On 12th March 1938 Adolf Hitler led a motorcade across the river that marked the border between Germany and Austria to begin the final stage of the “Anschluss”, or the forced union of the two countries.
Hitler had been born in 1889 in the border town of Braunau in Upper Austria, and it was therefore symbolic that he chose this spot to make his return, having left Austria with his family before his third birthday. It had long been his dream to unite the two major German-speaking countries of Europe, the Nazi slogan being: “One people; one state; one leader”.
Austria had been reduced to a rump state after the First World War, with most of its former empire stripped away to leave the mainly German-speaking part behind. It was poorly governed as a republic and many of its people regarded Hitler as a potential saviour.
However, it had taken Hitler five years to reach the stage of the final advance, and he had needed to use all sorts of underhand methods to prepare the ground, including intimidation, subversion and political assassination.
Three weeks previously the Austrian chancellor had been pummelled into agreeing a political union with Germany, but he then changed his mind and announced that a plebiscite would be held so that the people could decide. Hitler could not run the risk of rejection, so Austrian Nazis organised riots in several Austrian cities so that Hitler would have an excuse to invade the country with a view to restoring law and order.
Two days later Adolf Hitler was able to address a massive crowd in Vienna (see photo) and announce the creation of the German Reich. He then flew back to Berlin with his mission accomplished and in a position to start making plans for his next conquest, namely that of Czechoslovakia.
© John Welford