Saturday, 16 February 2019


Hitler was born in 1889 as a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by the Habsburg family. It was a vast multi-racial conglomeration which included, as well as the dominant Germans and Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, Italians, Slovenes and Croats, as well as substantial numbers of Jews. He formulated his ideas whilst living in occasional poverty in Vienna, where he came to regard the Germans as the superior race and to despise the lesser breeds.
   After defeat in the First World War, the Empire disintegrated, and the Treaty of St. Germain, imposed by the Allies in 1919, left as "Austria" merely a largely rural German-speaking rump around the oversized capital, Vienna. The new country was bankrupt and barely able to feed itself, and was forbidden to unite with Germany, which is what most of the inhabitants would have wanted. Hitler, of course, had long since decamped to Germany, though it is said that he never lost his provincial accent.
   Throughout the 1920s there were periodic economic crises, and the unemployment rate never dropped below 10%, though at least the country avoided the extreme political violence that bedevilled Hungary. But then from 1929 the Wall Street Crash brought catastrophe and political turmoil to central Europe. Early in 1933 Chancellor Dollfuss shut down the Parliament, crushed the Socialist movement and assumed dictatorial powers.

   Dollfuss did not enjoy his victory for long, because in July 1934 he was murdered by a group of Austrian Nazis. Any thoughts of a German-backed coup, however, quickly had to be abandoned when Mussolini moved troops up to the Brenner Pass, the Autro-Italian frontier, in a clear sign to Hitler to keep his hands off. As a result, Austria remained independent and Dollfuss was succeeded in power by Schuschnigg.   
   Britain and France deduced from this that Mussolini could be a useful counterweight to Hitler's disruptive ambitions; and indeed for the next few years Hitler behaved cautiously over Austria and tried to conciliate the Italians. The furthest he went was to sign an informal agreement with Schuschnigg that Austria would follow Germany's lead in foreign policy.  But from 1936 Mussolini's aggression against Abyssinia and his intervention in the Spanish civil war increasingly alienated him from the western powers and drove him into the German camp; and Hitler was able to contemplate more openly expansionist moves.
   An Anschluss (union) with Austria obviously fitted in with Hitler's ideas, and after meeting Lord Halifax in November 1937 he came away with the impression that Britain would be unlikely to intervene to prevent it. But at the so-called "Hossbach conference" at about the same time, he made little mention of Austria, devoting the meeting to reasons for destroying Czechoslovakia. (See my earlier blog post for this)

The Anschluss crisis, when it came, was very sudden, and the German action was clearly improvised, with no indication of prior military planning. It came about as follows:- 
   On February 12th 1938, Hitler summoned Schuschnigg to a meeting at Berchtesgaden and bullied him into promising to release all Nazis from Austrian gaols and to appoint the pro-Nazi lawyer Seyss-Inquart Minister of the Interior. The Austrian leader acceeded to all these demands, but then on March 9th suddenly made a desperate bid for freedom by announcing that in three days' time he would call a referendum on the future of his country. 
   Why Schuschnigg took this step  is not at all clear. It is most unlikely that a referendum could be organised at such short notice, and he had consulted Mussolini, who rather feebly told him that it was "a mistake". But Hitler, taken completely by surprise, was furious. There was actually no military plan for the invasion of Austria, so he ordered one to be created immediately, to be codenamed "Operation Otto". It was, he stressed, to take place without any violence if at all possible. At the same time, hewas worried about Mussolini's reaction, because the 1919 peace treaties had given to Italy the Tyrol region, where there were many ethnic Germans. Therefore on March 10th he despatched an envoy to Rome, stressing his friendship, calling the invasion "a matter of national self-defence", and carrying the assurance that the Brenner Pass, north of the Tyrol, was the permanent border with Italy.
   Goring now took charge, demanding the resignation of Schuschnigg and his replacement by Seyss-Inquart, who would then request that German troops should enter the country. But in fact the invasion began on the evening of March 11th, before a reply from Seyss-Inquart had been received, and Schuschnigg,who had already cancelled his referendum, told the Austrians in a radio broadcast not to resist.
   What line Mussolini would take was stilll not known; but later that same evening a telephone call from Prince Philip of Hesse in Rome assured Hitler that "The Duce accepted the whole thing in a very friendly manner". Hitler was quite hysterically relieved. "Please tell Mussolini I will never forget him for this .... If he should ever need any help or be in any danger, he can be convinced that I shall stick to him, whatever may happen, even if the whole world were against him". This is one of the very few promises that Hitler kept; but for Mussolini it was the first fatal step that led he and his country to disaster.

But what would happen in Austria itself? Operation Otto proved to be something of a shambles, which much German military equipment breaking down on the way to Vienna; but there was no resistance. On the contrary, the German army was greeted with cheering crowds. 
   On March 12th Hitler himself entered Austria, and visited his home town of Linz, which he had not seen since he was a teenager. Addressing an excited crown from the balcony of the town hall, he suddenly announced that he would be incorporating Austria into the German Reich. Seyss-Inquart, who was expecting to be the Chancellor of a pro-Nazi state, was ordered to issue a law legislating his country out of existence. He did so on March 13th. On April 10th a referendum was held in Austria and Germany, where over 99% of the people voted for the new arrangements. Although this near-unanimity clear;y indicates a fraudulent vote, there is no reason to believe that a majority did not approve of the Anschluss. All this demonstrates how difficult it was for any outside state to make any response beyong protests.

The Anschluss was marked by savage outbreaks of antisemitic violence. Vienna had a larger Jewish community than any German city, and according to Hitler himself it was in Vienna that he first conceived his hatred of Jews. Jews were strongly represented in the legal and medical professions and in the arts, but there were also large numbers of poor Jews who had come from the provinces of the old Empire. Now, even before the arrival of the Wehrmacht, Nazi thugs smashed up Jewish shops and apartments, stole cars, and took delight in forcing well-dressed Jewish men and women to scrub the pavements on the hands and knees and clean the public lavatories. Crowds of onlookers jeered, and the police made no attempt to intervene. These outrages were far worse than anything that had yet happened in Germany, and were soon followed by laws removing all Jews from the professions and from government service. At the same time, officials of the Gestapo and the Security Police arrived to arrest all potential opponents. These outrages were noted by the internationa press, but seemingly had little or no impact on how foreign governments were prepared to treat Hitler.

In retropect it was now surely obvious that Hitler's next move would be against Czechoslovakia.  

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Quiz: Royal Consorts

Here are ten Queens of England. Which Kings were their husbands?

1.  Anne of Denmark
2.  Ann Neville
3.  Beringaria of Navarre
4.  Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
5.  Caroline of Ansbach
6.  Catherine of Braganza
7.  Eleanor of Aquitaine
8.  Margaret of Anjou
9.  Matilda of Flanders
10. Philippa of Hainault

Two of these Queens were childless. Who were they?
Apart from these two, two others were not among the ancestors of our present Queen. Who were they?

It's noticeable that only one of the Queens is British! What claims does our monarchy have to be called British in any genetic sense?