Austria from 1918 to 1945
A special section is dedicated to a fatal period of the more recent Austrian history. It impressively illustrates Austria’s development from imperial times to the interwar period and World War II up to the times of the Second Republic.
As the peoples of Austria-Hungary did no longer opt for a common empire, the Germans in the Habsburg monarchy, too, recognised the inevitability to build their own state.
The political forces were eyeing each other warily and violence in politics was commonplace. Of the several paramilitary units that were formed at the time, the so-called “Heimwehren” (home defence units), associated with the conservative faction, as well as the republican “Schutzbund” (protection league) became the most important ones. Finally, there were the paramilitary units of the National Socialists.
From 1927, conditions similar to those of a civil war prevailed. The Austrian government became more and more authoritarian, benefitted from a stand-off situation in parliament to dissolve the latter in 1933, and, finally, annulled the constitution. The upheavals peaked in the civil war of February 1934 as well as in the assassination of Federal Chancellor Dolfuss by the Nazis and extensive fighting in July of the same year. Internationally, Austria remained isolated until Schuschnigg gave in to the pressure coming from Hitler and cancelled a referendum on Austria's sovereignty so that, finally, the Germans’ march-in into Austria could take place.
The Nazi dictatorship in Austria did not only entail a change of elites, enforced emigration, and persecution but, in the shortest of times, prepared the country for war. Thus Austrian soldiers also took part in all campaigns of the German Wehrmacht, eventually also sharing its fate. From 1943, Austria, then called “Alpen und Donaureichsgaue" (administrative subdivisions located in the Alps and Danube regions) became the theatre of the aerial warfare. Meanwhile, persecution and systematic murder of Jews and adversaries of the Nazi regime had reached their climax. Despite an increasingly stronger resistance and some Austrians’ involvement in the attempted assassination of Hitler on 20 July 1944, the country continued to be governed by the political and military structures of the German Reich and suffered war from March to May 1945 on its own soil, eventually seeing its liberation by the allies and the capitulation of the Wehrmacht.
Subsequently, the whole of Austria was occupied by Soviet, American, British, and French troops. Taking stock of the war, it was concluded that Austria, as a part of the Greater German Reich, had had to contribute approximately 1.2 million troops, that a quarter of a million of them had died or gone missing, that around 65,000 Austrian Jews had been murdered and that, eventually, aerial warfare and the fighting on Austrian soil had caused a total number of 380,000 deaths during the time of the Nazi regime.