The annexation of Austria in 1938

Photograph: Annexation of Austria
German and Austrian border officials lower a barrier on 15 March 1938
Federal Archive, image no. 137-049278 © Scherl / Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo

The annexation of Austria in 1938

Es ist aus. (…) Die Welt ist eine riesige Mausefalle für diejenigen, die das Gute wollen. Und wir haben nicht die Kraft, alle miteinander, die zugeschlagene Tür zu öffnen, die uns in die Freiheit führt.

[It is over. (...) The world is a giant mousetrap for everyone who believes in good. And we don’t have the collective strength to open the door that has now slammed shut on our freedom. (ed. trans.)]

Lili Körber in her novel Eine Österreicherin erlebt den Anschluss (An Austrian experiences the Anschluss), 1938

After Adolf Hitler forced the Austrian Federal Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to step down on 11 March 1938 and German troops marched into the country the following day, Austria ceased to be an independent state, instead becoming part of the German Reich. These events were the culmination of a longer-term development that had begun in 1934 with the establishment of a fascist “corporate state” (“Ständestaat”) in Austria. Though a handful of artists had already left the country after this event – people such as Stefan Zweig and Oskar Maria Graf, the latter of whom had previously already fled from Germany – the majority had stayed. Stefan Zweig, who visited Austria one last time in 1937, later remembered the dismissive attitude of many friends when he drew their attention to the looming dangers: “(…) ich verstand sie nicht mehr und konnte mich ihnen nicht verständlich machen, nach dem zweiten Tag warnte ich niemanden mehr.“ [“(...) I no longer understood them and could not make them understand me; after the second day, I ceased to warn anyone.” (ed. trans.)] (Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday (Die Welt von gestern), 1942)

Many artists fled Austria around 12 March 1938 or in the weeks that followed, or did not return there after travelling abroad; these included Ulrich Becher, Richard A. Bermann, Gottfried Bermann-Fischer, Elisabeth Castonier, Gina Kaus, Lili Körber, Soma Morgenstern, Hertha Pauli, Leo Perutz, Carl Rabus, Alma Mahler-Werfel, Bruno Walter, Walter Mehring, Franz Werfel and Carl Zuckmayer. For those that had previously fled to Austria from Germany after 1933, this was already their second flight.

The changed situation in Austria also had profound effects on exiled German-speaking writers in other countries: following the annexation of Austria, a significant proportion of the market for German-language exile publications disappeared. It therefore became ever less attractive for exile publishers to print books in German.

Further reading:
Manfred Flügge: Stadt ohne Seele. Wien 1938. Berlin: Aufbau 2018