Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Grim 75th Anniversary: Hitler’s Dream, Austrian Jewry’s Nightmare

March 14, 2013 12:47 am 0 comments

German and Austrian border police dismantle a border post on March 15, 1938. Photo: German Federal Archives.

Adolf Hitler had long dreamed of making his native Austria a part of Germany and subjecting Austria’s Jews to the same fate he had in mind for the Jews of Germany. Seventy-five years ago this month, he made his move.

In the very first paragraph of his autobiography, Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that the “reunion” (Anschluss, in German) of Austria and Germany was “a task to be furthered with every means our lives long.” He argued that since the two countries were ethnically similar and had been associated in the past, it was Germany’s destiny to absorb Austria.

In early 1934, about a year after he rose to power, Hitler began pressuring Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss to embrace Nazism. When Dollfuss rejected Hitler’s overtures, Austrian Nazis assassinated him. Their attempted coup failed, however, and the plotters fled to Germany. There, with Hitler’s support, they staged terrorist attacks on Austrian government institutions. These provocations increased civil turmoil in Austria and helped pave the way for German military intervention.

An orgy of sadism

On March 11, 1938, German troops marched into Austria to impose the Anschluss. They were greeted by huge, cheering crowds.

Violent anti-Semitism erupted almost immediately in Vienna, home to most of Austria’s 190,000 Jewish citizens.

The world-famous psychologist Dr. Sigmund Freud, a resident of Vienna, wrote to a friend: “The people in their worship of anti-Semitism are entirely at one with their brothers in the Reich.” Freud’s apartment was twice raided by the Nazis, and his daughter, Dr. Anna Freud, was briefly detained and interrogated by the Gestapo. Soon afterwards, the Freuds fled to England.

Famed CBS Radio broadcaster William L. Shirer described the treatment of Austria’s Jews in the wake of the Anschluss as “an orgy of sadism.” He reported:

“Day after day large numbers of Jewish men and women could be seen scrubbing… the sidewalk and cleaning the gutters. While they worked on their hands and knees with jeering storm troopers standing over them, crowds gathered to taunt them. Hundreds of Jews, men and women, were picked off the streets and put to work cleaning public latrines and the toilets of the barracks where [Nazi secret police officers] were quartered. Tens of thousands more were jailed. Their worldly possessions were confiscated or stolen.”

Among the property confiscated was the Jewish-owned Hotel Metropol, which was turned into Gestapo headquarters, and the famous Rothschild and Gomperz art collections, much of which was added to the private collection of senior Nazi leader Hermann Goering.

William Shirer needed to fly to England to elude Nazi censorship, but ran into trouble getting a ticket on the packed flight to London: “I offered fantastic sums to several passengers for their places,” he noted in his diary. “Most of them were Jews [escaping the Nazis] and I could not blame them for turning me down.”

The suicide rate among Vienna Jews skyrocketed in the weeks following the Anschluss. Three generations—22 members—of a single Jewish family, the Wolkners, took their own lives in response to the Anschluss. The last of the suicides, 18 year-old Gertrude, a musician, left a note asking that a single marker be placed over the graves of all her family members.

“Eichmann helped us”

The Germans were still years away from their program of mass murder. Their goal in Austria was to make the lives of the Jews so miserable that they would emigrate.

Austria’s Jews got the message. Within days of the Anschluss, the lines outside the United States consulate in Vienna stretched for blocks, as tens of thousands of Jews sought permission to immigrate to America. According to U.S. law, a maximum of 27,370 German and Austrian citizens could be admitted annually. But that allotment was almost never filled, because the Roosevelt administration implemented an array of bureaucratic obstacles that made it extremely difficult to qualify for a visa. Other countries likewise closed their doors.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionist movement offered an alternative: Palestine. The obstacle to getting to the Holy Land was that the British Mandate authorities, in response to Palestinian Arab violence, were beginning to restrict Jewish immigration. In 1937, the Revisionist-affiliated Irgun Zvai Leumi underground sent several of its top activists to Europe to organize illegal immigration, known as Aliyah Bet. One of the organizers was 24 year-old Yitshaq Ben-Ami, the son of early Zionist pioneers (he was the first child born in Tel Aviv).

The Anschluss “brought about a dramatic change in the attitude of Viennese Jews” toward Aliyah Bet, Ben-Ami later recalled. “Prior to March 12 it had been almost impossible for younger people to obtain their parents’ approval to join our group, but now we had hundreds of candidates.” That number grew rapidly. Soon “thousands were lining up outside our office in Vienna, and even that was only the beginning.”

Ben-Ami found himself dealing with the notorious Adolf Eichmann, who was put in charge of the Nazis’ Office of Jewish Emigration in Vienna. “Eichmann helped us,” Ben-Ami noted. “He wanted the Jews out and we were ready to accommodate him. Knowing that this was, to say the least, a tenuous accord, we raced to expand our activities.”

Ben-Ami and his cohorts chartered small boats that brought groups of several hundred Jewish refugees from Austria and Poland to the northern coast of Palestine, where they landed late at night, near thick orange groves, to elude British patrols. The immigrants were greeted by Irgun activists, taken ashore, given false identification papers, and quickly dispersed among various towns and settlements. Because of the nature of the operation, the precise number of people brought to Palestine as part of Aliyah Bet in the late 1930s and early 1940s will never be known, but historians believe it was more than 20,000.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is the founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. His latest book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →