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The Nuremberg Trials: Judgement - The Invasion of Austria

THE PRESIDENT: I will now ask M. Donnedieu de Vabres to continue the reading of the judgment.



The invasion of Austria was a pre-meditated aggressive step in furthering the plan to wage aggressive wars against other countries. As a result Germany's flank was protected, that of Czechoslovakia being greatly weakened. The first step had been taken in the seizure of " Lebensraum"; many new divisions of trained fighting men had been acquired; and with The seizure of foreign exchange reserves, the re-armament programme had been greatly strengthened.

On the 21st May, 1935, Hitler announced in the Reichstag that Germany did not intend either to attack Austria or to interfere in her internal affairs. On the 1st May, 1936, he publicly coupled Czechoslovakia with Austria in his avowal of peaceful intentions; and so late as the 11th July, 1936, he recognised by treaty the full sovereignty of Austria.

Austria was in fact seized by Germany in the month of March, 1938. For a number of years before that date, the National Socialists in Germany had been cooperating with ,the National Socialists of Austria with the ultimate object of incorporating Austria into the German Reich. The Putsch of July 25th, 1934, which resulted in the assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss, had the seizure of Austria as its object; but the Putsch failed, with the consequence that the National Socialist Party was outlawed in Austria. On the 11th July, 1936, an agreement was entered into between the two countries, Article 1 of which stated:

" The German Government recognises the full sovereignty of the Federated State of Austria in the spirit of the pronouncements of the German Fuehrer and Chancellor of the 21st May, 1935."

Article 2 declared:

" Each of the two Governments regards the inner political order (including the question of Austrian National Socialism) obtaining in the other country as an internal affair of the other country, upon which it will exercise neither direct nor indirect influence."

The National Socialist movement in Austria however continued its illegal activities under cover of secrecy; and the National Socialists of Germany gave the Party active support. The resulting " incidents " were seized upon by the German National Socialists as an excuse for interfering in Austrian affairs. After the conference of the 5th November, 1937, these " incidents " rapidly multiplied. The relationship between the two countries steadily worsened, and finally the Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg was persuaded by the defendant von Papen and others to seek a conference with Hitler, which took place at Berchtesgaden on the 12th February, 1938. The defendant Keitel was present at the conference, and Dr. Schuschnigg was threatened by Hitler with an immediate invasion of Austria. Schuschnigg finally agreed to grant a political amnesty to various Nazis convicted of crime, and to appoint the Nazi Seyss-Inquart as Minister of the Interior and Security with control of the Police. On the 9th March, 1938, in an attempt to preserve the independence of his country, Dr. Schuschnigg decided to hold a plebiscite on the question of Austrian independence, which was fixed for the 13th March, 1938. Hitler, two days later, sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg that the plebiscite must be withdrawn. In the afternoon and evening of the 11th March, 1938, the defendant Goering made a series of demands upon the Austrian Government, each backed up by ,the threat of invasion. After Schuschnigg had agreed to the cancellation of the plebiscite, another demand was put forward that Schuschnigg must resign, and that the defendant Seyss-Inquart should be appointed Chancellor. In consequence, Schuschnigg resigned, and President Miklas, after at first refusing ,to appoint Seyss-Inquart as Chancellor, gave way and appointed him.

Meanwhile Hitler had given the final order for the German troops to cross the border at dawn an the 12th of March and instructed Seyss-Inquart to use formations of Austrian National Socialists to depose Miklas and to seize control of the Austrian Government. After the order to march had been given to the German troops, Goering telephoned the German Embassy in Vienna and dictated a telegram in which he wished Seyss-Inquart to send to Hitler to justify the military action which had already been ordered.

It was:

" The provisional Austrian Government, which, after the dismissal of the Schuschnigg Government, considers its task to establish peace and order in Austria, sends to the German Government the urgent request to support it in its task and to help it to prevent bloodshed. For this purpose it asks the German Government to send German troops as soon as possible."

Keppler, an official of the German Embassy, replied:

" Well, SA and SS are marching through the streets, but everything is quiet."

After some further discussion, Goering stated:

" Please show him (Seyss-Inquart) the text of the telegram, and do tell him that we are asking him- well, he doesn't even have to send the telegram. All he needs to do is to say 'Agreed'."

Seyss-Inquart never sent the telegram; he never even telegraphed " Agreed."

It appears that as soon as he was appointed Chancellor, some time after 10 p.m., he called Keppler and told him to call up Hitler and transmit his protests against the occupation. This action outraged the defendant Goering, because "it would disturb the rest of the Fuehrer, who wanted to go to Austria the next day." At 11.15 p.m. an official in the Ministry of Propaganda in Berlin telephoned the German Embassy in Vienna and was told by Keppler: " Tell the General Field Marshal that Seyss-Inquart agrees."

At daybreak on the 12th March, 1938, German troops marched into Austria, and met with no resistance. It was announced in the German press that Seyss-Inquart had been appointed the successor to Schuschnigg, and the telegram which Goering had suggested, but which was never sent, was quoted to show that Seyss-Inquart had requested the presence of German troops to prevent disorder. On the 13th March, 1938, a law was passed for the reunion of Austria in the German Reich. Seyss-Inquart demanded that President Miklas should sign this law, but he refused to do so, and resigned his office. He was succeeded by Seyss-Inquart, who signed the law in the name of Austria. This law was then adopted as a law of the Reich by a Reich Cabinet decree issued the same day, and signed by Hitler and the defendants Goering, Frick, von Ribbentrop and Hess.

It was contended before the Tribunal that the annexation of Austria was justified by the strong desire expressed in many quarters for the union of Austria and Germany; that there were many matters in common between the two peoples that made this union desirable; and that in the result the object was achieved without bloodshed.

These matters, even if true, are really immaterial for the facts plainly prove that the methods employed to achieve the object were those of an aggressor. The ultimate factor was the armed might of Germany ready to be used if any resistance was encountered. Moreover, none of these considerations appear from the Hossbach account of the meetings of the 5th November, 1937, to have been the motives which actuated Hitler; on the contrary, all the emphasis is there laid on the advantage to be gained by Germany in her military strength by the annexation of Austria.

Sources: The Avalon Project