The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Volume I Chapter IX
Aggression Against Austria
(Part 6 of 19)

(d) Assurances and Reassurances. The German Government did more than keep up a pretense of non-interference with Austrian groups. It employed the psychological inducement of providing assurances that it had no designs on Austria's independence. If Austria could but hope for the execution of those assurances, she could find her way clear to the granting of concessions, and obtain relief from the economic and internal pressures.

A letter from Papen, while in Berlin, to Hitler, dated 17 May 1935, indicated that a forthright, credible statement by Germany reassuring Austria would be most useful for German diplomatic purposes and the improvement of relationships between Austria and German groups in Austria (2247-PS). Papen had a scheme for pitting Schuschnigg and his Social- Christian forces against Starhemberg, the Vice-Chancellor of Austria, who was backed by Mussolini. He hoped to persuade Schuschnigg to ally his forces with the NSDAP in order to emerge victorious over Starhemberg. Papen indicated that he obtained this idea from Captain Leopold, leader of the illegal National Socialists. His letter states in part:

"*** I suggest that we take an active part in this game. The fundamental idea should be to pit Schuschnigg and his Christian-social Forces, who are opposed to a home front dictatorship, against Starhemberg. The possibility of thwarting the measures arranged between Mussolini and Starhemberg should be afforded to him, in such way that he would submit the offer to the government of a definitive German-Austrian compromise of interests. According to the convincing opinion of the leader of the NSDAP in Austria, Capt. Leopold, the totalitarian principle of the NSDAP in Austria must be replaced in the beginning by a combination of that part of the Christian-elements which favors the Greater Germany idea and the NSDAP. If Germany recognizes the national independence of Austria and guarantees full freedom to the Austrian national opposition, then as a result of such a compromise the Austrian government would be formed in the beginning by a coalition of these forces. A further consequence of this step would be the possibility of the participation of Germany in the Danube pact, which

[Page 468]

would take the sting out of its acuteness due to the settlement of relations between Germany and Austria. Such a measure would have a most beneficial influence on the European situation and especially on our relationship with England. One may object, that Mr. Schuschnigg will hardly be determined to follow such a pattern, that he will rather in all probability immediately communicate our offer to our opponents. Of course, one should first of all explore the possibility of setting Schuschnigg against Starhemberg through the use of 'Go betweens'. The possibility exists. If Mr. Schuschnigg finally says 'No' and makes our offer known in Rome, then the situation would not be any worse but, on the contrary, the efforts of the Reich government to make peace with Austria would be revealed -- without prejudice to other interests. Therefore even in the case of refusal this last attempt would be an asset. I consider it completely possible, that in view of the far spread dislike of the Alpine countries of the pro- Italian course and in view of the sharp tensions within the federal government (Bundesreich), Mr. Schuschnigg will grasp this last straw -- always under the supposition that the offer could not be interpreted as a trap by the opponents, but that it bears all the mark of an actually honest compromise with Austria. Assuming success of this step, we would again establish our active intervention in Central European politics, which, as opposed to the French-Czech and Russian political maneuvers, would be a tremendous success, both morally and practically. Since there are 2 weeks left to accomplish very much work in the way of explorations and Conferences, an immediate decision is necessary. The Reich Army Minister (Reichswehrminister) shares the opinion presented above and the Reich Foreign Minister (Reichsaussenminister) wanted to discuss it with you my Fuehrer.

(Signed) Papen". (2247-PS)

In other words, Papen wanted a strong assurance and credible assurance, of Austria's independence. As he put it, Germany had nothing to lose with what it could always call a mere effort at peace. And she might be able to convince Schuschnigg to establish an Austrian coalition government with the NSDAP. If she did this, she would vastly strengthen her position in Europe. Finally, Papen urged haste.

Exactly four days later (21 May 1935) in a Reichstag address Hitler responded to Papen's suggestion, asserting:

"Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the

[Page 469]

internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria or to conclude an Anschluss". (TC-26)

Despite this assurance, Papen suggested and Hitler announced, for a complexity of reasons, a policy completely at variance with their intentions, which had been and continued to be to interfere in Austria's internal affairs and to conclude an Anschluss.

(e) Temporary Countenance of a Quiet Pressure Policy. On 1 May 1936 Hitler branded as a lie any statement that tomorrow or the day after Germany would fall upon Austria. His words were published in the Voelkische-Beobachter, SD, 2-3 May 1936, p. 2. (2367-PS)

If Hitler meant what he said, it as only in the most literal and misleading sense that he would not fall upon Austria "tomorrow or the day after". For the conspirators well knew that the successful execution of their purpose required for a while longer the quiet policy they had been pursuing in Austria.

A memorandum of a conversation which occurred when William Bullitt, American Ambassador to France, called upon von Neurath, German Minister for Foreign Affairs, on 18 May 1936, recounts von Neurath's explanation why Germany was trying to prevent rather than encourage an outbreak by the Nazis in Austria (1150). The Nazis ere growing stronger in Austria, anyway, in view of their appeal to the young people. And the German Government was doing nothing active in foreign affairs until the Rhineland, reoccupied two months before, had been "digested", and until fortifications were constructed on the French frontier. Finally, Italy still had a conflicting interest in Austria, and Germany wished to avoid any involvement with Italy.

(f) The agreement of 11 July 1936. But if Germany was not yet ready for open conflict in Austria, its diplomatic position was vastly improved over 1934, a fact which influenced Austria's willingness to make concessions to Germany and come to terms. As Mr. Messersmith points out, Italy, formerly a protector of Austria, had em,barked on her Abyssinian adventure, and this, together with the refortification of the Rhineland, strengthened Germany's position (1760-S). This weakening of Austria helped pave the way for the Pact of 11 July 1936. (TC-22)

The formal part of the agreement of 11 July 1936, between the German Government and the Government of the Federal State of Austria, looks like a great triumph for Austria. It contains a confusing provision to the effect that Austria, in its policy, especially with regard to Germany, will regard herself as a German state. But the other two provisions clearly state that Germany recognizes the full sovereignty of Austria, and that it regards

[Page 470]

the inner political order of Austria (including the question of Austrian National Socialism) as an internal concern of Austria upon which it will exercise neither direct nor indirect influence.

But there was much more substance to the day's events. Mr. Messersmith's summary, as set forth in his affidavit, is more revealing:

"Even more important than the terms of the agreement published in the official communique, was the contemporaneous informal understanding, the most important provisions of which were, that Austria would (1) appoint a number of individuals enjoying the Chancellor's confidence but friendly to Germany to positions in the Cabinet; (2) would devise means to give the 'national opposition' a role in the political life of Austria and within the framework of the Patriotic Front, and (3) would amnesty all Nazis save those convicted of the most serious offenses. This amnesty was duly announced by the Austrian Government and thousands of Nazis were released, and the first penetration of the Deutsche Nationaler into the Austrian Government was accomplished by the appointment of Dr. Guido Schmidt as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and of Dr. Edmund Glaise-Horstenau as Minister Without Portfolio". (1760-PS)

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