The Anschluss (German: [ˈʔanʃlʊs] (listen), or Anschluß before the German orthography reform of 1996, "joining"), also known as the Anschluss Österreichs (pronunciation (help·info), English: Annexation of Austria), was the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938.
|Territorial evolution of Germany|
in the 20th century
The idea of an Anschluss (a united Austria and Germany that would form a "Greater Germany") began after the unification of Germany excluded Austria and the German Austrians from the Prussian-dominated German Empire in 1871. Following the end of World War I with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1918, the newly formed Republic of German-Austria attempted to form a union with Germany, but the Treaty of Saint Germain (10 September 1919) and the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) forbade both the union and the continued use of the name "German-Austria" (Deutschösterreich); and stripped Austria of some of its territories, such as the Sudetenland.
Prior to the Anschluss, there had been strong support from people of all backgrounds in both Austria and Germany for unification of the two countries. In the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy—with Austria left as a broken remnant, deprived of most of the territories it ruled for centuries and undergoing a severe economic crisis—the idea of unity with Germany seemed attractive also to many citizens of the political Left and Center. Had the victors of World War I allowed it, Austria would have united with Germany as a freely taken democratic decision.
But after 1933, when the Austrian-born Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, desire for unification could be identified with the Nazis, for whom it was an integral part of the Nazi "Heim ins Reich" concept, which sought to incorporate as many Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans outside Germany) as possible into a "Greater Germany". Nazi Germany's agents cultivated pro-unification tendencies in Austria, and sought to undermine the Austrian government, which was controlled by the Austrofascist Fatherland Front. During an attempted coup in 1934, Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis. The defeat of the coup prompted many leading Austrian Nazis to go into exile in Germany, where they continued their efforts for unification of the two countries.
In early 1938, under increasing pressure from pro-unification activists, Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg announced that there would be a referendum on a possible union with Germany to be held on 13 March. Portraying this as defying the popular will in Austria and Germany, Hitler threatened an invasion and secretly pressured Schuschnigg to resign. The referendum was canceled. On 12 March, the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria, unopposed by the Austrian military; the Germans were greeted with great enthusiasm. A plebiscite held on 10 April officially ratified Austria's annexation by the Reich.