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March 9, 2022 11:43 am
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Remembering the Anschluss

avatar by Larry Domnitch

Opinion

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring. Photo: German Federal Archives

Eighty-four years ago — on March 12, 1938 — Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany. In 1933, Germany’s Jews were under the grip of Nazism; five years later, Austrian Jewry would face the same fate.

At the time of the Anschluss, there were reportedly about 200,000 Jews in Austria — 170,000 lived in Vienna, a city of 1.9 million. As German troops headed towards Vienna, Hitler — who was greeted by cheering crowds — called for an Anschluss. On March 12, the Nazi government was established.

Years of anti-Jewish legislation enacted in Germany now applied to Austrian Jewry.

Hitler returned to Germany and called for a retroactive referendum on the annexation, under the supervision of the German army for April 10. It was intended as a justification for the takeover of Austria. That day, 99.75% of Austrian voters — excluding Jews and other “unwanted citizens” who were prohibited from participating — voted in favor. Many were intimidated into supporting the Anschluss in a manipulated election, where dissenters were threatened with retaliation.

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There was hope that with the Anschluss, the Austrian economy would improve — as Hitler and his minions in Austria promised. There was also growing support for Nazism in Austria both for ideological reasons, and because the country had been flooded with Nazi propaganda.

Another reason for the support of Hitler was the prevalence of antisemitism in Austria. Many Austrians saw the Anschluss as an opportunity to be rid of Austria’s Jews, and many Austrians were involved in the war crimes of the Third Reich.

After the Nazi takeover, the persecution of Jews ramped up considerably. Shops were picketed. Jewish children were forced to write the word “Jude” on their parents’ shops. Jews were beaten on the streets.

As in Nazi Germany, the persecution of Jews was systematic. Successive measures were imposed against Austrian Jewry.

On May 20, the Nuremberg Laws were introduced into Austria. On July 2, public parks became forbidden to Jews. The central office of Jewish emigration was now headed by senior a Austrian SS officer, the infamous Adolf Eichmann, who had Jews surrender their assets before being allowed to emigrate.

At the end of September, Jewish doctors were permitted to treat only Jews, while Jewish lawyers could represent only Jews.

Already in a state of despair, Austrian Jewry was hit with savage brutality on Kristallnacht, on November 9-10. Nazis were joined by civilian mobs in an all-out assault on Austrian Jewry. Synagogues were torched. Four thousand Jewish shops were vandalized; thousands of Jews were deported to Dachau and Buchenwald.

The mad, frantic search for sanctuary became even more desperate. In total, 126,445 Jews managed to leave before the outbreak of the war in September 1939. By the summer of 1939, 27,000 Jewish owned shops and businesses had been closed or confiscated by the government.

In October 1941, the Nazis halted all Jewish emigration and began systematic deportations. About 47,500 Jews were deported to ghettos in Eastern Europe from Vienna, where most were executed by Einzatzgruppen death squads.

By November 1942, about 7,000 Jews remained in Vienna.

Without the firing of a shot, Nazism came to Austria with the arrival of the German army. The takeover of Czechoslovakia would soon follow, further enhancing the military strength and position of Nazi Germany. The Anschluss was a large step toward world war.

The Anschluss is a tragic and calamitous moment in history to be remembered.

Larry Domnitch is the author of “The Impact of World War One on the Jewish People.” He lives in Efrat.

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