Austrian Federal Chancellery (03/17/2008)
On March 12, 1938, German troops crossed over the borders into Austria thereby annexing Austria to Hitler Germany. Under the pressure of a German ultimatum, Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg had already resigned on the eve of the event. On March 15, 2008, Hitler delivered his notorious speech to a cheering crowd of 250,000 people at Vienna’s Heldenplatz and announced that the “Ostmark” (Eastern areas to be taken over by Germany, i.e. Austria) would become part of the German Reich. The invasion of German troops marked the beginning of an unprecedented terror implemented against all Jews and dissidents. Based on estimates, no less than 70,000 to 80,000 people were arrested during the first six months.
On March 12, 2008, leaders of the Second Republic commemorated the events of 70 years ago in the historic Grand Hall of the Reichsrat in Parliament and agreed upon the historical analysis that Austrians were both victims and perpetrators of the NS regime. Numerous speakers also emphasized the context of today’s history and the current atmosphere of the coalition government. The events which took place during the two World Wars should be viewed as a warning for today’s generations.
Chancellor Gusenbauer reminded the audience that the annexation, NS dictatorship and the loss of Austria’s sovereignty had been a prelude to World War II, involving persecution, exploitation as well as misery for millions of people. The head of government warned against fighting “political duels” as well as “lacking tolerance and readiness for dialogue.” It was “internal disintegration“ and “political failure“ during the First Republic that had led to the “Ständestaat” (corporative state) and finally surrender to the Nazis. “Dark phases of our history have shown where the use of offensive language can lead to,” said Gusenbauer, admitting that in the past few months, “words” had not been selected very carefully. One should be more careful so as not to undermine the credibility of politics, warned the Chancellor. President Heinz Fischer demanded that Austria address history and come to terms with it. Austria had been a victim of Nazi “military aggression“ under international law, but this had been facilitated by a “considerable number of fanatic National Socialists” in Austria. Fischer asked that in the political arena “more energy be used for constructive work.”