G.E.R. Gedye’s Eye-Witness Account of Austro-Fascism
In this blog and in my book Forbidden Music, I have tried to stress the importance of the five year period running up to the annexation of Austria in March 1938. They represented a period when many musicians and composers, banned from working in Germany, found safety in Austria’s dictatorship. These years have been met with ambivalence by historians and music lovers as they confront us with contradictions, many of which fly in the face of contemporary values. On the one hand, they were years of harsh rule, with prisons full of citizens, often held without any pretence of a fair trial. On the other, it was a safe haven for many composers, writers, artists and above all, Jews. Jewish support of Mussolini has been dealt with by such writers as Giorgio Bassani, and the fact that nearly all important Jewish Italian composers endorsed Italian Fascism is projected by the many Austrian composers who supported their own pre-Hitler authoritarian regime. All contemporary examinations of this confusing half-decade are examined with the benefit of hindsight, offering concessions to egalitarian, liberal democratic values. This makes it, if anything, even more difficult to know what people were truly thinking at the time, and what motivated them.
The book by the British journalist, G.E.R. Gedye, Fallen Bastions, offers an eye-witness account of Austria‘s annexation into Hitler’s Germany and the treacherous roles various nations – not just Nazi Germany – played in her downfall. What is fascinating about Gedye’s report is that it was written more or less as events were happening and before the outbreak of war. It therefore offers us a report without the benefit, or prejudice of hindsight. As the principal Central European journalist for many British and American papers, he had unique access to any number of important people who played crucial roles in shaping the 20th century in Central Europe. Most of these players are today largely forgotten. A time-line of the downfall of Austria follows along with a list of major players, but Gedye’s reportage is fascinating as it sheds light on a situation that reminds us that what is happening today in the Middle East has in many ways, already been played out in Europe: a theocratic dictatorship pitched against competing forms of authoritarian, anti-democratic governments.
But the reason for turning to Gedye is not so much for his harrowing day-by-day account of events, but because of his lucid explanation of Austria’s clerical fascist government that usurped Vienna’s parliament in 1933, indeed in the wake of Hitler’s appointment as Germany’s Reich-Chancellor. There is little in English that explains the ‘how’, ‘why’ or ‘wherefore’ of this government, and it seems to me, even less in German. (Though Gedye’s book was previously available in German translation) As I have written before, the closest we come to contact with Austrian Clerical Fascism, is its passive role in the von Trapp Story in The Sound of Music. Yet Austrian Fascism was distinctive from the other dictatorships that crowded out continental Europe’s parliamentary democracies in the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, every dictatorship on the continent was different from the next, and had Oswald Mosley succeeded in Great Britain, it too would have assumed unique characteristics which would have resulted in it being pitched in competition with the other dictatorships in Europe.
Gedye’s describes Continental Europe’s descent into autocracy as follows: “The situation in Central Europe now began to resemble a scene in some [play about cops and robbers] where someone has shot out the lights and the other actors, revolvers in hand, listen intently for a sign of movement to know in which direction they should prepare to shoot. There were so many autocratic Governments responsible to no one, to [whom to]explain their policies, that now none of them quite realised what the others were up to. Diplomatic jitters and voyages of discovery in all direction ensued. [……]Dictators in search of the lights they had themselves shot out, all fumbling at their revolvers nervously.”
It is a perfect description of the chaos of European dictatorships that followed the First World War. In Forbidden Music, I tried to explain how each dictatorship was different and how they were antagonistic to one another. It was difficult without going into too much detail and frankly, an entire book could have been written on each country and its uniquely national rejection of parliamentary democracy. Some were out-and-out Fascists, such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, while others were corporative states where the clergy reigned quasi supreme; others were dictators who led governments as ‘regents’ until the monarchy could be restored while others such as Bulgaria brought back its absolutist ‘Czar’. Then there were the more familiar ‘dictatorships of the proletariat’ or Hitler’s variant, dubbed “National Socialism”. But like the many factions fighting and killing each other in the Middle East today, they all hated each other, and with parliaments out of the way, nobody knew what the others were up to. There was no transparency and as Gedye writes, nobody to answer to.
Just as Austria was the match that lit the fuse exploding into the First World War, so the interwar years in Austria tell us a great deal about the historic provenance of the 20th century itself. Fallen Bastions explains clearly what I had never fully understood. Today’s Austrians are squeamish on the subject of Dollfuß and Schuschnigg – something I have mentioned before in these pages. Socialists are embarrassed as they assumed Hitler could not be as bad as Schuschnigg and there was hope that following Austria’s annexation, Hitler could be got rid of. The Conservatives are embarrassed as they grew out of the theocratic parties that dissolved democracy in the first place.
Gedye, who by his own admission, was often accused of being too sympathetic to the Nazis, makes it absolutely clear that Conservatives carry far more responsibility for Hitler than the Socialists. And it is his day-by-day reporting on Schuschnigg’s inability to see over the rim of his arch-Catholic soup-bowl that made the Nazi take-over of Austria possible. The Catholic Church saw in even the mildest forms of Social Democracy the devil incarnate. They refused to allow the Schuschnigg government to enter into the one coalition that could have defeated Hitler: a broad-anti-Nazi coalition made up of Social Democrats, Communists and Schuschnigg’s theocratic Fatherland Front. Every appeal from left-wing or indeed non-clerical centrists to join together in fighting Nazi aggression was met with harsh retribution. Socialists and Communists were persecuted far more harshly than members of the equally illegal Nazi Party. This blind obstinacy and block-headed adherence to Austria’s Catholic hierarchy, quaking at even the mildest forms of Social Democracy, resulted in the country’s absorption into Hitler’s Germany without so much as a single shot being fired.
It’s far too easy to mock Austrians as “the worst of all Nazis”, and there is little doubt that today, its third political force, The ‘Freedom Party’ has more than its fair share of Nazi apologists. But one fact cannot be disputed: before Dollfuß dissolved parliament in 1933, the Socialist Party was the largest single political force in Austria. The Catholicism of Austria’s aristocracy, rural and establishment classes was the residue of lost empire. It was nonetheless a vibrant and still powerful force that saw itself as entitled to rule. If the Austrian people had no appetite for a return of the Habsburgs following the disaster of the First World War, Austria’s Catholic theocracy saw itself as God’s place-holder until the monarchy could be restored. Jews in both Italy and Austria tended to support strong governments. Until the Habsburgs were forced from power, there were few if any pogroms – with their departure, they erupted almost immediately. Austro-Fascism may have been the strong arm of the Roman Catholic Church, but it guaranteed the protection of its Jewish citizens against the far greater danger of National Socialism. The anti-Semitism of the Roman church was confessional, whereas the anti-Semitism of the Nazis was, to quote the diarist Viktor Klemperer, ‘zoological’. As such, the Nazis saw no difference in eradicating Jews or culling diseased cattle.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church with centuries of implacably supporting Absolutism viewed the extraordinary accomplishments of Austria’s Socialist Party and its enormous housing projects along with access to healthcare, transport and education as near excommunicable sins. As in Spain and Portugal, the Church had become the bond that held the ruling classes together, while instilling fear in the poor and disenfranchised. Centuries of an Austrian Catholic aristocracy were not going to be given up without a fight.
One of the conditions of the various treaties between the Entente and defeated Germany and Austria in 1918, was the dissolution of combatant forces. As soldiers returned from the front, or decided to move to Austria from further flung corners of the former empire, stores of weapons were collected and hoarded with a gentleman’s agreement between parties of left and right not to divulge their whereabouts. The vacuum created by the lack of military resulted in political parties becoming sponsors of private armies. The militia for the Homeland Bloc (Heimatblock) Party, then Christian Social Party (the political arm of the Catholic Church and by no means to be mistaken for ‘Christian Socialists’) was called the Home-Defence (Heimwehr) and the one from the Socialist Party, formed later, was called the Defence-league (Schutzbund).
As with any tragedy, one needs to start with a list of principal players in order to understand the action:
G.E.R. Gedye 1890 – 1970 British journalist covering events in Austria from 1926 – 1938; after Austria’s annexation (“Anschluss” in German) by Nazi Germany, he relocated to Prague where he covered the Munich Agreement and its aftermath – he published his eyewitness accounts before the outbreak of war in Fallen Bastions – The Central European Tragedy, now reprinted by Faber.
Ignaz Seipel 1876 – 1832 An Austrian prelate and politician of the Christian Social Party, a Conservative Party that became the political arm of Austria’s Roman Catholic Church. The Christian Social Party became identified with the anti-Semitism of Vienna’s Mayor, Karl Lueger (1844 – 1910), one of Hitler’s important influences, though his actions and words did not always correspond. His anti-Semitism reflected the official anti-Semitism of the Roman Catholic Church, which saw Judaism as a religion rather than race. Lueger, as with most prominent Christian Social activists dropped their prejudice against individual Jews if they converted. During the time of Seipel’s Chancellorship in Austria, Jews were protected under the Austrian Constitution.
Wilhelm Miklas 1872 – 1956 was a Christian Social Politician who was president of Austria from 1928 und 1938. He was a largely passive figure, who did not condemn the Austro-Fascist parliamentary coup 4 March, 1933. Nor did he object to all political parties being rolled together into the Fatherland Front on May 20 of the same year. In private, he abhorred the violations of Austria’s constitution, while publicly supporting both Dollfuß and Schuschnigg and resisting Nazi influence, initially refusing to yield to Nazi demands that Seyss-Inquart be appointed chancellor. He was arrested following Austria’s annexation and retired from politics entirely after the war.
Engelbert Dollfuß (Dollfuss in English) 1892 – 1934 Leader of the Christian Social Party and instigator of a parliamentary coup that saw him as dictator of Austria only months after Hitler’s seizure of power in neighbouring Germany. He modelled his government on Italy’s Corporatist State, while according the Roman Catholic Church a leading role within the Corporatist body of government. Though strongly anti-Nazi, due to its anti-clerical policies, it was even more anti-Marxist in all its many gradations seeing no difference between Communists and Social Democrats.
Kurt von Schuschnigg 1897 – 1977 Chancellor of Austria following the assassination of Dollfuß in 1934. As with Dollfuß, he was an absolute ruler, though more actively inclined towards the restoration of the monarchy. He was a trained lawyer and came from a family of minor, recent nobility. His suspicion of Marxists equalled that of Dollfuß, though following the attempted Nazi coup of 1934, he began imprisoning illegal Nazi activists with nearly the same zeal as he persecuted Socialists.
The Fatherland Front (Die Vaterländische Front) was founded on May 20 1933 and became the single party to emerge from the Austro-Fascist Constitution of 1934, meant to consolidate all Austrian political interests into a single party headed initially by Engelbert Dollfuß, then Kurt von Schuschnigg. It was an Austrian nationalist party with strong associations with the Catholic Church, which was supposedly central to Austrian German identity. During the years of Austro-Fascism (1933 – 1938) attempts were made to create and consolidate a German Austrian identity through music, religion and culture. Folk music became a useful propaganda tool, as demonstrated by the likes of the von Trapp family singers, but also many progressive composers were appreciative of government support such as Egon Wellesz and Ernst Krenek.
Die Heimwehr -The Home-Defence was a paramilitary organisation that was Austria’s equivalent to Germany’s Freikorps. The Home-Defence had its political arm initially in the Heimatblock Party, but soon found itself absorbed by Dollfuß’s Fatherland Front, until Schuschnigg folded them into the Fatherland-Defence.
Der Republikanische Schutzbund – The Republican Defence League was the Socialist paramilitary organisation set-up in response to the Heimwehr. It was banned by the Dollfuß government and Major Fey’s attempt to confiscate its arsenal in Linz in 1934 led to the short ‘Civil War’ in February and the Schutzbund’s defeat.
Prince Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg 1899 – 1956 an important member of the Dollfuß and Schuschnigg cabinets, becoming Vice Chancellor until removed from his position by Schuschnigg when suspicions were raised of a Starhemberg coup using the Heimwehr (Home-Defence) militia. He was instrumental in bringing Austria under Mussolini’s wing and modelling Austria’s dictatorship on the Italian corporatist state. Under Dollfuß, he united a number of right-wing organisations into the Fatherland Front, the only political party allowed in Austria. He remained leader of the party and head of the Home-Defence militia until Schuschnigg consolidated power in 1937.
Major Emil Fey 1886 – 1938 was Starhemberg’s principal rival within the Austrian government. He was head of the Heimwehr, (Home-Defence militia) during the First Republic years and became Vice Chancellor to Dollfuß in 1933. His single-minded hatred of Social Democracy led to the brief Civil War in February 1934, and he was implicated by complicity in the assassination of Dollfuß in July of the same year during an attempted Nazi coup. With Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany, he committed suicide after murdering his wife and son.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart 1892-1946 was a Nazi politician who briefly became Chancellor of Austria when Schuschnigg was forced to resign. He was a trained lawyer and unusually intelligent with one of the highest IQs of any of the prominent Nazis to face trial in Nuremberg. Gedye reserves his harshest condemnation for Seyss-Inquart who finagled his way into the cabinets of Dollfuß and Schuschnigg while hiding his Nazi sympathies and virulent anti-Semitism. He subsequently became a close associate of Hitler’s and was executed for crimes against humanity.
Guido Schmidt 1901 – 1957 was Schuschnigg’s Foreign Minister following the July Pact of 1936 which demanded the appointment by Schuschnigg of a more Nazi sympathetic cabinet. Nevertheless, Schmidt declined a position in the Seyss-Inquart government and retired from politics. He was found innocent of High Treason following the Nazi defeat in 1945.
Theodor Habicht 1898 – 1944 was a German whom Hitler appointed in 1931 to expand the Nazi organisation in Austria. He did this by appealing to members of the conservative Heimwehr until the Nazi Party was banned in 1933. Habicht relocated to Munich and directed a campaign of terror against the Dollfuß government, culminating in the attempted coup and assassination of Dollfuß in July 1934. He died in action on the Eastern Front.
Otto Bauer 1881 – 1938 was Austria’s leading Social Democrat and Austro-Marxist. His importance in the history of European Communism extends well beyond his political activities in Austria. To illustrate the ambiguity and apparent contradictions of Austria’s Socialist Party in the First Republic, Bauer was a pan-German nationalist and was responsible for negotiating the accession of Austria into Germany as early as 1919, a decision that was supported by the Austrian parliament but rejected by the Entente. Following the obliteration of the Social Democrats in the ‘Civil War’ of February 1934, Bauer led opposition to Dollfuß’s authoritarian regime from exile in Czechoslovakia.
Julius Deutsch 1884 – 1968 was the counterpart to Major Fey. Deutsch was head of the Socialist ‘Republican Defence-League’ (Schutzbund in German), which he founded in 1923 in response to the conservative militia The Home-Defence. He joined Bauer in Czech exile following defeat in February 1934 and the disbanding of the Defence-League.
1919 – 1933
Alban Berg, though not Jewish, studied with Arnold Schoenberg (who was) and moved in progressive circles. His opera ‘Lulu’ was started in 1929 and continued until his death in 1935. Berg seems representative of the ambivalence of progressive composers living and working under the Ständestaat dictatorship. This is the Variation Movement from the Lulu Suite performed by the London Symphony Orchestra with Antal Doráti
If we think the Arab Spring has turned bloody, it is only repeating central Europe’s chapter of history following the fall of the House of Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Romanov and the Ottomans. In Bavaria, just north of Austria, a short-lived Soviet Republic was declared before being defeated by Germany’s Right Wing ‘Freikorps’ militia. To the East, the Hungarian Communist Béla Kun rampaged with frequent incursions into former Western, German speaking Hungary, accorded to Austria after 1918. The departure of the Habsburgs was relatively bloodless and surprisingly welcomed by most Austrians. The Social Democrats became the strongest single party and Vienna became a bastion of Marxist successes with massive housing and social projects that attracted urban planners from around the world.
As with Bavaria and Hungary, the forces of reaction would prove wealthier and thus stronger. Skirmishes and murders committed by the Heimwehr or Home-Defence, led to general strikes and marches by the Socialists which in turn led to peaceful protests turning into bloodbaths. The police, the official law-keepers of the country, had themselves become instruments of reactionary politics and though the Socialists were the largest party, by the mid-1920s, Austria was bordered by fascist governments in Hungary and Italy. The slightest upheaval was portrayed domestically and abroad as “Bolshevism” and an attempt to impose a “Soviet” (council) government.
This notorious ‘red plot’ lie was propagated by Austria’s powerful Ignaz Seipel, known as Austria’s Richelieu: Gedye describes him as follows: “[Monsignore Seipel] always struck me as a man born out of time and place. His overweening political ambitions, his rigid personal asceticism, his genius for cold-blooded, relentless hostility towards a weakened enemy, his sure touch for the right propaganda for the right person, his talent for intrigue and single-minded devotion to advancing the political interests of the Church, really seemed to belong to the era of the great political cardinal in despotic empires [. . .]”
Seipel served as Chancellor of Austria from 1922-1924 and again from 1926-1929. This was the period of Austria’s First (Democratic) Republic. His powerbase was a pact between the conservative Christian Social Party and the Agrarian parties from the countryside which together formed a larger coalition than the Social Democrats, who were the largest single party and remained antagonistic to any cooperation with Austria’s Communists. By the time of his death in 1932, he had established the foundations of the Church’s position in government as a force of revisionism and merciless authoritarianism that was not healthy within a nascent, still fragile democracy.
With the Austrian Adolf Hitler consolidating absolute power in neighbouring Germany in 1933, it was only a matter of months before the Christian Social Party found an excuse to stage a parliamentary sleight-of-hand that was essentially a coup that left Egelbert Dollfuß, the 39 year old head of the Party, absolute dictator. It was the beginning of Dollfuß’s establishment of the so-called Ständestaat, a corporative state made up of clergy, workers, citizens and functionaries with the Catholic Church as the “guiding hand” of government. It was a euphemism for Fascism and indeed, this period is often referred to ‘Austro-Fascism’, though more recent revisionists have reverted to referring to the ‘Dollfuß and Schuschnigg years’. They will not have read Gedye’s eye-witness account. Gedye calls it “Clerical Fascism” and perhaps this is the most appropriate expression.
The historian Gerhard Jagschitz describes Austria’s Ständestaat as follows: “[It] represented the summation of bourgeois revisionist and restitutionist policies against [the democratic government that resulted from the defeat] in November 1918. Its identifying factors were anti-Marxism and anti-Bolshevism; destruction of the governing principals of parliamentary democracy; anti-Liberal and a concept of State involving political Catholicism, resulting in an authoritarian, corporative state, as expressed in the Constitution of May 1934”
The Bloody Year of 1934
Egon Wellesz was a Jewish convert to Catholicism and, as mentioned in his memoirs, in broad support of the “Catholic revivalism” at the time – his euphemistic description of the Ständestaat years. His Mass in F, op 51, composed in 1934, of which this is the Kyria, offers a flavour of the period. Wellesz, normally a progressive, offers a conventional work of personal faith. (Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Cond. Stephen Darlingon)
National Socialism (Nazism) was as much hated by the Ständestaat as the Ständestaat was hated by the Nazis. Gedye maintains that discussions with prominent Nazis confirmed that Hitler was not about to move into Austria just as Dollfuß was in the process of ridding Austria of its troublesome Parliament. Perhaps what is most fascinating is the ease with which Gedye is able to establish Germany’s interference in Austria before their attempted coup in July 1934. His lack of hindsight adds exceptional clarity to his journalistic view as events unfold, and though he lacks hindsight, he possesses foresight in abundance. It’s compelling to follow how clearly he predicted the inevitable. He dislikes the machinations of the Nazis, but stays friendly enough to find out what their issues and methods are in order to keep abreast of plans.
As appointed by Hitler as early as 1931, the German, Theodor Habicht, was in charge of organising the Nazi Movement as an alternative in Austria to the Home-Defence Militia. He was expelled two years later when, in 1933, Dollfuß banned the Nazi Party. Habicht simply relocated to Munich where he continued to direct operations, ordering terrorist attacks that mirror attempts to destabilise post-revolutionary Arab states today. Bombs were set off to instil as much fear as possible. If innocent people were killed and infrastructure destroyed, so much the better.
On the other hand, Otto Bauer, the leader of Austria’s hapless Socialists, was reluctant to shed blood and made the miscalculation of not calling a general strike the day Dollfuß usurped parliament. Altogether, according to Gedye, he played by the rules and Dollfuß and his gang of clerics took advantage of him at every opportunity. With the banning of Socialist publications in January 1934, civil disruption was inevitable. Major Emil Fey, the head of the Home-Defence, decreed the banning of the Socialist Party Defence-League militia, and immediately broke the post-war ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between left and right, by confiscating arsenals of the Defence-League in the Upper-Austrian capital of Linz. What today is called Austria’s ‘Civil War’ of February 1934 is referred to by Gedye as ‘days of bloodshed’. In addition to Fey’s banning the Defence-League, Dollfuß banned, the influential Workers Newspaper. Otto Bauer was too keen to look for a consolatory way forward, while Dollfuß was too deluded to realise that the common enemy of Austria’s Socialists and Clericals was the Nazi movement.
According to Gedye, Julius Deutsch, head of the Defence League, later told him from exile in Czechoslovakia, that he was proud they fought by the books, despite the dirty tactics of the Home-Defence. Gedye even offers an apocryphal account of the Defence-League refusing to advance on the Home-Defence as it would have meant disobeying signs not to walk on the grass. Unsurprisingly, the Republican Defence-League could not withstand the combined forces of the newly formed regular Army, the Home-Defence and the police. “Experts on revolution and insurrection” at the time told Gedye that it would have been better to have initiated a policy of civil disobedience, rioting, bombing and enough nuisance-making to keep the police and Home-Defence fully occupied, thus rendering them unable to combine forces. Gedye sums up the uprising as “not a revolution, but a “counter-revolution” deliberately initiated by Dollfuß and Fey’s Home-Defence. There was never an attempt by the Defence League to occupy government buildings or even to reinstate parliamentary democracy. When the Home-Defence attempted to remove caches of Defence League weapons, workers, Social Democrats and Communists spontaneously rose up in support across the entire Country.
After these “skirmishes”, Dollfuß promptly reinstated the death penalty, banned by the progressive constitution of the First Republic in November 1918. He then ordered the execution of numerous prominent Social Democrats, while establishing Austria’s first concentration camp in Wöllersdorf where countless real and imagined anti-government suspects were held without trial. Those who could, such as Otto Bauer and Julius Deutsch, escaped to Czechoslovakia where Austria’s Revolutionary Socialist Movement would be based. Gedye himself was only able to file his reports from Czechoslovakia by wiring from nearby Bratislava. Dollfuß accused Deutsch and Bauer of cowardice and used the uprising as an excuse to crush any remnant of opposition from the left, thus ignoring the far greater threat from the Nazis, an oversight that would eventually cost him his life.
The anti-democratic movement that resulted in the Fascist Constitution of May 1934 was forced through without the necessary quorum and consolidated the single party rule of Dollfuß’s Vaterländische Front – The Fatherland Front. It was an attempt to give the appearance of legitimacy and continuity and to appease the Home-Defence. Dollfuß was guaranteed Austria’s sovereignty by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who was suspicious of Hitler’s ambitions to expand eastwards. His trust in Mussolini would prove another fatal mistake, the consequences of which would become clear in the following years.
Gedye tells us that the number of Nazi atrocities committed by cross-border terrorists had reached the point, that by the summer of 1934, the international press was no longer interested in reading about them. The Austrian police force was now so infiltrated by Nazis that they did not bother to warn Dollfuß of an impending coup planned for July and only notified local Viennese police “to keep an eye out”. Gedye subsequently spoke with many of the protagonists during the ensuing trials, and offers a detailed account that includes the surprising story of Police Inspector Johannes Dobler who initially cooperated with the Nazi plot before having a change of heart and warning Emil Fey of the plans. Fey passed Dobler’s information on to other police officials, conceivably aware that they were in on the plot. Gedye is not convinced that Fey was acting in good faith and repeats the suspicion of insiders that Fey was involved. As a keen-eyed journalist, Gedye also notes that the date of the attempted coup was timed to detract the German public and international press away from Hitler’s purge of Ernst Röhm and some 90 of his followers during the notorious “Night of the Long Knives”. A manufactured coup in Austria should have dispelled any doubts an alarmed German public may have entertained regarding Hitler’s hold on power.
Despite the assassination of Dollfuß, the coup was a failure. Austrian Nazis confidently expected Hitler to unleash forces from the other side of the border. Mussolini, on the other hand, conspicuously moved troops to the Brenner Pass with a warning to Berlin; at the same time Yugoslavia, alarmed at Italy’s actions, amassed troops on the Austrian border, as did Czechoslovakia. The Nazi coup was defeated, but Dollfuß was dead and his purge of the left meant that there was only the Fatherland Front standing between Austria and Nazi insurgents. The Fatherland Front enjoyed at most, support of a mere 30% of Austrians. Socialists, Communists, and other suspected anti-government activists already rotting in the country’s prisons and concentration camps, would soon be joined by post-coup Nazis. They all had one common enemy: Austro-Fascism’s clerical dictatorship.
The question of who should follow Dollfuß was not at all straight forward. Prince Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg was the obvious candidate. Dollfuß had appointed him vice-chancellor following the February uprising and as head of the Home-Defence, he had played the central role in crushing the attempted July coup. President Wilhelm Miklas, who had been in office since 1928 (and would remain president until 1938) felt it inappropriate to appoint “a Home-Defence Chancellor”, especially as the Home-Defence had split into two factions with Major Fey leading the Christian Social wing and Starhemberg leading the Fascists. Fey was responsible for the harassment of Social Democrats that led to the uprising in February while Starhemberg felt himself to be the link between Austria and Fascist Italy. Both Fey and Starhemberg were seen as too extreme by Miklas and he appointed instead, the cool-headed, aristocratic Kurt von Schuschnigg, the former education minister, as Dollfuß successor.
Gedye has a soft spot for Schuschnigg. He sees him as an extremely courageous man blinded by his Jesuit upbringing and unquestioned acceptance of clerical authority. He possessed a doctorate in law and was a born, albeit minor, aristocrat. Gedye finds much to admire in his legal abilities and dispassionate bearing. Appointed chancellor at the age of 36, he attempted to position Austria as the Christian, Catholic German state that stood in opposition to Hitler’s secular dictatorship. While Dollfuß focused on neutralising Socialists, Schuschnigg recognised the danger represented by Nazis. As Gedye makes clear, this revelation was to come too late. Infiltration had taken place at nearly every level and Schuschnigg would, in the fullness of time, be betrayed by many of the people he trusted most. Starhemberg remained in his position as vice chancellor in the assumption his support by Mussolini would allow Schuschnigg to move Austria ever closer to Italy’s Fascist model and distant it from Berlin’s sphere. Under Schuschnigg, he was also made leader of the Fatherland Front.
The funeral of Dollfuß, as recounted by Gedye comes across as something that must have unsettled most Austrians. Machine gun units were set up around and in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It was clear on the basis of the so-called “Kollerschlag Document” that the entire coup had been planned by Germany with further plots uncovered to kidnap president Miklas. Attempts were being made in the chaos to split the ruling government between Schuschnigg and his clerics, and Fey along with Starhemberg. Schuschnigg initially came down hard on the murderers of Dollfuß, including all of the internal plotters. Miklas resisted Nazi Germany’s demands that the assassins be reprieved and a dozen conspirators were hanged, before Schuschnigg returned to form and continued with his persecution of the left.
Alexander Zemlinsky’s last opera ‘König Kandaules’ was started in 1935 – This is the Overture to Act III, completed by Antony Beaumont, performed by the Gürzenich-Orchester Kölner Philharmoniker with conductor James Conlon
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that since 1933, Hitler had imposed a number of damaging sanctions against Austria, with a thousand Mark tax on German tourists as the most damaging. With vast sums of money sloshing about in Germany, Austria stood little chance of defending itself against further German terrorist incursions. At the same time, Schuschnigg’s government was sending mixed messages, apparently looking for common ground with Nazis via a movement called the ‘Pronounced Nationals’; while Starhemberg continued in his persecution of the illegal Nazi Party. Emil Fey still saw Socialists as the primary danger and focused his energies on their total annihilation. Gedye writes about the relatively favourable treatment of Nazis at Austria’s Wöllersdorf Concentration Camp – a situation that Germany managed to turn on its head for propaganda purposes and cause an international out-cry, though he points out that Wöllersdorf simply could not be compared with Dachau, which he, as the only British journalist, had been allowed to visit at the invitation of Himmler in 1933. Gedye muses that the one thing the two camps had in common was the fact that “the Nazis appeared to enjoy both of them”.
Schuschnigg consolidated his power within the Fatherland Front by sacking Emil Fey. As a result, Starhemberg believed himself in a position to usurp the dour Schuschnigg with the help of Mussolini and the Home-Defence, which he now led. This was a major miscalculation as Mussolini had already decided that abandoning Austria was a price worth paying in exchange for Nazi support in his Abyssinian adventure, a colonial war condemned by the French and British. Starhemberg, however, had embarrassed Schuschnigg’s supporters in the British and French governments by writing Mussolini a sycophantic letter congratulating him “on his victory against the dark forces of Democracy”. It presented a perfect excuse for purging him as well. Schuschnigg coldly informed Starhemberg, that he was incorporating the Home-Defence into the Fatherland-Defence militia, which would be directed by himself. Any possibility of a Starhemberg coup with help of the Home-Defence and Mussolini back-up was thus thwarted. At the same time, Schuschnigg took over as party leader of the Fatherland Front. As Gedye writes, Schuschnigg was “noble” in victory and Starhemberg was placed in charge of something called ‘Mothers’ Aid for the Fatherland Front’ – a neat relocation that proved as effective as Emil Fey’s new job as head of Austria’s Danube Steamship Company.
This should have made Schuschnigg unassailable, except for several important factors: One was the thousands of Austrian Nazis in prisons and Wöllersdorf Concentration Camp; the second was the willingness of the British, and to some degree the French, to overlook Hitler’s crimes at home and to come to some sort of amiable coexistence, which included friendly soccer matches with British hosts offering the Nazi salute to visiting German football players, or the removal of Jewish directors from British companies operating in Germany. A third was the willingness of foreign governments to accept without question, the propaganda of Goebbels’ press releases, spun so as to imply concessions being made to Bolshevism in Austria. This resonated at a time when in Spain, its democratically elected Socialist government was being denounced as ‘Bolshevik’ by conservatives in Britain and the United States.
Ignored, overlooked or conveniently unmentioned, was the fact that Schuschnigg was persecuting Socialists far more severely than Nazis. Austria was also hurting because of the sanctions being imposed by Germany, which deprived it of a principal source of foreign income, namely tourism. Hitler’s appeal to everyday Austrians was spreading beyond Nazi Party anti-Semites. Socialists, Communists and other Marxists felt an annexation with Germany would get rid of Schuschnigg and leave them the easier job of removing Hitler, whom they considered an intellectual and political lightweight. Pan-Germans had yearned for unification with Germany since 1918 when Austria lost its empire and found itself reduced to a Danubian, Alpine German-speaking rump. They saw no future outside of Austria’s annexation and for them, Hitler was merely an instrument to achieve unification. He could always be voted out later. And then of course, there was the very small but extremely loud Nazi movement. Gedye informs us that its appeal lay primarily with the young and politically innocent. Its simplistic answers had apparently produced positive results for the greater German population in the eyes of many, including those in Western Democracies. Jewish persecution seems to have played a very tertiary role in inter-government relations. Vienna, however, was not Berlin and had the second largest Jewish population in Europe after Warsaw. If Nazi anti-Semitism was unpleasant, but not a stumbling block for western powers, it was very much a major concern for the Viennese.
Gedye rightly predicted that Hitler would try to tighten Austria’s screws. In July 1936, a meeting between Schuschnigg and Hitler in Berchtesgaden was called. Germany’s print media was banned under Austro-Fascism, and newspapers were seen by Goebbels as the surest means of winning support. Austria too, was desperate to be relieved of the blockade imposed by the 1000 Mark tax on German tourists. Gedye points out that the ‘July Pact’ was three-way: Italy was now involved, as it had become clear that faced with a choice between Austrian or German support for further colonial adventures, Hitler was the more important ally. The July Pact is referred to by Gedye as “Austria’s death warrant”. The price Schuschnigg paid for the removal of the 1000 Mark tax and a ‘guarantee’ of national sovereignty, was the freeing of imprisoned Nazi party members, the availability of five German daily newspapers, (though not the Nazi Party house-paper Völkische Beobachter) and most damaging of all, the appointment into his cabinet of three ministers with Nazi sympathies, Edmund Glaise von Horstenau as minister without portfolio and Guido Schmidt as Foreign Minister. Chief among “the Nazi Trojan Horse”, according to Gedye, was Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Schuschnigg was deluded by the devout Catholicism of the three new appointments and dangerously took their loyalty for granted. Seyss-Inquart had already served under Dollfuß and was thought to be beyond reproach. A ‘Questionnaire’ sent to Hitler by Anthony Eden, regarding Germany’s ultimate intentions, went unanswered. Hitler’s response to Great Britain was there was no reason to address the points as long as Germany had no intention of annexing Austria and recognised Austria’s independence, as clearly stated in the text of the Pact. Eden and the Foreign Office went on to express their “satisfaction”.
Hans Gál returned to Vienna in 1933 after losing his position as Director of the Music Academy in Mainz. His Serenade for Strings was composed in 1937. This is the 3 Movement and taken from the ‘Continental Britons’ exhibition catalogue, at Vienna’s Jewish Museum
The poison was now racing through the veins of Schuschnigg’s Austria. The police force, already heavily infiltrated by Nazis, was more open in support than before. Nazi prisoners were released and attempted joining the Fatherland Front with infiltration the obvious intention. Nazis were openly demonstrating and shouting slogans, despite the still illegal status of the party in Austria. Schuschnigg appointed one of Vienna’s Deputy Mayors, Ernst Karl Winter, as a spokesperson for the Workers’ Group within the Front, anticipating that this would fill the vacuum left by the banned Socialist Party. Winter was then dismissed by Schuschnigg in October 1936 for suggesting that Socialists should enjoy the same amnesty as Nazis and thereby join in an anti-Nazi coalition.
Gedye reports that Schuschnigg also refused to meet visiting British Trade Union representatives when they arrived to suggest the same thing. Schuschnigg’s next ploy was to encourage Monarchist groups instead of workers in an attempts to stave off Nazi influence in Austrian affairs. This idea was thwarted by both Mussolini and Hitler with Berlin’s envoy to Vienna, Baron von Neurath, informing Schuschnigg in no uncertain terms, that Germany would march into Austria at the slightest hint of a Habsburg restoration. In any case, as Gedye reports, there was little or no appetite for a return to the monarchy within the general population – indeed, he called it “a dead issue”. In April, Mussolini informed Schuschnigg in Venice that with his problems in Abyssinia and Spain, he was no longer in a position to guarantee Austrian sovereignty. Nor could Schuschnigg extract guarantees from the Hungarians who were at daggers drawn with the Czechs. A Danubian coalition against Nazi incursions would have been a marvellous solution if their hatred for one another had not exceeded their fear of Hitler. Attempts were made to shore up the Fatherland Front membership with workers, already hostile to Schuschnigg. When they wouldn’t join the party, threats and blackmail were employed.
Gedye quotes a Nazi official in Austria in November 1937: “We have pretty well got Schuschnigg where we want him. Mussolini is tied to Hitler and Chamberlain is scared stiff of him and sends Halifax to beg for terms, trying to buy him off in Central Europe by offering colonies. Chamberlain has got the reply that Central Europe is Germany’s business, not his, and that Germany will talk colonies to England when she is ready to take them, a little later – not yet. And anyway, Chamberlain has made it obvious enough to us that his guiding principle is to back Nazism against all its internal enemies. We have the easy game of threatening him alternately with our strength and our weakness.” Gedye’s Nazi contact goes on to explain that in France the Front Populaire is breaking up and thanks to Chamberlain’s policy of ‘non-intervention’, France will have 300,000 of its own troops on the Spanish border once Franco wins the Civil War. The Czechs won’t back Austria without Italy, and the Nazis have already infiltrated the Hungarian government. Workers will have nothing to do with the Fatherland Front, so flock to Hitler instead. Gedye also quotes a popular joke making the rounds about Hitler sitting in Berchtesgaden with vast plans pinned to the wall showing how he would rebuild Vienna. Sadly, it was no joke.
Year Zero: 1938
Walter Arlen was a mere 17 year old when he composed this song ‘Es geht wohl anders’ or ‘Things always turn out differently’ in 1938, based on the poem of Eichendorff. For Arlen, fate definitely turned out differently from the expected. He was thrown out of school and eventually thrown out of Austria. Sung by baritone Christian Immler with Danny Driver accompanying
In November of 1937, the so-called Tavs Plan was discovered in the offices of the ‘Committee of Seven’, a reconciliation committee set up after the July Pact in 1936 to mediate between the Nazi Party and the Fatherland Front. It was, as Gedye points out, a mere operations base for Austria’s Nazi Party. The Tavs Plan was devised between Rudolf Hess, and the Austrian Nazi Party leader Major Leopold to initiate active defiance of the law as early as April 1938. This meant that Nazis would openly wear swastikas and employ the Hitler salute. The intention was to provoke a disturbance and with the heavy infiltration of Nazis within Austria’s police force, seize public offices. As soon as the Austrians fired a shot in self-defence, Germany would “march to the rescue”. It was assured that the British government may conceivably make a formal protest, but were actually on-side and would use their diplomatic influence to convince the French that the Germans were forced into Austrian internal affairs in order to maintain peace in Central Europe. If the French objected, a plebiscite would be held under German supervision. If the French still proved troublesome, a customs union between Germany and Austria would be convened, with Schuschnigg replaced by a pure Nazi Government as a first step towards annexation. Discovery of the plan was proof that Germany was directing events with the explicit intention of absorbing Austria and clearly against the spirit of the July Pact of 1936.
With the discovery of the Tavs Plan, Hitler ordered his former envoy to Austria, Franz von Papen to deliver him Schuschnigg for a further conference at Berchtesgaden. With the help of Guido Schmidt, Schuschnigg was assured that Hitler had no idea of Hess’s plan and was at great pains to clarify “the misunderstanding”. A meeting was agreed for 12 February 1938. If the July Pact of 1936 was Austria’s death Warrant, February 1938 was Austria’s show-trial, preceding the execution that was to follow in March. Far from showing contrition and attempting to make amends, Hitler treated Schuschnigg with contempt. Gedye’s contacts, who were present at the meeting, give the impression that Hitler had already lost his senses, shouting and spluttering incomprehensibly. Indeed, Gedye suggests that Hitler’s erratic behaviour was a device to frighten others into yielding to his dangerous state of mind. Apparently the humiliation began with a long wait before being received. Schuschnigg was led into Hitler’s office. His hand was not offered, nor was he addressed with any of his appropriate titles. Hitler then went on the attack and asked Schuschnigg how he dared “to play with MY people, the GERMAN people?” He told Schuschnigg that God had made him Führer of every man and woman of “German blood” and therefore demanded obedience from Schuschnigg, ordering him to sign a number of pledges. Of Hitler’s eleven points, Schuschnigg refused to sign eight, explaining that they were constitutional matters and needed the express cooperation of President Miklas.
The points he conceded were to place the Ministry of Security and of the Interior into Nazi hands; an unrestricted amnesty for all Nazi terrorists, and unquestioned membership of the Fatherland Front to any Nazis who wished to join. Schuschnigg agreed to hand the Interior Ministry to Seyss-Inquart, a Nazi mole Hitler pretended never to have heard of. In fact, he was the most dangerous and duplicitous of all of Schuschnigg’s supposed “friends”. In the end, he would become Chancellor upon Schuschnigg’s resignation and preside over the Terror against Jews and political resistance.
Schuschnigg thought he could outsmart Hitler by calling a plebiscite – and calling it at such short notice that Germany would not be in a position to interfere. The plebiscite was announced on 9 March to take place on the 13th. In addition Schuschnigg made the voting age 24, enraging Austrian Nazis who claimed that most of their members were younger. He brought back the Socialists, freeing them from prisons and proceeded to try and win their support for an independent Austria. Despite the Socialist hatred of Hitler, it was a deathbed conversion and it was not clear how many could be counted on. According to Gedye, the voices for unification with Germany were loud but marginal, and in Vienna, nearly non-existent. The crowds who turned out to greet Hiter were, according to Gedye, brought in from the provinces. It is an eye-witness acount I have never seen supported elsewhere.
Gedye returned to England to try and rally political support. Lord Halifax’s response was that the Chamberlain government was not in a position to calculate the potential outcome of the latest Hitler/Schuschnigg agreement and would not comment as to whether Austria was in danger of invasion. Hitler’s latest speech in the Reichstag was deemed “a friendly gesture towards England”. Gedye claims that the government was disingenuous in claiming that they could not comment without knowing the terms of the agreement, as the British Minister in Vienna had already provided the necessary information. Halifax dismissed subsequent German ultimatums as mere “agreements between Germany and Austria”. When Arthur Henderson, leader of the opposition pointed out that Austria had been confronted with an ultimatum that threatened her existence, the Tory benches shouted “No! No!” Henderson pressed Chamberlain again and asked if he had a statement to make regarding the Austrian plebiscite on March 13th. Chamberlain’s patrician response was “no” – he didn’t. Henderson then went on to ask if Chamberlain would at least express his hope that the plebiscite would be carried out without interference from a foreign power. Chamberlain remained silent and with that, Hitler was given the silent go-ahead and Austria was lost.
On the 11th of March all unmarried Austrian reservists were called to the borders. Germany delivered its first ultimatum at 10.00 stating that it would invade unless the plebiscite was called off. Schuschnigg had until 4 PM to cancel. The second ultimatum demanded Schuschnigg’s resignation as a means of avoiding invasion. Schuschnigg complied, though Miklas refused to accept a resignation made under foreign threat. A third ultimatum was delivered which demanded a cancellation of the plebiscite, the resignation of Schuschnigg, the appointment of a full Nazi cabinet and the appointment as chancellor of the duplicitous Seyss-Inquart. Miklas refused to accept the terms and was told that by 7.30 PM, 200,000 German troops would cross into Austria. Local Nazis stormed the Chancellry and held the ministers prisoners. Miklas continued to hold out. At 11 PM, Miklas apparently yielded and signed, though Gedye questions whether in fact, Miklas DID yield. Already at 8.20 PM the radio had announced Seyss-Inquart as Chancellor. Seyss-Inquart informed Austrians not to resist German troops that even now were crossing the borders. The Germans claimed that Seyss-Inquart had sent a telegram requesting German troops, though at no time was this ever proven. In any case, the first troops crossed the border around 9.00 PM, two hours before Seyss-Inquart was officially named as Chancellor.
But Gedye goes further and informs us that the German army was in fact not in a position to invade any country and for nearly 2 days following their “invasion”, tanks and armoured vehicles were stuck between Linz and Vienna because of mechanical faults or lack of petrol. When Gedye later asked British politicians asked why they or the French government did not instantly present Hitler with their own ultimatum to withdraw troops immediately of face aerial assaults on their out-of-petrol convoys, Gedye was told that it was a blessing that he (Gedye) was not in a position of authority.
Fallen Bastions is disturbing and the brutality Gedye reports, following Austria’s annexation, is in any case now well known. This already lengthy article was meant to shed light on the confusion surrounding Austria’s clerical fascist government between 1933 and 1938. Was it a bulwark against Nazism or merely its antechamber? History does not repeat itself, but it does offer lessons for the future. Much of what Europe went through in the mid-20th century is what the Middle East is going through now where we see murderous theocratic dictatorships in conflict with brutal regimes. The horrifying lesson to take – if there be any to learn – is that more blood will flow and wounds will remain open for decades to come.