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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Featured Sports World Palestinian Soccer League Withdraws Bid to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Palestinian Soccer League Withdraws Bid to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    The head of Israel’s soccer association called on his Palestinian counterpart to “join forces,” as the Palestinian Football Association withdrew its bid on Friday to have Israel suspended from FIFA. “Let’s leave it to the politicians to do politics,” said Israel Football Association chief Ofer Eini, moments after PFA Chairman Jibril Rajoub announced that his group had withdrawn the proposal. After his remarks, Eini shook hands with the Palestinian soccer chief. Rajoub thanked “those” who convinced him to drop the [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Israeli-American Group Congratulates Cavaliers’ Blatt on Reaching NBA Finals

    Israeli-American Group Congratulates Cavaliers’ Blatt on Reaching NBA Finals

    JNS.org – An organization whose work focuses on the estimated population of 500,000-800,000 Israeli Americans congratulated David Blatt, the Jewish head coach of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Cleveland Cavaliers and a longtime Israel-based coach, for clinching an appearance in the NBA Finals. The Israeli-American Council (IAC), whose stated mission is “to build an active and giving Israeli-American community throughout the United States in order to strengthen the State of Israel, our next generation, and to provide a bridge to [...]

    Read more →
  • Food US & Canada Bacon Flavor Ben & Jerry’s ‘Not Gonna Happen’ Because it Wouldn’t be Kosher

    Bacon Flavor Ben & Jerry’s ‘Not Gonna Happen’ Because it Wouldn’t be Kosher

    Famed ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s will not be introducing a Bacon flavored product to its offerings because the company intends to keep its entire line kosher, Marketing Director Alison Gilbert told AOL’s morning show Rise recently. “It’s kind of funny, a lot of people look for bacon in our ice cream, which is probably not gonna happen because all of our ice cream is kosher,” she said, referring to Jewish dietary restrictions that proscribe the consumption of pig [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Judo Team Faces Antisemitic Harassment in Morocco: ‘We Will Murder You’

    Israeli Judo Team Faces Antisemitic Harassment in Morocco: ‘We Will Murder You’

    Israeli athletes at a world Judo championship in Morocco reportedly faced antisemitic slurs during the competition, news site WorldNetDaily reported on Monday. “We will murder you,” and “you’re not wanted here, go home,” were among the vituperative attacks directed at the Israeli Judo Association team, which was in Morocco last week for the World Masters Judo Tournament. According to Haaretz, each Israeli teammate was met with boos and jeers upon entering a fight. Additionally, no Israeli flags were present at [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.