The Annexation of Austria in the Eyes of the German Public

(March 1938)


The effect of the Austrian developments on the German public was quite varied. The following reports evidence that it can hardly be said that the entire nation was caught up in an ecstasy of joy. In addition to the loud enthusiasm, many secretly feared that war would come. Often this fear was the initial reaction, which then gave way to muscle-flexing when it became evident that the Western powers would go no further than to protest on paper. Our agents observed this everywhere, and in almost all reports a bitterness comes through over the fact that these same Western powers who had blocked the republic's union with Austria were now backing down against this application of brute force. Indeed, this contradictory behavior of the Western powers brings with it great psychological danger. The peace-loving segment of the population will lose its faith in the politics of international reconciliation and will gain the impression that force is necessary to achieve anything. Consequently, people will be more inclined to accept Hitler's power tactics. The more hawkish segment of the population will come to believe that the Western powers are afraid and will in the future continue to back down, so that Germany will have free rein. ... A report from Bavaria: "Hitler's speech of February 20 was followed by all with great interest. Contrary to other occasions, this time there was no indifference. All were anxiously awaiting what Hitler would have to say regarding Austria. [Austrian chancellor] Schuschnigg's speech had aroused the hopes of the middle-class opposition. People were convinced that Hitler had suffered a defeat and that Austria would defend itself. ... [Hitler's speech] was a disappointment because no one could figure out just what exactly he wanted. No one had expected that Hitler would make a speech threatening war without making every possible attempt to placate the Western powers. Consequently this speech was to have the effect of heightening the fear of war. The public's mood became more depressed with every new day." A second Bavarian report: "The entry of German troops into Austria stirred all feelings. On Saturday morning the prevailing opinion was that war was inevitable. People thought that France would march into Spain, that Czechoslovakia would mobilize, and that Russia would come to the aid of Czechoslovakia, and so on. ... In summation, one can say that the mood of the people was one of deep depression. It was quite unlike 1914. ..." " By Saturday evening, when the radio transmitted Hitler's reception in Linz [Austria], the mood began to change. A noticeable relaxation of tension set in. Now there would be no war after all; sons [in the military] would come home again; no enemy planes would appear; Austria was now part of Germany; Hitler had done it after all. The Nazis were back on top. 'Without firing a shot, that is an accomplishment; and the others simply fell over! And then the Gleichschaltung of Austria. This tempo, this pace - no one expected this. Hitler is a master politician; yes, he really is a great statesman; greater than Napoleon, because he is conquering the world without waging war.' These were the opinions that were expressed. ..."

Source: B. C. Sax & D. Kuntz, "Inside Hitler's Germany," Massachusetts, 1992, pp. 349-350.