For whom did Austria fight in World War II?

Second World WarAustria under the swastika

"At this hour the German people in Austria rose with a wonderful momentum and professed their Germanness. A jubilation, such as the world has perhaps never experienced, rages through German Austria today."

What Hermann Göring proclaimed with a solemn, hysterical tremolo in his voice was not even an exaggeration. When Adolf Hitler crossed the Austrian border in an open Mercedes limousine near Braunau am Inn on March 12, 1938 and rolled in triumph towards Linz - the streets lined with hooting people - he was welcomed like a savior:

"The Fiihrer is received with tremendous enthusiasm!"

"Euphoria and Panic" - this is the title Kurt Bauer uses to head the first chapter of his book, in which he deals with the "Anschluss" and its history.

"There is the often-quoted saying of a farm servant from the Salzkammergut who said in a memorial conversation: 'Hitler came like a god for the little people. He appeared to us like a god in 1938.'"

After carefully studying the sources, Kurt Bauer is convinced that the overwhelming number of Austrians two or three days before the German troops marched in, were critical of Hitler. Only the momentum of March 11th and 12th - and the mass ecstasy sparked by the triumphal procession of the "Führer" - brought about the change.

Mass euphoria in the spring of 1938

"There was this announcement of the referendum by Schuschnigg. And there are estimates by people who made forecasts at the time - for example the National Socialist Seyss-Inquart - who assume that this vote initiated by Schuschnigg with a two-thirds approval Austria would have started out. Of course, it was also heavily manipulated - which the Nazis also did later - but one must assume that the mood of the masses changed radically on March 11th. "

In a haunting and incredibly vivid way, Kurt Bauer describes the "seven dark years" which, after an ecstatically charged overture, brought immeasurable human suffering to Austria.

The Viennese historian relies on previously unpublished autobiographies, diaries and letters from so-called "little people"; among them are National Socialists and Christian Socialists, Social Democrats, Communists and apolitical people. A devout Catholic peasant farmer from East Tyrol has his say as well as a hundred and fifty percent Nazi and a Jewish nurse from Vienna who miraculously escaped the horrors of the Holocaust. The mass euphoria of spring '38, diagnosed Kurt Bauer, was - as is the case with euphorias - not of long duration:

"The enthusiasm then subsided fairly quickly again in the course of 1938. The reason: the danger of war, which became clearly apparent in the autumn of 1938."

Fear of war

Even devout Hitler supporters, provided they were beyond their teenage years, clearly remembered the horrors of World War I, the lack of fuel, cold, hunger, deprivation of all kinds and endless lists of dead in 1938/39.

"The people were afraid of the war. They hoped and expected everything possible from Hitler, but they didn't want that: a war. It was by no means the case that there was an outbreak of mass enthusiasm because of the war, as was the case in 1914."

Kurt Bauer clearly shows in his book: The enthusiasm for National Socialism gradually waned in the course of the Second World War.

"The real deal comes with Stalingrad. I think most of them realized then that the war will hit back on those who started it."

Explainable number of victims

Kurt Bauer has already acquired a reputation for being an ideologically unbiased historian who is strictly oriented towards the sources and with his earlier publications. The 57-year-old likes to question politically motivated certainties - regardless of whether they come from the left or the right. Even in his most recent work, Bauer remains true to this line.

So he also subjects the numbers killed in World War II to a critical inventory:

"The German historian Rüdiger Overmans already dealt with the dead of the Wehrmacht in a study in 1999. The figures that Overmans determined look like this: 31 percent of soldiers who were drafted from the areas of today's Federal Republic are in the world war The proportion was only 19 percent among Austrians. That is of course a significant difference, and one has to wonder what the reason is. "

Kurt Bauer presents various explanatory approaches for discussion in his book:

"The reason must lie somewhere in the motivation. One can ask oneself whether there was a loyalty deficit among the Austrians, whether the Austrians were less happy to die for Hitler in the war than German soldiers did."

As interesting as the individual questions and theses that Bauer discusses in his work are, "The Dark Years" is essentially a narrative non-fiction book that also covers the time of National Socialism in the "Alpine and Danube meadows" for a broad, Bringing historically less educated audiences to life. An exciting, enlightening book in the best sense of the word.

Kurt Bauer: "The Dark Years - Politics and Everyday Life in National Socialist Austria"
Fischer Verlag, 480 pages, 16.99 euros.