Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Dark Valley on Austria

Schuschnigg refused to flee from Vienna and for the next seven years he remained a prisoner of the Nazis. So did his country; but most Austrians rejoiced in their captivity. The Wehrmacht, which marched in without firing a shot, was welcomed with unfeigned enthusiasm. It was greeted by
so many new brown uniforms and swastika flags that factories ran out of cloth and towns succumbed to “decorative monotony.” Church bells pealed and loyal addresses were read in front of cheering crowds. Men saluted and bellowed “Sieg Hail. ” Women wept for joy and uttered thanksgivings. Girls garlanded steel-helmeted troops as though they were an army of liberation. When the Fuhrer arrived, on the afternoon of 12 March 1938, people even knelt in the tracks of his big black Mercedes to collect the dust its wheels had touched. Hitler was so moved by the manifestations in his home town of Linz that, over a dinner of pea soup and rice at the Hotel Weinzinger, he abandoned the temporary expedient of making Austria a satellite state and decided to restore fully his “homeland to the German Reich.” In Vienna the former down-and-out was received with “an ecstasy of emotional fervour. “The whole city behaved like an aroused woman, vibrating, writhing, moaning and sighing lustfully for orgasm.“ wrote one witness, George Clare. who stated that this was no purple passage but an “exact description.” The climax came on 13 March in the Heldenplatz. where 100,000 people took part in an orgy of adoration as Hitler spoke from the balcony of the semicircular Hofburg. Austria‘s new mission, he said, was to be the youngest bastion of the German nation. It was a mission which the vast majority embraced, including Cardinal lnnitzer. He hailed Hitler, flew Nazi banners from St. Stephen’s Cathedral and urged Catholics to “do their duty to the German Father~ land.” lnnitzer subsequently recanted, but by then 99.73 per cent of the electorate had voted for the Anschluss: which he had sanctified. Austria had become Ostmark, a province of greater Germany, and postcards were on sale in Vienna showing “a swastika sun rising over the Stephanskirche.”

Why the Austrian mood swung so sharply towards Hitler has never been quite clear, even to Viennese analysts of the national psyche. It seemed inconceivable that such a hideous change could suddenly overtake a people famed for their golden-hearted Gemutlichkeit and blithe Schlamperei, for their addiction to light waltzes and sentimental operettas, for their indulgence in café conversation accompanied by patisseries, croissants, strudels, pancakes so thin that a newspaper could be read through them, and a hundred varieties of coffee, best served with whipped cream. Doubtless Austria’s surrender to the Fuhrer can partly be explained as a release from pent-up tension, an emotional catharsis. Partly it was due to Nazi propaganda, which played so effectively on the susceptibilities of the mutilated state. More important, in a country still reeling from the Depression, were hopes of economic improvement and full employment. These not only were realised but were reflected in a 300 per cent rise in Vienna’s birth rate, formerly one of the lowest in the world. But on a more sinister level the Anschluss was welcomed because it liberated monsters from the Austrian id.

Many Austrians, who (as the writer Alfred Polgar sardonically observed) made bad Nazis but good anti-Semites, burned to unleash their hostility on the country’s 400,000 Jews. There was a massive attack, the ferocity of which embarrassed even the Gestapo. As the German playwright Carl Zuckmayer wrote,

The city was transformed into a nightmare painting by Hieronymus Bosch . . . [the] air filled with an incessant, savage, hysterical screeching from male and female throats . . . [in an] uprising of envy, of malevolence, of bitterness, of blind vicious lust for revenge.

Mobs shouted “Destruction to the Jews.”‘°3 Thugs daubed anti-Semitic signs on walls and smashed Jewish windows. Looting was rampant: when Stormtroopers took 6,000 Austrian schillings from Sigmund Freud’s apartment he remarked wryly, “Never have I been paid so much for a single visit.” Repulsive scenes occurred in which Jews were forced to eat grass in the Prater park or to scrub pavements and public lavatories while crowds jeered that Hitler had at last found work for parasites. Aptly enough, Jews had nicknamed the moustached Fuhrer “Pemsel”-“brush” for cleaning lavatories.

However, the cataclysm of arrests, beatings and murders did have one great incidental benefit for Austria’s Jews. They were not lulled into a sense of false security like the Jews of Germany, where anti-Semitism was less acute and the persecution mounted more gradually. Instead, they sought to flee. One British diplomat recorded that his consulate was “stormed by hundreds of terrified hysterical Jews begging for a visa to go anywhere out of Austria.” He called the police. Other diplomats were equally unhelpful, reflecting the reluctance of their countries to admit Austrian Jews. Switzerland even insisted that their passports should be stamped with a large red “J.” When Hitler mentioned his plan to solve Europe’s “Jewish problem by way of emigration to the colonies” the Polish Ambassador promised the Fuhrer that, if it was successful, “we will erect him a beautiful monument in Warsaw." Neither scheme was realised and everywhere doors slammed against Jewish refugees. Austrian passport offices bore signs saying, “All frontiers are closed to the Jews.” Yet most of them managed to escape, though some only travelled as far as France, Czechoslovakia or Italy, where they were later caught by the Nazis. Driven to despair, thousands took a more direct way out, a route endorsed by Goring, who publicly said that he “could not put a policeman behind every Jew to prevent suicides.” This hardly squared with his promise to Sir Neville Henderson that Austrian Jews would be treated with “tolerance and leniency.” Nevertheless, Viennese newspapers and radio insisted that foreign reports of “de-Jewing” were an “orgy of lies.”

Absurd though official denials were, outsiders were bound to acknowledge that Austria had submitted voluntarily to Germany. Opponents of Hitler might harp on “the rape of Austria,” and in due course the myth that Austria was the first victim of Nazi aggression became enshrined in the heart of the nation. It even helped to ensure Austria’s post-war independence from the Soviet Union. However, as Ward Price remarked (with characteristic crudity) after accompanying German troops to Vienna, “If this was rape never have I seen a more willing victim." Price ignored the fact that many Austrians, and not only Jews, were horrified by the invasion.


The Fuhrer worked himself into a rage over Polish brutalities...castrations, killings, rapes-inflicted on German minorities. As Ciano sardonically observed, he seemed to believe his own atrocity stories. In fact there was ample reason to disbelieve everything Hitler said, especially after his volte-face over Bolshevism. Mussolini endorsed the Nazi-Soviet agreement even though it cleared the decks for war. Ciano and other senior Fascists urged him to remain neutral, to break the Pact of Steel. The Duce swung to and fro like a weathercock in a storm. He yearned to march wit ‘ Hitler. He lusted for triumphs and spoils. He ached to turn his warlike rhetoric into reality. But, as Dino Grandi wrote, his Nietzschean warmongering had always been a game, “a bluff, a fraud.”

Mussolini wanted war as St. Augustine had wanted chastity-not yet. He knew that Italians were unwilling to light beside Germans and that the nation was unprepared for a major conflict. His troops were short of basic necessities, such as uniforms. His ships lacked fuel and nobody seemed to know how many aeroplanes he had-Ciano suggested that someone should be sent round the airhelds to count them. Italy was desperately short of raw materials and, running such a large trade deficit that it resorted to selling munitions to the democracies, its capacity for imports was only “about one-half of What it had been in I913.” So the Duce told the Fuhrer that he could not fight unless Germany supplied Italy with millions of tons of coal, oil, steel, arms and other matériel. The demand could not be met and Mussolini therefore espoused “non-belligerence”-a less shameful term, in his View, than neutrality. This was a Wise course for, when Hitler’s victories did finally tempt him to fight, Italian forces made little progress during the “hundred hours’ war” against France. But in September I939 Mussolini was mortified by his inglorious stance. Europe was going up in flames, he remarked to Ciano, and after 18 years of bellicose propaganda the Duce of Italy had become the champion of peace.

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