The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Volume I Chapter IX
Aggression Against Austria
(Part 13 of 19)


E. Events Culminating in the German invasion on 12 March 1938.

(1) The Plebiscite. The day after his appointment as Minister of the Interior, Seyss-Inquart flew to Berlin for a conference with Hitler. (2484-PS)

On 9 March 1938, three weeks after Seyss-Inquart had been put in charge of the police, Schuschnigg announced that he would hold a plebiscite throughout Austria on the following Sunday, 13 March 1938. The question was: "Are you for an independent and social, a Christian, German and united Austria?" A "yes" answer to this question was clearly compatible with the agreement made by the German Government on 11 July 1936, and carried forward at Berchtesgaden on 12 February 1938. More-

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over, for a long while the Nazis had been demanding a plebiscite on the question of Anschluss. But the Nazis apparently appreciated the likelihood of a strong "yes" vote on the question put by Schuschnigg, and they could not tolerate the possibility of such a vote of confidence in the Schuschnigg Government. They took this occasion to overturn the Austrian Government.

Although the Plebiscite was not announced until the evening of 9 March, the Nazi Organization received word about it earlier in the day. It was determined by the Nazis that they had to ask Hitler what to do about the situation, and that they would prepare a letter of protest against the Plebiscite from Seyss-Inquart to Schuschnigg, and that pending Hitler's approval, Seyss-Inquart would pretend to negotiate with Schuschnigg about details of the plebiscite.

In the words of Gauleiter Rainer's report to Reichscommissioner Buerckel:

"The Landesleitung received word about the planned plebiscite through illegal information services, on 9 March 1938 at 10 a. m. At the session which was called immediately afterwards, Seyss-Inquart explained that he had known about this for only a few hours, but that he could not talk about it because he had given his word to keep silent on this subject. But during the talks he made us understand that the illegal information we received was based on truth, and that in view of the new situation, he had been cooperating with the Landesleitung from the very first moment. Klausner, Jury, Rainer, Globocnik and Seyss-Inquart were present at the first talks which were held at 10 a. m. There it was decided that first, the Fuehrer had to be informed immediately; secondly, the opportunity for the Fuehrer to intervene must be given to him by way of an official declaration made by Minister Seyss-Inquart to Schuschnigg; and thirdly, Seyss-Inquart must negotiate with the government until clear instrUctions and orders were received from the Fuehrer. Seyss-Inquart and Rainer together composed a letter to Schuschnigg, and only one copy of it was brought to the Fuehrer by Globocnik, who flew to him on the afternoon of 9 March 1938." (812-PS)

(2) Germanys Preparation for the Use of Force. When news of the Plebiscite reached Berlin, it started a tremendous amount of activity. Hitler was determined not to tolerate the plebiscite. Accordingly, he called his military advisers and ordered preparation for the march into Austria. He made diplomatic prepara-

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tions by explaining in a letter to Mussolini the reasons why he was going to march into Austria. In the absence of von Ribbentrop, who was temporarily detained in London, von Neurath took over the affairs of the Foreign Office again.

The terse and somewhat disconnected notes in General Jodl's diary give a vivid account of the activity in Berlin. The entry for 10 March 1938 reads:

"By surprise and without consulting his ministers, Schuschnigg ordered a plebiscite for Sunday, 13, March, which should bring strong majority for the Legitimists in the absence of plan or preparation.

"Fuehrer is determined not to tolerate it. The same night, March 9 to 10, he calls for Goering. General v. Reichenau is called back from Cairo Olympic Committee. General v. Schebert is ordered to come, as well as Minister Glaise Horstenau, who is with the District leader (Gauleiter) Buerckel in the Palatinate. General Keitel communicates the facts at 1:45. He drives to the Reichskanzlei at 10 o'clock. I follow at 10:15, according to the wish of General v. Viebahn, to give him the old draft.

"Prepare case Otto.

"1300 hours: General K informs Chief of Operational Staff (and) Admiral Canaris. Ribbentrop is being detained in London. Neurath takes over the Foreign Office.

"Fuehrer wants to transmit ultimatum to the Austrian Cabinet. A personal letter is dispatched to Mussolini and the reasons are developed which force the Fuehrer to take action.

"1830 hours: Mobilization order is given to the Command of the 8th Army (Corps Area 3) 7th and 13th Army Corps; without reserve Army." (1780-PS)

In a directive of the Supreme High Command of the Armed Forces, dated 11 March 1938 and initialed by Jodl and Keitel, Hitler stated his mixed political and military intentions:

"1. If these measures prove unsuccessful, I intend to invade Austria with armed forces to establish constitutional conditions and to prevent further outrages against the pro-German population.

******

"4. The forces of the Army and Air Force detailed for this operation must be ready for invasion and/or ready for action on 12 March 1938 at the latest from 1200 hours. "I reserve the right to give permission for crossing and flying over the frontier, and to decide the actual moment for invasion.

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"5. The behavior of the troops must give the impression that we do not want to wage war against our Austrian brothers. It is in our interest that the whole operation shall be carried out without any violence but in the form of a peaceful entry welcomed by the population. Therefore any provocation is to be avoided. If, however, resistance is offered it must be broken ruthlessly by force of arms." (C-102)

An implementing directive of 11 March 1938 issued by Jodl provided further:

"If Czechoslovakian troops or militia units are encountered in Austria, they are to be regarded as hostile.

"The Italians are everywhere to be treated as friends especially as Mussolini has declared himself uninterested in the solution of the Austrian Question". (C-103)

The military preparations for invasion were complete.

3 The Events of 11 March in Austria. The events of 11 March 1938 in Austria are available in three separate accounts. Although these accounts differ in some minor details, they afford each other almost complete corroboration with regard to the way in which the German Government deprived Austria of its sovereignty.

The first account is contained in a third affidavit executed by Schuschnigg (2996-PS). Schuschnigg first states that he had been discussing the plebiscite with Seyss-Inquart, and that Seyss-Inquart had made some procedural objections but in general indicated his general willingness to support the plebiscite. Schuschnigg went to bed on March 10 thinking the plebiscite would be a success. But on the morning of March 11 he was told that traffic from Germany had stopped, and that German Army forces were moving to the border. After 10 a. m. Seyss-Inquart came to Schuschnigg's office with Glaise- Horstenau. Glaise-Horstenau had just come from Berlin and reported that Hitler was in a rage. (2996-PS)


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