by Bob Schwartz
History doesn’t have to be analogical, though that is often tempting. Instead, it can just be generally informative, not predictive about how particular parties may act and should react, but just as lessons in the variety of global experience.
In March 1938—the anniversary just passed last week—Hitler annexed Austria, an event now known as the Anschluss. Here, for general information, and not necessarily for comparison, are excerpts from the BBC Bitesize site:
Hitler wanted all German-speaking nations in Europe to be a part of Germany. To this end, he had designs on re-uniting Germany with his native homeland, Austria. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, however, Germany and Austria were forbidden to be unified.
Hitler also wanted control of the largely German-speaking area within Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Importantly, Austria shared a border with this area.
In an attempt to realise his goals, Hitler was determined to destabilise Austria and undermine its independence. His ultimate goal was anschluss (union) with Austria…
The new Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg tried to preserve the country from German invasion by trying not to give Hitler an excuse for aggression. He tried to co-operate with Hitler as much as possible…
Hitler ordered Austrian Nazis to create as much trouble and destruction as possible in order to put pressure on Schuschnigg. If Hitler could claim that Austrian law and order had broken down he could justify marching German troops into Vienna to restore peace – despite the fact that he was responsible for the chaos in the first place.
Four days in March
Wednesday 9th March 1938
On the 9 March 1938, in a desperate act, Schuschnigg announced a referendum whereby the Austrian people would decide for themselves if they wanted to be a part of Hitler’s Germany. Hitler was furious. If the Austrians voted against joining Germany his excuse for invasion would be ruined.
Thursday 10th March 1938
Hitler told his generals to prepare for the invasion of Austria. He ordered Schuschnigg to call off the referendum. Knowing he would receive no help from Italy, and that France and Britain would not interfere in Hitler’s plans, Schuschnigg conceded. He called off the referendum and resigned.
The Nazi Austrian Interior Minister, Seyss-Inquart, was ordered by Hitler to ask for German help in restoring order in Austria.
Friday 11th March 1938
Hitler reassured Czechoslovakia that they had nothing to fear.
Saturday 12th March 1938
German troops marched into Austria unopposed. Hitler now had control of Austria. A month later, Hitler held a rigged referendum. The results showed that the Austrian people approved of German control of their country.
Note: Czechoslovakia indeed had something to fear. That same year, Germany invaded the German-speaking Czech region, the Sudetenland, and ultimately conquered the entire nation. It was that invasion that prompted the intervention of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who tried to “make peace” with Hitler at the infamous Munich conference.
In 1968, exactly thirty years later, the Prague Spring of political and cultural liberalization led to an invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the spirit of that spring was never fully crushed, and inspired a flowering of sometimes secret creativity and rebellion.