Why did war break out? International relations 1929–39
Hitler’s aims and
policies with regard to the Versailles settlement. Lebensraum,
Grossdeutschland, re-armament, the Saar, re-occupation
Britain’s policy of appeasement: Chamberlain and appeasement.
The Munich Agreement and the takeover of Czechoslovakia.
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What was the international response to Anschluss?
Adolf Hitler had written in Mein Kampf that he intended there to be a union of Germany and Austria and that he would be willing to invade to make this happen. In the event, there was no need for combat.
As National Socialism grew in Germany it also gathered support in Austria. Once in power Hitler offered a great deal of support to the Austrian Nazi party. In July 1934 the Austrian Nazi's attempted to seize power. The chancellor, Dolfuss, was assassinated and a period of civil unrest followed. The Austrian Nazi's then began using terror methods to destroy their enemies, killing some 800 people between 1934 and 1938. The new Chancellor, Schuschnigg, was faced with a dilemma. He wanted to maintain Austrian independence and needed to combat the growing threat of a Nazi seizure of power. The only way he could achieve this was to attempt to form alliances with the Socialists and Communists. This led to him being forced to make concessions to the Socialists which invoked further unrest from the Nazi party.
Now desperate, Schuschnigg organised a plebisite to be held asking Austrians to vote on whether they wished to remain independent or form a union with Germany. He altered the voting rules to exclude younger voters, who were more likely to sympathise with the Nazi Party. Hitler sent Schuschnigg an ultimatum as a result of this, ordering him to hand power to the Austrian Nazi Party, on account of the obvious fraud in the plebisite, or face invasion. Schuschnigg soon realised that neither France nor Britain would be willing to go to war with Germany over this issue. He resigned. The Austrian President now tried to convince politicians to assume office, he did not want to appoint a Nazi to the role. Whilst the government was in this state of instability Austrian Nazi's made their move and began seizing control of government buildings. Enraged at the lack of a Nazi appointment, Hitler signed an order for troops to enter Austria. At roughly the same time the President realised that the only hope for stability at this stage was to give in to the demands of Hitler and appoint Austrian Nazi leader, Seyss-Inquart, as Chancellor.
The following morning, 12th March 1938, German troops crossed the border into Austria. They received a warm welcome with many Austrians greeting them as heroes.
Hitler announced Anschluss the following day in front of a large crowd in Vienna. Following this a new plebisite vote was arranged. Officially 99.73% voted in favour of Anschluss in this vote. The Nazi's moved quickly to arrest opposition leaders and secure total control of Austria.
International response to Anschluss:
The Roman Catholic Church denounced the Anschluss, a statement was prepared which stated:
"The solemn declaration of the Austrian bishops ... was clearly not intended to be an approval of something that was not and is not compatible with God's law."
The Leader of the Lutheran Church had a different view, he said that Hitler was the:
"saviour of the 350,000 German Protestants in Austria and liberator from a five-year hardship."
"The hard fact is that nothing could have arrested what has actually happened [in Austria] unless this country and other countries had been prepared to use force." Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister.
"I imagine that according to the temperament of the individual the events which are in our minds to-day will be the cause of regret, of sorrow, perhaps of indignation. They cannot be regarded by His Majesty's Government with indifference or equanimity. They are bound to have effects which cannot yet be measured. The immediate result must be to intensify the sense of uncertainty and insecurity in Europe. Unfortunately, while the policy of appeasement would lead to a relaxation of the economic pressure under which many countries are suffering to-day, what has just occurred must inevitably retard economic recovery and, indeed, increased care will be required to ensure that marked deterioration does not set in. This is not a moment for hasty decisions or for careless words. We must consider the new situation quickly, but with cool judgement... As regards our defence programmes, we have always made it clear that they were flexible and that they would have to be reviewed from time to time in the light of any development in the international situation. It would be idle to pretend that recent events do not constitute a change of the kind that we had in mind. Accordingly we have decided to make a fresh review, and in due course we shall announce what further steps we may think it necessary to take." Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister.
The French made no official comment on Anschluss, the French government having resigned en bloc 2 days earlier over unrelated issues.