Guest commentary – abroad expected the “connection”

“The greatest event after the world war.” “If Austria is to survive, she will undoubtedly have to rely largely, perhaps entirely, upon herself.” These quotations – from a report to the Moscow Politburo dated March 14, 1938, the second in a memorandum from the London Foreign Office from 1936 – can be found in a new anthology on the “Anschluss in an international context”. The events in Vienna and Berlin between March 11 and March 13, 1938 have been adequately researched and published: the forced reshuffle of the federal government on the late evening of March 11, the invasion of the armed forces on March 12, against which the armed forces had plans for military resistance had been worked out – but with knowledge of the Nazi sympathizers also in the army, this would only have had a chance of success with help from abroad. On March 13, the new government in Vienna passed the law on reunification with the German Empire. It came into force immediately; the German version of the same content followed immediately. On March 15, Hitler made his “completion report” at Heldenplatz.

What has been missing so far have been answers to the question whether foreign countries had suspected all of this. And why in the League of Nations, the organ of collective security created in 1920, only Mexico protested, even though the German actions were clearly contrary to international law. This volume closes this gap in 24 articles by renowned historians and diplomats.

A path name was dedicated to the Mexican diplomat Fabela, author of the protest against the occupation of Austria in 1938, in front of the Vienna UN City in 2005. – © Stadler

“Failed State”

Austria, small since 1919, was diplomatically quantité négligeable, and Europe’s powers soon doubted its consistency and domestic policy: It was assumed that only the governments (Dollfuss and Schuschnigg) really acted for independence, whereas the majority of the people wanted to join Germany. Diplomatic sources name 25 percent active Nazi supporters and roughly the same number of sympathizers; There haven’t been any opinion polls yet. A connection would actually correspond to the 1919 postulated but not realized right to self-determination. Isn’t the merger therefore a question within Germany? The economy has already de facto brought it about; in any case, a restitution of the Habsburgs must be prevented. The foreign ministries can be credited with the fact that none of them wanted to risk a war.

After studying law and economics, Gerhard Stadler was in the Federal Chancellery and Section Head in the Federal Ministry for Public Economics and Transport.  In 2000 he became director of the aviation organization Eurocontrol in Brussels.  - © private
After studying law and economics, Gerhard Stadler was in the Federal Chancellery and Section Head in the Federal Ministry for Public Economics and Transport. In 2000 he became director of the aviation organization Eurocontrol in Brussels. – © private

Country-specific, a distinction must be made between states that had right-wing governments themselves or that hoped for something from Hitler’s Germany, such as Hungary, Yugoslavia and Italy, and those that held back so as not to “irritate” Germany: Poland, Switzerland, the Vatican, Czechoslovakia. The latter tried to renew pledges of assistance received from England and France because of the deterioration in their geopolitical situation. Vain.

New release: "The connection??  in an international context" by Stefan Karner and Peter Ruggenthaler (eds.), publications by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for War Impact Research, Verlag Leykam, 2nd edition, March 2021, 332 pages, 26.50 euros.  ISBN: 978-3-7011-0464-2.
New release: “Der, Anschluss” in an international context “by Stefan Karner and Peter Ruggenthaler (eds.), Publications by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for War Impact Research, Verlag Leykam, 2nd edition, March 2021, 332 pages, 26.50 euros. ISBN: 978-3-7011-0464-2.

The Viennese government believed it could rely on Italy: State visits to Rome, Florence and Riccione, agreements and assurances by Mussolini, and at the end of July 1934 even a pseudo-military parade on the Brenner Pass. But at the first meeting of Mussolini with Hitler in the Villa Pisani in Stra on June 14, 1934, Mussolini is likely to have broken the baton over Austria: He needed Hitler’s support for the Abyssinian War and Ruhr steel. Vienna remained unsuspecting. On March 13, 1938, Hitler will telegraph Mussolini from Linz: “Mussolini, I will never forget this one!” His standing still is rewarded with the “solution to the South Tyrolean question” – the resettlement pact for South Tyroleans and Ladins to North Tyrol and south of the Hochschwab. The Brenner is to remain the German-Italian border.

Five contributions deal with the changing relationship between the Soviet Union and Austria: initially interested in Austria only as a base for the international towards the Balkans, with the rise of Austrofascism, the corporate state is judged to be less permanent. In 1934 Austria votes in favor of admitting the Soviet Union to the League of Nations, but in 1935 it abstains from its sanctioning decision against Italy, which has led to criticism. After that, the connection is expected, it is only a matter of time. After March 12, it was denounced as an act of violence in Moscow and an international conference called for, but no one followed. Then any act is cleverly avoided that would involve a de facto recognition of German sovereignty over Austria (such as the establishment of a consulate in Vienna). With this, the USSR can build up the thesis that it is the only power that has defended Austria’s independence. In October 1943 the “Moscow Declaration” of the three allies followed with the annulment of the Anschluss and the declaration to liberate Austria – post-war Germany was to be permanently weakened.

London as a close observer

The main power of the 1930s was the United Kingdom. It was, and France mostly followed him, the “guardian of the peace treaties of 1919” and thus also of Austria’s independence. London closely observed the events in Vienna and Berlin, developed approaches for the future of Austria and was involved in the Stresa Agreement, in which the independent existence of Austria was apostrophized with France and Italy in 1935. But the conference planned for this did not come about. When Chamberlain took office in 1937, London switched to “appeasement”, the policy of appeasement – the main aim was to gain time.

The day before the connection, Schuschnigg turned to London for advice. The answer was: “His Majesty’s Government could not take the responsibility of advising the Chancellor.” On March 12th Chamberlain admits to the House of Commons: “[. . .] these events cannot be regarded [. . .] with indifference or equanimity. “But the League of Nations is not involved. A few days later the recognition takes place and one reads in London of the persecution of the Jews – but the immigration quota is not increasing. The attitude of the USA, which was one during the Depression, was similar pursued a strict policy of isolation.

Mexico’s political calculation

Mexico remained the only state that brought a formal protest to the League of Nations, which was solely responsible for sanctions against another state. But the prehistory of this step, which has been welcomed in our history, arose from national political calculations: Mexico was in a dangerous dispute with the USA in 1938 because the left-wing revolutionary government of General Cárdenas was nationalizing the US oil industry in Mexico and feared intervention. And it had an open account with the German Reich, because a delivery of 20 million cartridges ordered in Hirtenberg failed, which was intended and paid for Red Spain, which was supported by Mexico in the fight against Franco.

Another reason was Mexico’s sense of justice as a loyal member of the League of Nations and the friendship between President Cárdenas and Isidor Fabela, the head of Mexico’s delegation to the League of Nations. We do not know whether the international lawyer Fabela, author of the protest note, knew Hans Kelsen, but it is probable: Kelsen was professor at the Institut universitaire de hautes études internationales in Geneva from 1933 to 1936 and then in 1937/38 and also lived in what was then the small town . At that time he devoted himself intensively to international law and the League of Nations in his lectures and publications. Kelsen’s relevant publications from those years can be found in Fabela’s estate, and Kelsen’s international law theory could also have been incorporated into the text of the protest note.

But the protest based on Article 10 of the League of Nations statutes had no effect; it was sent to the members together with the note of the German Reich (which left the League of Nations in 1933) on the annexation and resignation of Austria from the League of Nations. Finis Austriae, finis Société des Nations.

The volume, which is almost exciting to read, is also an essential contribution to the diplomatic history of Central Europe in the interwar period, the course of which made the connection necessary.

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