The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Volume I Chapter IX
Aggression Against Austria
(Part 1 of 19)

[Page 450]

A. The Events Leading up to the Autumn of 1937 and the Strategic Position of the National Socialists in Austria.

(1) The National Socialist Aim of Absorption of Austria. In order to understand more clearly how the Nazi conspirators proceeded after the meeting in the Reichschancellery on 5 November 1937, at which Hitler laid plans for the conquest of Austria and Czechoslovakia (86-PS), it is advisable to review the steps which had already been taken in Austria by the National Socialists of both Germany and Austria. The position which the Nazis had reached by the Fall of 1937 made it possible for them to complete their absorption of Austria much sooner and with less cost than was contemplated in this meeting.

The acquisition of Austria had long been a central aim of the German National Socialists. On the first page of Men Kampf, Hitler had written, "German-Austria must return to the great German motherland." He continued by stating that this purpose, of having common blood in a common Reich, could not be satisfied

[Page 451]

by a mere economic union. This aim was regarded as a serious program which the Nazis were determined to carry out.

This fact is borne out by an affidavit executed in Mexico City on 28 August 1945 by George S. Messersmith, United States Ambassador in Mexico City (1760-PS). Mr. Messersmith was Consul General of the United States of America in Berlin from 1930 to the late Spring of 1934. He was then made American Minister in Vienna, where he stayed until 1937. In this affidavit states that the nature of his work brought him into frequent contact with German Government officials, many of whom were, on most occasions, amazingly frank in their conversations, and made no concealment of their aims.

In particular, Mr. Messersmith states that he had contact with the following twenty governmental officials, among others: Hermann Goering, General Milch, Hjalmar Schacht, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Count Schwerin von Krosigk, Josef Goebbels, Richard Walter Darre, Robert Ley, Hans Heinrich Lammers, Otto Meissner, Franz von Papen, Walter Funk, General Wilhelm Keitel, Admiral Erich von Raeder, Admiral Karl Doenitz, Dr. Behle, Dr. Stuckart, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen, and Dr. Davidson. Mr. Messersmith further states that in addition to this contact with officials of the Government he maintained contact with individuals in all parties in Germany in order to keep himself and the Government informed of political developments in Germany. With regard to the Austrian matter, he states that from the very beginning of the Nazi Party he was told by both high and secondary government officials in Germany that incorporation of Austria into Germany was both a political and economic necessity and that this incorporation was going to be accomplished "by whatever means were necessary." He further states:

"I can assert that it was fully understood by everyone in Germany who had any knowledge whatever of what was going on that Hitler and the Nazi Government were irrevocably committed to this end and the only doubt which ever existed in conversations or statements to me was 'how' and 'when.' " (1760-PS).

As Mr. Messersmith relates, at the beginning of the Nazi regime in 1933 Germany was too weak to make open threats of force against any country. It developed a policy of securing its aims in Austria in the same manner as in Germanyby obtaining a foothold in the Cabinet, particularly in the Ministry of Interior which controls the police, and quickly eliminating the opposition t. Mr. Messersmith states that throughout his stay in Austria he was told on any number of occasions by high officials

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of the Austrian Government, including Chancellor Dollfuss, Chancellor Schuschnigg, and President Miklas, that the German Government kept up constant pressure upon the Austrian Government to appoint ministers with Nazi orientation.

(2) Pressure Used, Including Terror and intimidation, Culminating in the Unsuccessful Putsch of 25 July 1934. To achieve their end the Nazis used various pressures. They used economic pressure. The law of 24 March 1933 imposed a prohibitive 1,000 reichsmark penalty on trips to Austria, thus bringing hardship to Austria, which relied heavily on its tourist trade (Reichsgesetzblatt 1933, I, 311). The Nazis used propaganda. And they used terroristic acts, primarily bombings.

Mr. Messersmith's affidavit (1760-PS) goes into some detail with respect to these means. Although they were committed by National Socialists in Austria, high Nazi officials in Germany admitted to Mr. Messersmith that they were instigating and directing these waves of terror in Austria. They made no effort to conceal their use of terror, which they justified on the ground that terror was a necessary instrument to impose the will of the party not only in Germany but in other countries. Mr. Messersmith recalls specifically that General Milch of the Air Force stated that the terrorism in Austria was being directed by the Nazi Party in Berlin.

Mr. Messersmith points out that all these outrages were a common occurrence. They had peaks and distinct periods, one in mid-1933 and another in early 1934. He points out that the wave of outrages in May and June 1934 diminished markedly for a few days during the meeting of Hitler and Mussolini in Venice, in mid-June 1934. (At that time Mussolini was strongly supporting the Austrian Government and interested in its independence.) Mr. Messersmith's affidavit quotes extensively from dispatches sent from the American Legation in Vienna to the State Department during this period. These dispatches indicate that the terror was often directed at Catholic Churches and institutions, and at railways and tourist centers.

Mr. Messersmith also recalls that in addition, the Nazis maintained a threat of violent action against Austria through the "Austrian Legion." This was a para-military force of several thousand men, armed by the Nazis in Germany, and stationed in Germany near the Austrian border. It included Austrian Nazis who fled from Austria after committing crimes.

These terroristic activities of the Nazis in Austria continued until July 25, 1934. On that day members of the NSDAP at-

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tempted a revolutionary putsch and killed Chancellor Dollfuss. A message from Mr. Hadow, of the British Legation in Vienna, to Sir. John Simon contains details of the putsch (2985-PS). The official version of events given verbally by the Austrian Government to the diplomatic Corps; as set forth in this document, stated approximately a hundred men attempting the putsch seized federal Chancellery. Chancellor Dollfuss was wounded in trying to escape, being shot twice at close quarters. The Radio Building the center of the town was overwhelmed, and the announcer compelled to broadcast the news that Dollfuss had resigned and Doctor Rintelen had taken his place as Chancellor.

Although the putsch failed, the insurgents kept control of the Chancellery Building and agreed to give it up only after they had safe conduct to the German border. The insurgents contacted Herman Minister, Dr. Rieth, by telephone, and subsequently had private negotiations with him in the building. At about 7:00 they yielded the building, but Chancellor Dollfuss died about 7:00 p. m., not having had the services of a doctor.

The German Government denied all complicity in the putsch and assassination. Hitler removed Dr. Rieth as Minister on the ground that he had offered a safe-conduct to the rebels without making inquiry of the German Government, and had thus without any reason dragged the German Reich into an internal Austrian affair. This statement appears in the letter which Hitler sent to von Papen on 26 July 1934. (2799-PS)

Although the German Government denied any knowledge or complicity in this putsch, there is ample basis for the conclusion that the German Nazis bear responsibility for the events. Light is shed on this matter in the extensive record of the trial of the Austrian Nazi, Planetta, and others who were convicted for the murder, and in the Austrian Brown Book issued after July 25. Mr. Messersmith's affidavit offers further evidence:

"The events of the Putsch of 25 July 1934, are too well known for me to repeat them in this statement. I need say here only that there can be no doubt that the Putsch was ordered and organized by the Nazi officials from Germany through their organization in Austria made up of German Nazis and Austrian Nazis. Dr. Rieth, the German Minister in Vienna, was fully familiar with all that was going to happen and that was being planned. The German Legation was located directly across the street from the British Legation and the Austrian secret police kept close watch on the persons who entered the German Legation. The British had their own secret service in Vienna at the time and they also

[Page 454]

kept a discreet surveillance over people entering the German Legation. I was told by both British and Austrian officials that a number of the men who were later found guilty by the Austrian Courts of having been implicated in the Putsch had frequented the German Legation. In addition, I personally followed very closely the activities of Dr. Rieth and I never doubted on the basis of all my information that Dr. Rieth was in close touch and constant touch with the Nazi agents in Austria; these agents being both German and Austrian. Dr. Rieth could not have been unfamiliar with the Putsch and the detail in connection therewith. I recall too very definitely from my conversations with the highest officials of the Austrian Government after the Putsch, their informing me that Dr. Rieth had been in touch with von Rintelen, who it had been planned by the Nazis was to succeed Chancellor Dollfuss had the Putsch been successful.

"It may be that Dr. Rieth was himself not personally sympathetic with the plans for the Putsch but there is no question that he was fully familiar with all these plans and must have given his assent thereto and connived therein.

"As this Putsch was so important and was a definite attempt to overthrow the Austrian Government and resulted in the murder of he Chancellor of Austria, I took occasion to verify at the time for myself various other items of evidence indicating that the Putsch was not only made with the knowledge of the German Government but engineered by it. I found and verified that almost a month before the Putsch, Goebbels told Signor Cerruti, the Italian Ambassador in Berlin, that there would be a Nazi Government in Vienna in a month." (1760-PS)

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