Anschluss

annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938

The Anschluss (German: [ˈʔanʃlʊs] (listen), or Anschluß, lit. 'joining' or 'connection'), also known as the Anschluß Österreichs (pronunciation , English: Annexation of Austria), was the annexation of the Federal State of Austria into the German Reich on 13 March 1938. The idea of an Anschluss (a united Austria and Germany that would form a "Greater Germany") began after the unification of Germany excluded Austria and the German Austrians from the Prussian-dominated German Empire in 1871. Following the end of World War I with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1918, the newly formed Republic of German-Austria attempted to form a union with Germany, but the Treaty of Saint Germain (10 September 1919) and the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) forbade both the union and the continued use of the name "German-Austria" (Deutschösterreich); and stripped Austria of some of its territories, such as the Sudetenland. Prior to the Anschluss, there had been strong support in both Austria and Germany for unification of the two countries. In the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy—with Austria left as a broken remnant, deprived of most of the territories it had ruled for centuries and undergoing a severe economic crisis—the idea of unity with Germany seemed attractive also to many citizens of the political left and center. Support for unification with Germany was not political, but mainly came from the belief that Austria, stripped of its imperial land, was not viable economically. However, popular support for the unification gradually faded with time, although it remained as a concept in the contemporary Austrian political discourse.But after 1933, when Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, desire for unification could be identified with the Nazis, for whom it was an integral part of the Nazi "Heim ins Reich" concept, which sought to incorporate as many Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans outside Germany) as possible into a "Greater Germany". Nazi Germany's agents cultivated pro-unification tendencies in Austria, and sought to undermine the Austrian government, which was controlled by the Austrofascist Fatherland Front. During an attempted coup in 1934, Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis. The defeat of the coup prompted many leading Austrian Nazis to go into exile in Germany, where they continued their efforts for unification of the two countries. In early 1938, under increasing pressure from pro-unification activists, Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg announced that there would be a referendum on a possible union with Germany versus maintaining Austria's sovereignty to be held on 13 March. Portraying this as defying the popular will in Austria and Germany, Hitler threatened an invasion and secretly pressured Schuschnigg to resign. A day before the planned referendum, on 12 March, the German Heer crossed the border into Austria, unopposed by the Austrian military. A plebiscite was held on the 10th of April, in which the ballot was not secret, and threats and coercion were employed to manipulate the vote, resulting in 99.7% approval for the Anschluss.
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