the fate of Austria for some time seemed to be a destiny lacking sovereignty and true independence from 1867 through 1918 the nation was locked in the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary until their defeat in world war 1 brought about a split by this point the republic of german austria was born and lasted only a short time before being replaced in september of 1919 by the first austrian republic.
the new state survived just under two decades with austrian autonomy being challenged once more as the germans marched onto austrian soil on march 12 1938 to understand why the austrians allowed if not welcomed the german invasion it’s important that we look back in time a little bit further spanning back into the 19th century around the collapse of the holy roman empire.
in 1806 talks of creating a greater germany to form one united nation made up of each of the smaller german states had already begun the austrians particularly wanted this union to take place under the austrian habsburgs and discussions of such a federation continued roughly until the dissolution of the german confederation in 1866 which strictly excluded austria from any german union.
the austro-hungarian dual monarchy was formed the following year with the austro-hungarian compromise of 1867 while this new formation allowed austria to have a union in some form there were still many austrians who were loyal only to germany and wanted to see the new empire crumble in favor of a union with the germans instead when austria-hungary did finally break apart after its defeat.
in the first world war german austria was formed in hopes of creating a new partnership between austria and germany unfortunately for those in favor of a true union though both the treaty of versailles and the treaty of saint germain in 1919 obstructed the possibility of unity between austria and germany regardless of all signs pointing toward a free austrian state especially with the new formation of the first austrian republic there was still an overwhelming majority within the austrian borders that was determined to support any type of unification with Germany.
when the rising national socialist german workers party came to power in the vaymer republic or germany at the start of the 1930s the push for unity became even more complex now an increasing number of austrians began to not only support the idea of a german austrian state but some also began to back the ideology of the newly powerful german party as well this went so far and in such a quick manner that a group in favor of germany’s workers party staged a coup which was organized on german soil and supposedly assisted by the german chancellor and his officials in 1934.
the group successfully assassinated the austrian chancellor anglebot dolphus and they were expecting the austrian military to take their side but the military leaders instead opposed them and the government was not overthrown as they had hoped on may 21st of the following year the german chancellor gave a speech to the reichstag addressing his potential involvement in the coup stating that germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the eternal affairs of austria to annex austria or to conclude a union with austria from the point of view of germany’s chancellor.
though it appears that he did in fact wish to conclude a union back in 1920 the chancellor’s workers party had created their program which explicitly addressed their demand for the unification of all germans in the greater germany on the basis of the people’s right to self-determination adolf hitler himself went even a step further and in 1921.
he wrote an essay in which he said that one of the top priorities of the germans was to incorporate the 10 million german austrians in the empire and called for the dethroning of the habsburgs which he referred to as the most miserable dynasty ever ruling this scathing essay directly criticizing the austrian habsburgs was not completely a surprise especially considering the fact that the german chancellor was actually from austria himself and had high hopes for uniting his birth country with the on.
he now ruled due to ethnicity and language the solution to this predicament was no longer simple though as the first austrian republic found itself heavily controlled by an anti-annexation christian socialist party and moving rapidly in the direction of a more centralized and austro-fascist government that seemed to take more inspiration from italy than germany after the february uprising in 1934.
italy also seemed to encourage the maintenance of austrian sovereignty away from germany possibly out of concern for maintaining some of their own territories that were once controlled by austria still the support of germany’s party by an austrian faction was growing use of propaganda and slogans such as a common one which in english simply said one people one empire one leader helped the expanding movement and an american journalist john gunther even believed that the austrian population was around 80 percent in favor of a union with germany in 1932.
over the next few years however support did fluctuate in response to the attempted coup and violence from the pro-annexation group that hoped to take down the contemporary government john gunther supposed that by 1933 the tide had turned and it was more likely around 60 percent of the population now against a union but that would not remain the case entirely after the assassination of angle bit dolphus kurt sushnig became the new chancellor of austria the austrian government.
now attempted to round up those who were in favor of a unification with germany and placed them into internment camps and shusnig hoped to grow austrian nationalism by referring to austria as the better german state the new leader’s almost desperate attempts to quell the call for a union is what prompted the german chancellor’s speech to the reichstag despite his long-stated goal of uniting the nations at all costs a meeting between the germans and austrians then occurred in 1936.
resulting in an agreement between the countries that the internment camp prisoners would be released and germany would respect austrian sovereignty although austria was required to style itself a german state and follow their parent nation’s lead in all foreign affairs the pro-annexation faction.
in austria also promised to refrain from continued violence against the government in return for the right to join the cabinet while this deal may have put shushnig’s mind at ease it was never very reliable adolf hitler had no real intention of giving up his one empire dream and the push for unification continued by the end of 1937 summer.
the germans decided that austria would most likely need to be taken by force in order to utilize its economy to fix germany’s own crumbling economy so they could get back on top in the arms race against france and britain by this point chancellor shushnig knew that the pressure for the union was becoming too strong to ignore and he agreed to meet with his german counterpart the two leaders convened at berktisgaden on february 12 1938 to discuss.
the future of their nations the german chancellor offered an unexpected proposal to reaffirm austrian autonomy but only if shushnig would put some of the pro-union activists into positions of power and particularly appoint arthur zeisengvart to the position of minister of public security which gave him full authority over all police matters austrian chancellor felt concerned knowing that he was running out of options to maintain austrian independence.
so he agreed to the germans terms only eight days later germany began to reveal its hand on february 20th the german chancellor made a speech although this time it was also broadcast live and aired to the austrian radio network in his speech he stated clearly that the german reich is no longer willing to tolerate the suppression of 10 million germans across its borders referring directly to the germans currently residing in both austria and czechoslovakia the following month on march 9th austrian chancellor feeling as pressured as ever called for a national vote.
on the matter of annexation but before the vote could even occur he resigned only two days later on march 11th shushnig had hit his breaking point and could no longer handle the threat of the germans and in his resignation address he begged the austrian people not to fight the coming annexation the next day the german chancellor accompanied his troops and tanks onto austrian soil where they faced zero resistance and overwhelming enthusiasm from the austrian people.
on march 13th the union was officially proclaimed and austria ceased to exist as a nation after a long plea and sometimes violent fight for a union austria was now a federal state of germany and unification was complete the reason why austria allowed german annexation appears to be abundantly clear although maybe strange.
it seems odd that any nation would be so desperate to maintain a lack of independence as austria generally did and as was the reason why germany had very few obstacles to tackle before annexation having the same ethnicity language and many people that wanted the union to happen being encouraged by nationalism in a very difficult period and without true allies austria became a part of Germany.