundaries were fixed along the former frontiers as they existed on 1 January 1938, except a minor loss of territory on the Czechoslovakian border. Two thirds of the ethnic German minority (202,000 people) was deported to Germany in 1946-48, and there was a forced "population exchange" between Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

On February 1, 1946, the Kingdom of Hungary was formally abolished and replaced by the Second Republic of Hungary. Post-war Hungary was eventually taken over by a Soviet-allied government and became part of the Eastern Bloc. The People's Republic of Hungary was declared in 1949 and lasted until the Revolutions of 1989 and the end of Communism in Hungary.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This Day In History: Deportations to Belzec Begin

Seventy two years ago, on March 17, 1942, the Nazis began deportations from the Lublin and Lviv (Lemberg)districts of the Generalgouvernment (German-occupied Poland) to the Belzec extermination center. The extermination camp, located near a small railroad station in southeastern Poland, was the second killing center to become operational and the first of those built for "Operation Reinhard," the SS plan to eliminate all the remaining Jews of the Generalgouvernement. Between March and December 1942, approximately 434,500 Jews, and many Polish citizens and Roma, were deported to Belzec, where they perished. Belzec operated from March 17, 1942 to the end of December 1942.



Monday, March 17, 2014

This Day In History: Hannah Szenes


On March 14, 1944, Hannah Szenes began her secret mission in Yugoslavia to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews

Born into an affluent, assimilated Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest, Hannah wasn’t the kind of girl who had to do things herself. She had a governess and a maid and parents—Béla, a successful playwright and journalist, and Catherine, a pianist—who doted on her and her older brother Gyuri.

The family could afford to send Hannah to a private Protestant girls’ school, even though Jewish students had to pay triple the normal tuition. Hannah, one of the few Jewish students there, excelled. She seemed set for a life in the Mitteleuropean Jewish upper middle class.

When Hannah was born in 1921, one in every four residents of Budapest was Jewish. While Hungarian Jews faced some discrimination, most of the city’s doctors, lawyers, musicians, journalists and writers were Jews. There were approximately 600,000 Jews in Hungary, about 7 percent of the country’s population.

Hannah was a happy girl until tragedy hit in 1927, with the death of her father. He was only 33, Hannah barely 6. Devastated, she started writing poems. From age 13, she kept a diary.

“I’m now five feet tall and weigh 99 pounds,” she wrote in an early entry. “I don’t think I’m considered a particularly pretty girl, but I hope I’ll improve.”

For the next few years, Hannah wrote and excelled at school, while Europe headed toward war

In 1938, Hungary passed anti-Jewish legislation, which, among other restrictions, limited the number of Jews in higher education. As a result, Gyuri left Budapest to study in France.

When Hannah was elected to office in the literary club, she was barred from the position because she was Jewish. Hannah had considered herself fully Hungarian. “Only now am I beginning to see what it means to be a Jew in a Christian society,” she wrote.

Anti-Semitism pushed Hannah toward Zionism, much as the Dreyfus Affair mobilized Theodor Herzl, another assimilated central European Jew, to launch the political movement.

Hannah threw herself into Zionism. She avidly studied Hebrew and encouraged her Jewish classmates to do so too. “From today, I will only write my journal in Hebrew,” Hannah announced. “I now consciously and strongly feel that I am a Jew, and proud of it. My aim is to go to Palestine.”

Hannah went to Palestine giddy with excitement. She joined some 100 other girls at agricultural school at Nahalal where she hung postcards of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens on her wall. She fell in love with the land of Israel, captivated by the hills, lakes and natural beauty.

After her agricultural studies, Hannah joined a kibbutz. Located on the Mediterranean coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa, Sdot Yam was an isolated place, two hours’ walk from the nearest Jewish settlement. Its landscape inspired her poem, “A Walk to Caesarea:”

My God, My God,
May it never, never end.
The sand and the sea,
the jitter of the water,
the shine of the sky,
the prayer of Man.

Set to music and commonly known as “Eli, Eli,” the poem has become almost a second Israeli national anthem.

Meanwhile, war raged in Europe. Hannah grew deeply concerned about her mother. She decided she had to do something.

A member of Hagganah, the Jewish fighting force, came to the kibbutz to recruit for a special Jewish unit of the British army to operate behind enemy lines.

There they would use their local passports, knowledge and language skills to perform undercover missions for the British, contact endangered Jews and foster resistance

Hannah jumped at the chance to participate. She was one of three women accepted to the team of 37. After quick training in parachuting and radio transmission, Hannah was about to set off.

Then she learned that Gyuri had arrived in Palestine. The two spent 24 hours together in Tel Aviv. The next day, Hannah, age 22, parachuted into Europe.

After walking for four days and nights, the parachutists reached the partisan army’s headquarters in Yugoslavia. There they learned German troops had entered Hungary.

Suddenly their legal documents were worthless. They had no protection. The mission was now up against impossible odds. Some decided to abort it. Hannah refused.

As she prepared to cross the border into Hungary, Hannah gave her comrade Reuven Dafni a poem for her friends in case she didn’t return.

In Hungary, the Nazi occupation had immediate results. Nowhere was the destruction of Jewry as swift. Catherine and the Jews of Budapest were in a race against time.

Hannah crossed into Hungary in a team of four. Almost immediately, local gendarmes stopped the group. Hannah tried to escape but was caught and badly beaten. The Gestapo arrived and found an incriminating radio receiver. They demanded the codes used to communicate with the British army. Hannah refused to reveal them.

So they took her to Budapest.

Meanwhile, Catherine (her mother) was summoned to prison barracks. An official interrogated her: Why Hannah had left Hungary? Where she was now? Catherine was surprised to be asked about her daughter.

“Where do you really think she is?” the official asked.

He told Catherine that Hannah was in the adjoining room. Catherine could see her, he said, but had to persuade Hannah to tell them everything. If she didn’t, it would be their last meeting.

Reunited, Hannah threw her arms around her mother. “Please forgive me,” she sobbed. She was missing teeth from beatings.

Catherine had no idea what was going on. But she knew Hannah. If she was hiding something, she was doing so for a reason. So she tacitly encouraged Hannah to stay strong.

Catherine was kept in prison, in a cell with other prisoners. Hannah was incarcerated alone. But the windows in both cells faced the prison yard. When Hannah stood by hers, the others could see her. Days passed. The women began to communicate.

Hannah saw the yellow stars the Hungarian Jewish inmates were forced to wear. As she was no longer a Hungarian citizen, she didn’t have to wear one.

“You are lucky not to have to be branded,” an inmate told her from Catherine’s cell.

Hannah responded by drawing a large Star of David in the dust on her window.

Reconciled to her fate, Hannah was heartbroken she had dragged her mother into trouble. Catherine replied she was just happy to be near to her. Eventually Catherine was released, but Hannah remained imprisoned.

Almost daily, Hannah was taken for interrogation at the Gestapo HQ. She held steadfast under beatings and torture. Their roles reversed, Catherine set about trying to free Hannah.

Jews were only permitted to walk the streets at certain times; even then it was incredibly dangerous to do so. Nevertheless Catherine went from government ministry to government ministry, fighting for her daughter’s release.

But it was to no avail. On October 28, Hannah was tried for treason at a closed military tribunal. Though her only audience was her enemies, Hannah gave an impassioned speech. The war will soon end, she told them, and you—supposed Hungarian patriots—will be tried for being enemies of your country, not me.

The tribunal told Hannah she was sentenced to death and that if she wanted to plead for clemency she could do so. She refused, just as she refused a blindfold to face the firing squad.

After Hannah’s death, Catherine received her personal effects. In her dress pockets, she found scraps of paper: lines of farewell and a poem she had written in her cell:

One – two – three… eight feet long
Two strides across, the rest is dark…
Life is a fleeting question mark
One – two – three… maybe another week.
Or the next month may still find me here,
But death, I feel is very near.
I could have been 23 next July
I gambled on what mattered most,
The dice were cast. I lost.

A week after Hannah’s execution, Catherine was sent on a forced death march to Austria. She escaped and in 1945 immigrated to Palestine, where she reunited with Gyuri.

After the war, Hannah’s friends at the kibbutz found a suitcase filled with her poetry. Her writings were published and she became a national symbol of resistance and hope in Israel.

In 1950 Hannah’s body was returned to Israel, where it lay in state and traveled the country for three days. Catherine was among the mourners. Then Hannah joined the other fallen parachutists, interred at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

In the poem she gave Reuven Dafni, Hannah had almost written her own obituary. “Blessed Is The Match” celebrates a match that gives itself freely to the fire, which briefly illuminates a world of darkness. By her actions and through her writing, Hannah Senesh, strong of both head and heart, would have the last word:

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Anschluss of Austria: Reflections in the Contemporaneous Press

Seventy six years ago, in March 1938, Hitler celebrated fulfillment of his long-awaited dream, that of unification of Austria with Germany. In terms of geopolitical language, it reads as the Anschluss of Austria.

Nowadays, as it was for many in 1938, the Anschluss is regarded as annexation of independent Republic of Austria. National Socialists, however, perceived the entering of German troops in Austria and establishment of the Nazi regime there as a new step forward of German-Nazi domination in Central Europe.

The previous three steps, fomenting the re-building of German National-Socialist Empire, were introduction of the program of remilitarization, occupation of Saarland region and reinstatement of German military presence on the both banks of the Rhine River. Prewar political analysts rightfully expected of Hitler to undertake the concluding geostratigical operations, related to Czechoslovakia and Memel (Klaipeda) in Lithuania. This scenario proved to have been absolutely correct.   

In 1938, for the people of Czechoslovakia and Poland, as well as for the governments of France and Great Britain, the Anschluss of Austria manifested inevitability of a forthcoming all-European military conflict. At the same time, the hopes of avoiding another global war, had not so far been dismissed.

The sense of historical reality is especially keen if you browse through the pages of the periodicals of that time. It is manifold sharper than discourse obtained from the modern secondary literature, such as encyclopedias, scholarly monographs or article on the Internet.

To this end, we are offering to the reader a review of the Anschluss-related events as they had been reflected by the press and by the news agencies in the course of March 12 – 15, 1938. Largely we refer to Polish-Jewish publication Nowy Dziennik (The New Journal), as well as to the Czech, British, Italian, French and Hungarian press-coverage and governmental statements that saw publication.

Analyzing political developments in Nazi Germany since 1936, Nowy Dziennik comes to conclusion that Austria lost independence not only because of the growing Nazi movement in the country, but largely owing to the mounting opposition to the Hitler regime in Germany proper.

In the article “Under the Hitler’s boot,” published on March 13, 1938, Nowy Dziennik, wrote:

 

Anschluss is now a concluded fact. However, only a few months ago, Hitler argued that it would take several years to implement the Anschluss of Austria into reality. However, German geostratigical realties have altered Hitler’s plans. Recently Hitler faced the putsch of German generals, who conspired against him; the rise of resentment in German society vis-à-vis the Nazi regime and the consolidation of the internal opposition to his personal rule. All in all, to secure the power, he had to boost the German society with the new accomplishments, corroborating the validity and future of the Regime. As a nationalist theoretician, Hitler well realized the threat of socio-political vacuum in Germany, where societal life was limited and instead national aspirations and accomplishments substituted personal self-realization.

 

It remains to be a question, if the Anschluss of Austria served as a narcotic for the Nazi Regime, only enhancing the longing for the new political and military accomplishments, once the euphoria of reunification with Austria would subside. There is no a definitive answer to this question Being a typical realization of the policy of State Nationalism, the Anschluss of Austria also fomented Hitler’s geostratigical goals in Europe.  There was little doubt that after the Anschluss of Austria the Nazi Regime would actively question the integrity of Czechoslovakia. Not surprisingly that in five months, Hitler would dismember Czechoslovakia under the similar, as Austrian, scenario.

Historically, the Austrian cause markedly differs from that of the Czechoslovakian problem of state integrity with regard to socio-political terms. Anschluss with Germany was not foreign for German-Austria since the inception of the republic on October 30, 1918. German-Austrians, not only nationalists continuously promulgate the idea of unification with Germany (then Weimar Republic).  However, the Article 88 of the Treaty of Saint-Germain (1919), signed by Austria and the Allied Powers, forbade Anschluss without the consent of the League of Nation and stipulated that the republic should cease to call itself German-Austria. Former German-Austria became the Republic of Austria. Czechoslovakia, on the other hand, was a Slavic, multi-national state, comprising the Czech lands, Slovakia, Ukrainian Carpatho-Ruthenia and a sizable German population in Sudetenland.

Until 1936, it was Italy, which counterbalanced German expansionist aspirations with regard to Austria. However, in 1935, Mussolini started invasion of Abyssinia and this significantly diverted his attention from Austria. On the other hand, rapport between the two fascist states, Germany and Austria, began gaining an espousing character. Under these circumstances Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg signed a treaty of normalization with Nazi Germany on February 11, 1936. Schuschnigg conceded to the appointment of Gleise-Horstenau, Austrian nationalist politician, on the position of the Minister of Interior. Since then two relatively peaceful years passed under the leadership of Chancellor Schuschnigg.

 In the beginning of 1938, the tensions between the Nazi party and the German Military Command intensified. Although the coup of the generals was thwarted, Hitler began seeking re-vindication in foreign policies. On February 12, 1938, he summoned Schuschnigg to his residence at Berchtesgaden. Polish Nowy Dziennik describes the pressing sustained by Schuschnigg during this meeting. Hitler dismissed formalities of a diplomatic protocol and simply handed over to Schuschnigg the ultimatum:

 

In the office adjacent to the hall, where Hitler was conferring with Schuschnigg, one could hear a conversation of three German generals.  These generals were von Keitel, Chief of Staff; General Reichenau and General Sperle. They discussed plans of the invasion of Austria. Hitler presented Schuschnigg with unconditional demands: inclusion of Austrian National Socialists into the Government; amnesty to Austrian political prisoners (National Socialists), legalization of the organizations of the Austrian Nazis and appointment of Dr. Seyss-Inquart on the post of the Minister of Interior. Schuschnigg conceded to all points. On his part, Hitler had to confirm publically his support of independent Austrian state. The latter did not materialize. 

 

On February 24, 1938, Chancellor Schuschnigg delivered an inspirational speech in defense of Austrian independence. The majority of Austrians received his appeal with enthusiasm. People, en masse, demonstrated in the streets in support of the Chancellor and independence. On the other, side, Austrian Nazis, now acting officially and under the protection of the government, commenced violent pro-German campaign. Under the dire circumstances, Schuschnigg appealed to the Austrian people to take the fate of the future in their own hands. He announced a plebiscite to be held on March 13, 1938.

 
Hitler was not going to accept free will of Austrian people. He issued the new ultimatum demanding resignation of Schuschnigg and complete transfer of power to the government of Austrian National Socialists. Earlier Schuschnigg made another concession and postponed the plebiscite. Hitler now concluded the entire discourse by ordering the German Army to cross the Austro-German border and to march into Austria. On the very day of the postponed plebiscite, March 13, the German army crossed the border and started moving in the direction of Linz and Salzburg.

 
Although Austrian army still remained loyal to the Constitution, the last vestiges of independence were melting away with every hour. One day earlier, on March 12, 1938, the German airplanes dropped over Vienna congratulating leaflets: German National Socialists greet Austrian National Socialists and the new Austrian Government with the historic decision of the unification with Germany forever.

 
Analyzing the Austrian tragedy, the Prague newspaper Prager Tagblatt wrote on March 12, 1938:

 

It is not only the tragedy of Austria and Chancellor Schuschnigg, it is the world tragedy. The world passively observes how in the course of one night, the brutal and lawless force overwhelmed the entire country that never before, during its whole history, was under the rule of Germany, the country, striving to remain independent.

 

European press, largely, accepted German invasion of Austria as fait accompli. Newspapers and magazines argued that European governments were taken aback, due, in particular, to the internal political instability and, in general, to the perplexed geopolitical situation. Thus French Le Petit Parisien, analyzing unfavorable for Austria geopolitical situation, underlined how and why the European governments missed another German military expansion. On March 12, 1938, the newspaper wrote:

 

Hitler chose a moment when Mussolini is overwhelmed with the not going well Italian military expeditions. France is in political and financial turmoil. It is also the time when London and Paris owing to the resignation of the UK foreign minister Eden, experience difficulties in conducting unified foreign policies.

 

Overall, French newspapers, although expressing regret and criticizing their own government, revealed a vivid awareness of the inevitability of German perseverance and the sense of futility with regard to taking anti-German preventive actions. Public opinion realized that a remedy from the Nazi-German threat, perhaps, was not to be found in actions, but in the realization of the faults of its own parliamentary system. On the same March 12, 1938, Figaro wrote in this regard:

 

Yesterday was the day of endlessly streaming news, reports about negotiations, compromises and agreements, conducted and concluded between various political groups and governmental officials. All in all, it was to no avail. As a whole, all these activities resemble an image of a broken gramophone, set up by an invisible hand and turned on to play in the residence of a deceased.

 

Italian Messagero was neither apologetic nor critical to Italian government for not preventing the demise of Austrian Republic. The newspaper viewed the entire process as an exclusively internal Austrian cause. It also stated that Italy decided to stay out of either pro or counter actions in Austrian affairs. Such position is obviously inconsistent: on one hand, the article claimed that what has happened was internal Austrian matter; on the other hand, it did not see contradiction in considering Hitler’s actions as suitable and charging Schuschnigg with the taking politically erroneous decisions:

 

What happened in Austria, despite the significant efforts and good will, could not have been avoided. Once Schuschnigg concluded the agreement with Hitler in 1936, he de facto gave up to Austrian National Socialists letting them forming the government; however, as an Austrian patriot, he began desperately seeking support, on public arena, from the politically extinct forces. Such a combination of policies could not but caused Hitler’s dissatisfaction and accelerated German actions. The Anschluss transpired as a result of unresolved political crisis.

 

Hungarian newspapers, depending of their political orientation either expressed satisfaction with the manner of how the Austrian crisis has been resolved or conveyed alerting messages, projecting the Austrian scenario upon Hungary. Thus, close to the governmental circles, a national-socialist oriented Uj Magyarsag perceived that in the event of plebiscite, the civil war would have been imminent. Hungary, the newspaper continued, is not wishing herself a Spanish-like war on its borders. In the opinion of this edition: it was of the Hungarian interest that the order in Austria has been restored by the accession of Austrian National Socialists to power. However, another Hungarian publication, Christian-conservative, Magyarsag expressed concerns with regard to the German expansion into the Danube basin. This edition defined the Anschluss of Austria as a warning sign for Hungary: the demise of Schuschnigg testifies to the fact that counting on the intervention of the Western powers is to no avail. The Germans commenced a raid on the South-East of Europe. We are now facing a challenge of how we shall act vis-à-vis Germany.

 

It has become obvious that countries of Central Eastern Europe hardly could rely on a decisive intervention of the Western powers on their behalf against expansionist policies of Nazi Germany. However, the leaders of France and the United Kingdom did realize how imminent the threat of Nazi expansion in Europe was. The debates in the British House of Commons vividly demonstrated awareness of the inevitability of all-European war. Here, the speech of Winston Churchill precedes his post-Munich Agreement appeal:

 

Europe faces a pre-planned program of aggression. This program is being realized systematically. England has the only alternative: either to give up as Austria has done or, if the time still permits, we shall exercise all possible means in order to prevent the war. However, if the latter becomes unrealistic, we shall gather all our forces to withstand the threat.

 

The French government, although in the state of reorganization, also took a stand, condemning German act of aggression against Austria. Political and military assurances have been given to Czechoslovakia. Nowadays, we see it either symptomatic or ironical, how great was the trust in anti-German alliances in European foreign offices.  For example, the first foreign diplomat, who met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the new French Cabinet was the ambassador of Czechoslovakia. The conference took place on March 15, 1938. In particular, Paul Boncour, French Foreign Minister, assured that France would fulfill all its obligation toward Czechoslovakia stemming from the letter and spirit of the French – Czech mutual agreement. This declaration never materialized, the “letter and spirit” of the mutual defense agreement remained on the paper.  

 

In meantime, Nazi Germany celebrated fulfillment of Hitler’s dream. On March 15, 1938, Führer arrived in Vienna. Interim Chancellor Seyss-Inquart, who has been now appointed the Minister of the German Reich, addressed Hitler, my Führer. Seyss-Inquart officially declared that Austria has been fully incorporated into the German Reich and that since now, Adolf Hitler is the supreme Leader of Austria. The Eastern Mark (medieval name for the Austrian lands) is again united with the German lands. The former Austrian chancellor proclaimed on behalf of Austrian people endless (besinnungslose) allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Hitler in a short speech, expressed joy and satisfaction of the German-Austrian reunification: the oldest Eastern Mark of German people, today has become my youngest state. The always-German country has ultimately fulfilled its mission.  

 

CONCLUSION OR COULD AUSTRIA DEFEND ITSELF


By 1938, Austrian army comprised seven divisions of infantry, two motorized divisions and together with the police, gendarmerie and the formations of the Patriotic Front, there were fifteen military trained divisions. In the opinion of military experts of that time, the Austrian armed forces could possibly hold out for some two weeks against manifold stronger German army. It is difficult to predict the certainty of the outcome of such confrontation, however the local war in the heart of Europe, definitely in some way would cause intervention of the Great Powers.

As of March 15, 1938, Austria has been annexed and integrated into the German Reich. For the Austrian people it was the turning point in the history of their country. For Hitler, it was a completion of the forth promise he had given to the German people, when he assumed supreme power in Germany. The previous three, fulfilled earlier, were reinstatement of Rhineland as the German province, embankment on the program of rearmaments and annexation of the Saarland region. Anschluss has manifested the completion of his fourth promise. Contemporaries easily envisioned the fifth and six points coming into geopolitical play, namely dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and annexation of Klaipeda (Memel territory). They had left a prospective but an imminent seventh point under the question mark: and the seventh point is?