As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication to the Chicago Sun-Times:
On the morning of March 12, 1938, Chicagoans across the city woke up to find they had to throw away their maps and globes. Overnight, Austria, the small European country, had been wiped off the map, the first to be annexed by Nazi Germany.
The news engulfed the front page of the Chicago Daily News under a headline that read, “Austria is Ours, Says Hitler.” The day’s paper included several dispatches from reporters in Europe, bulletins from the Associated Press and an editorial wondering what the fate of Austria might mean for the rest of the world.
The Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in 1919 after the end of World War I the previous year, prevented Germany and Austria from unifying, but German leader Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party violated several aspects of the treaty and received little, if any, pushback from Britain or France, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia. Hitler reinstated military conscription in 1935 and sent German armed forces the following year to the demilitarized Rhineland on the borders of France and Belgium, violating the 1927 Treaty of Locarno. In Germany, the annexation of Austria seemed like a natural progression.
In Berlin, Foreign Service journalist Wallace R. Deuel witnessed first-hand the reaction of Germans and other Europeans.
“Europe shook today with the kicking of marching troops and no one could tell where the march would end,” he wrote for the March 12 edition of the newspaper. “Preceded by warplanes roaring ahead, German infantry, tanks and other army formations, together with selected SS units, began crossing Austria’s borders at 5:30 a.m. this morning – at the urgent request of an Austrian Provisional Government, itself headed by Hitler’s own man, Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart.
A crowd of several thousand people gathered in the late morning outside Wilhelmstrasse, a major thoroughfare in the German capital, “many of them delirious with pride and joy”, observed Deuel. Some women were sobbing with happiness.
Another Foreign Service correspondent, John T. Whitaker, saw the German army take control of the eastern city of Innsbruck, just south of the German border.
“With slow but machine-like precision, a thin column of camouflaged trucks with their machine guns and anti-tank guns raced down the valley and behind them echoed the sound of German boots on the Austrian asphalt”, he writes.
Along the route, men and women came out of their homes to watch the procession, Whitaker said. Swastika flags, many of which were just distributed by the Nazis, began to fly and observers began to raise their hands in a Nazi salute.
A front-page AP bulletin detailed Hitler’s “wild greetings” from thousands of Austrians upon his arrival in Linz. Crowds in the Austrian city “went into a passionate ecstasy” as the Chancellor got out of his car and addressed the crowd from the balcony of City Hall.
“We must now prove to the world that further attempts to separate from this united people will be useless,” Hitler told the crowd, before adding, “It will be your duty and that of Germany to contribute to this future.” Today you saw German soldiers entering, ready to fight for the unity of Pan-Germany, for its freedom, for the greatness of Germany, Sieg, heil! »
Back in Chicago, the newspaper’s editorial board warns readers of an impending war.
“Whether this swift and ruthless subjugation of Austria by Germany will prove to be the match that will ignite the powder keg on which European peace is built, no one can say for sure,” the editorial said. . “That it is the precursor of other events of the same nature, which will exert repeated and intensified pressure on European peace, is certain. That these tensions will eventually break this peace, ushering in another European war, is the conviction of all chancelleries abroad.
The United States, the editorial insisted, must re-evaluate its treaties and begin building up its forces immediately.
The annexation of Austria did not turn out to be the “game” expected by the newspaper. This event did not occur until September 1939, when the German army invaded Poland, ultimately prompting Britain and France to declare war and start World War II.
Several reports of the day described the annexation as “bloodless”, but it will not remain so. Within months, the country’s new regime ordered the closure of Jewish businesses and synagogues and those that did not burn later on November 1938’s Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), according to the Holocaust Museum encyclopedia. Thousands of Jewish Austrians would be sent to concentration camps.