Austrian women commit suicide as the Red Army approaches, 1945

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It was complicated.

There were some Austrians who believed themselves to be Austrian, a nationality separate from German, and who fiercely opposed the Nazis on nationalist grounds as well as political or ethical.

There were some Austrians who thought that they were ethnic Germans. Prior to 1871 (60 years before) there was no country called “Germany.” Prior to 1918 (20 years before), Austrians were called the ethnic German, regionally Austrian people, one of many peoples who lived throughout the empire and not always in concentrated areas (they are the red areas in [this map](http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Austria_Hungary_ethnic.svg)). Throughout the past 100 years there was an idea of uniting all ethnic Germans, and Prussia/Germany and the Austrian Empire tussled to be the ones to do it. Many Germans also thought this – it is why they didn’t have a big problem with Hitler being Austrian.

The “German people” people were themselves divided.

Some thought that it was the natural progression of things that all German lands should ultimately unite and so, while they may have had reservations about the actual politics, were OK with “national and ethnic unity.” Part of the deal originally was that Germany would take Austria into its polity, but wouldn’t interfere in domestic affairs. They promised this to avoid the opposition of these popele until they had power, then broke that promise.

There were some who thought they were ethnic Germans, but who still opposed Anschluss for political reasons. Austria had an active and contentious political environment without much room for the brown shirts. In a way, the Nazi helped this situation improve after the war because the Austrian parties fought so hard and hated each other so much, but when the Nazis came, they were all put into camps. There, the survivors got some perspective and have governed in assasination-free coalitions ever since.

Then there were the desperate people. Austria had a depression to make the US one look like a little dip (hyperinflation destroyed everything, people lost everything, for example my shoemaker great grandfather had few customers because no one had money for new shoes, so my grandfather and his little brother would collect forest strawberries every morning and then sell them to get money to buy the family’s bread, while my great grandmother’s life savings, originally enough to buy land and a house, was not enough to buy furniture for one room when she got married), they had a low-grade civil war, and in Germany, Hitler’s rise to power was accompanied by stability. In Austria he promised debt forgiveness and jobs. With that in mind, some people thought “hey, we’re all ethnic Germans and he’s making things better for ethnic Germans. Maybe this will be OK.”

Then there some real, true believing Nazis, although not as many in terms of percentage as in Germany. Membership increased to about 10% of the country following propaganda efforts and requiring membership for professional advancement, but there went that many at the time of the Anschluss.

The real breakdown of who felt what when is hard to say – prior to the Anschluss politics were contentious but not as polarized or violent as in Germany. Jews were viewed as an “other,” but everyone was viewed through their ethnic group as a legacy of the Empire. For example, my Oma has memories of being small and being questioned why she didn’t like marmalade by a Jewish houseguest because “you Germans all love marmalade.” At the same time, her aunt married a man from Prague but no one considered him a foreigner because he was ethnically “German.” Many people knew that the current political and social situation was untenable, but they differed greatly on how to fix it.

Once the Nazis took over they instantly started a major propaganda and education campaign. It was successful to some extent, but I can’t say to what, as no statistically valid polls were taken that I know of and publicly criticizing it was very dangerous. My grandmother said people liked it though – a lot of people, especially farmers, had crushing debts and they didn’t have to pay them. They also like hearing that the problems weren’t their fault, that society couldn’t have fallen apart that quickly without some conspiracy, in this case by the Jews (not part of the German ethnic group and therefore viewed as loyal to Jews Worldwide first instead of the ethnicity-based larger group that was now Austria) and Communists (internationalists who rejected looking after their own people/ethnic group because they were blinded by rabid fanaticism, who caused the bloddy Russian Civil War, who killed [Dollfuß](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engelbert_Dollfuss#Assassination), who killed the hostages in the [Bavarian Soviet Republic](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bavarian_Soviet_Republic) etc!!!!!). My Oma remembers having to cut out the pages in her school book that dealt with those topics and paste in the new Nazi-approved version of events. In her case she said this made her lose faith in all authority, that since what she was told were facts weren’t actually verified, unchangeable, facts. But she is a pretty tough and independent person.

There was a referendum on the Anschluss, with a giant **JA** and a little nein on the ballot, but it wasn’t exactly held under free and fair conditions.

My grandparents were too young to have real opinions at the time, but my grandmother remembers her mother expressing opinions along the lines of, well, they are here so hopefully they can help fix this mess. She lived in the mountains, couldn’t afford their own radio, and really wasn’t sure what would happen next.

A year after that that same great grandmother was in trouble for being overheard calling Hitler “shit Hitler,” but by then everything was very different and it was too late. The Anschluss and how horrible it all went down played a strong role in defining modern Austrian national consciousness.

**Edit: Wow, My first Reddit Gold!! Thank you, most gracious gtwy!**

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