THE tremendous events which have taken place since 1939 make what happened before the war seem dim and faraway. The spread of the terrorist Nazi power until it became a world menace; the downfall of that power; the Armistice and the ensuing conferences; and now the difficult explorations of a new world policy -- these pages of history fill our minds. In comparison, the details of earlier events seem obscure and relatively unimportant. Many people have come to accept the idea that Austria is just a small appendage to the so-called "Greater Reich," forgetting their own indignation when the Nazis first asserted that idea. If, somehow, the defeat of Hitler had occurred in 1940, how eager the world would have been to separate Austria from Germany, how widely her claim to sympathy would have been recognized!

It is possible to understand the fate of Austria only if we look back to the days preceding the armed invasion of the Nazis. As soon as Hitler could consider his military power well established, he issued the command to attack Austria. Determined on a war of aggression to extend German power over Europe, he knew that the conquest of Austria must be his first goal. His objectives were strategic -- to lean on the Alpine ridge for support in protecting his flanks, and to encircle Czechoslovakia.

Hitler had made a concealed attack on Austria as early as the winter of 1933-34. Numerous disguised packages were sent across the border containing explosives, hand grenades and illegal Nazi leaflets. All over the country Nazi emissaries dynamited high-tension wires, water mains and telephone cables. That first attack was thwarted by the alertness of the Austrian authorities. But the danger made it necessary for the Austrian Government to assume emergency powers and temporarily to limit certain civil rights. To justify such measures, the two large political parties in Austria (the Christian-Social Party and the Social-Democratic Party) should have united. That would have placed the procedure on a democratic basis. Only so could Austria have hoped to hold out until the day when a coalition of free nations might be prepared to meet Hitler fully armed. Unfortunately, such a common front in Austria could not be achieved.

In the summer of 1934, with the aid of the Germans, the Austrian Nazis made an armed attack. They were put down with casualties; and there were many victims, too, on the loyal Austrian side. A little later, Germany started her policy of economic aggression. At the same time, Hitler sent the conciliatory Herr von Papen as emissary to Austria in order to delude the Austrian people regarding his real objectives. In spite of all this pressure, Austria managed to hold out for four years. On March 11, 1938, an ultimatum forced her to surrender. At the eleventh hour she tried to obtain the intervention of the Great Powers. It was in vain, as was Czechoslovakia's effort to secure military aid a year later.

These summary notes on prewar history are not set down to try to give the impression that there were no Nazis in Austria. Today, on the basis of membership cards of the so-called "illegal" Nazis (i.e. registered Nazis prior to the Austrian annexation), we are fairly certain that there were about 80,000 of them. The Austrian Nazis were characterized by exceptional fanaticism, the root of which probably lay in the fact that up to the time when Hitler seized power they were a dwindling and despised minority. Besides these active Nazis, there were also a certain number of sympathizers who, as in any country, manage to adjust their political convictions in accordance with what they regard as the probable trend of events. This fifth column agitated against Austria. The vast majority of Austrians, however, were loyal. They abhorred the imperialist, warmongering intentions and machinations of the Nazis, and wished for nothing more fervently than to be allowed to live in peace and quiet in their beautiful alpine country.

Austrians are often accused of not having prolonged their resistance with sufficient vigor after Hitler's invasion. Those who bring the charge should think back to 1938. Today everyone knows the weaknesses as well as the terrors of the Nazi régime. But in those days, when a mighty lawless Power was rising amidst a disorganized world; when it began to spread havoc and terror in ruthless ways never witnessed before; when the doors of the jails were opened wide and crowds of radical desperadoes were let loose; when an utterly unprepared people found themselves subjected to the methodical cruelty of the Gestapo; under such conditions, it is understandable that many tried to save themselves in sheer panic. Civil servants for years had remained loyal and had coöperated in resisting the Nazi minority. Suddenly, they saw those Nazis possessed of unlimited power. Many a breadwinner, foreseeing starvation for himself and his family, chose as an alternative to become a Nazi on paper. That may be counted against his moral fortitude, but it can scarcely be considered a crime.

To recall the tragic nature of the situation into which the Austrian state was plunged is not, of course, to suggest for a moment that the Austrian people should cease their present clean-up of Nazi gangsters and profiteers. This is not easy, since the principles of a rule of law must be upheld; guilt must be proven by orderly legal procedure, if the world is to hope eventually to eradicate the Nazi poison. The process of purification is being carried through despite the dearth of trained administrative personnel. This or that individual may so far have managed to elude the authorities; but in time he will surely be apprehended.

The courage shown by Chancellor Schuschnigg in March 1938 is, ironically enough, responsible in part for the criticism levelled against Austria on the ground that she did not organize a sufficiently strenuous resistance movement. Schuschnigg, resolved to share the bitter fate awaiting the Austrian people, and especially the members of the anti-Nazi organizations, simply waited in his office for the arrival of the Gestapo officers. As a result, the opportunity to form an Austrian Government-in-Exile was missed.

There was an Austrian resistance movement. Unfortunately, it lacked a mouthpiece abroad, and the fact of its existence is little known. The beginnings of the movement date back to 1938, when the dissolved Austrian Catholic and labor organizations went underground, though still maintaining their contacts. With the outbreak of war, and all through the war, the activities of this resistance group increased. As early as 1938, more than 70,000 Austrians were in concentration camps, and thousands went to the scaffold for their opposition to the Nazis. It must be borne in mind, moreover, that it was particularly difficult to build up an organized resistance movement in a country where the language was the same as that of the Nazi conquerors, where there were native spies, and where basic training was being given to many German military divisions. I was among those who organized the resistance movement, and I could tell a long and sorry tale of how difficult it was to counteract Gestapo activities. Our greatest handicap was that Austrian youth was missing from our ranks. Hitler had no scruple about pressing Austrian young men into service in his armies, where they were subjected to the Prussian drill system and transformed into military automatons.

Austria's geographic position meant that she was the last country reached by the liberating armies. The instant that open fighting was possible, however, the Austrian resistance movement took up arms. In the province of Tyrol, the resisters overpowered the German military command, captured two generals, and gave every possible assistance to the 7th United States Army when it marched in. The official report of the 103rd Infantry Division praised these accomplishments of the resistance group. It noted that not since the liberation of Paris had American troops received such a rousing welcome as they did at Innsbruck, the first of the larger Austrian cities which they entered.


Considering these historical facts, any decision placing on Austria joint responsibility for Hitler's war would surely be contrary to justice. And not only would it be unjust; it would prove to be a great practical mistake. The events of the past ten years should have made clear that the desire of the Austrian people for liberty and independence is an element that can be used for the stabilization of Europe. To weaken their spirit of independence by lumping their country with Germany would handicap the effort to establish a new order in Europe by peaceful means.

The will to independence of little Austria is deeply rooted in the past. Students of history know that as early as the fourteenth century free peasants were living in the Alpine countries; they had a right to name representatives to the Diet. On the other hand, the de facto abolition of slavery did not occur in many parts of Germany until the nineteenth century. Under the leadership of Prussia, Germany became a militarist state, sealed off against other countries. Many of Germany's liberty-loving elements emigrated year after year, to escape German police rule. In the year 1848, especially, a stream of Germans, determined to seek their freedom, turned their backs on their fatherland and settled in the United States. In Austria, on the other hand, militarism never played a leading rôle. The officers of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire were recruited from 13 nationalities, most of them spoke a number of languages, and their training was directed toward promoting understanding among these several peoples. The amalgamation of many nationalities in one state developed a spirit of national tolerance and led to the rejection of racial theories. It was not mere chance that Hitler was unable to assert himself in Austria. The Austrian mentality filled him with hatred, as his book "Mein Kampf" made plain.

Proponents of a peaceful new order should utilize these elements of the Austrian mind. Stable conditions cannot be created in Central Europe without strengthening Austrian democracy. So far, however, Allied policy has not always been calculated to do this. At Moscow, the Great Powers decided to reëstablish Austria as a free and independent country. But the treatment actually meted out to her varies considerably from that accorded such really free countries as Belgium, Holland or Czechoslovakia, and more nearly resembles that given vanquished Germany. Indeed, the economic consequences of the occupation are more oppressive in Austria than in Germany.

There is nothing more demoralizing for a nation than uncertainty concerning its future. The fact that Austria's internal political troubles threaten to become worse serves only the ends of extremist elements. These troubles are rooted in the four-Power occupation which drags on from month to month.

Austria's special position cannot have been understood at Potsdam when it was decided that German property in Austria should serve indiscriminately as reparations. After all, there are two distinct categories of German property in Austria; there is bona fide German property, owned by Germans before the Nazis seized the country; and there is the property which was forcibly Germanized during the Nazi rule. Surely the Austrian Government has the right to decide whether agreements entered into during the Nazi tenure are legally binding. Are we to assume that it was the intent of the Potsdam Agreement to perpetuate the injustices perpetrated by Hitler?

Perhaps it is not clear to everyone just how important this question is for the future of Austria. It must be remembered that the Nazis destroyed every vestige of an independent Austrian administration and forced almost every sizable Austrian enterprise into some German concern. This was a political as well as an economic objective of the Nazis. Attempts are now being made to give such a sweeping interpretation to the Potsdam Agreement that a considerable part of former Austrian properties would be taken over by foreign Powers. If that came to pass, little would be felt of an independent Austrian nation. The simple and obvious solution is a joint declaration by the four Powers defining German property. Austrian property seized by the Nazis must be restored before reparations payments are made. We Austrians are sorry that, up to the present, one of the four Powers has refused to coöperate in reaching this solution.

The question of German property in Austria has been further complicated by the Austrian nationalization law. Based upon the election platforms of the three political parties, the Austrian Parliament passed a law nationalizing 71 major enterprises. The Soviet High Command protested this law, though the Allied Control Council as such did not join in the protest. The Soviet view is based on the assertion that, in accordance with the terms of the Control Agreement, the property which the Soviet Union claims as her due cannot be made the subject of Austrian governmental measures, and that such measures can be enacted only with the consent of the Allied Control Council. Since Austria is divided into zones administered by the four Powers (as in Germany), the Austrian nationalization law cannot be executed because a zone commander prohibits it. Some Austrian Government commissioners have been sentenced to several years' imprisonment at forced labor for disobeying the Soviet veto.

Government by zones may have merits in a large country, where each zone can function after a fashion as an economic unit. For Austria, however, such government spells complete paralysis. Zonal government was established in Austria on the assumption that a central authority for the whole country would be created. But, in practice, each of the four zones is treated in a different manner. The disagreement of the Powers on important matters, the almost complete freedom of the zone commanders from control by the Allied Council, and the veto power which each zone commander can exercise, have together destroyed the original assumption and have started the disintegration of Austria.

If irreparable damage is to be avoided, the whole Austrian territory must be consolidated. For more than two years now Austria has been waiting patiently and hopefully for her new political status. It is not surprising that the people are beginning to doubt the world's good will. At times, rumors are heard that the Great Powers intend to dismember the country. The rumors have received little credence in authoritative circles, for if there were any truth in them it would mean that the U.S.S.R. and the western Powers had given up any hope of reaching a peaceful solution to their differences. In that event, which God forbid, the zones in Austria would take on military importance indeed. The division would be the signal for increased armaments everywhere and a death sentence to world peace.


Termination of the occupation will free dormant Austrian energy. Once external restraints no longer prevent Austria from organizing her production and arranging for normal exchanges with other nations, it will quickly become apparent that she may be counted upon as a reliable member of the international peace-loving community.

There are sufficient grounds for believing that Austria can look forward with confidence to a satisfactory economic future. She has many assets. For one thing, she has natural beauties and a people who are friendly and hospitable toward visitors and who easily make them feel at home. This means an excellent basis exists for an extensive tourist traffic in Austria. The country also has important water power, its own steel industry, great lumber reserves and considerable sources of oil. We therefore do not worry about our economic future. This represents a considerable change since the period after the last war. The Austrian people are now firmly convinced that they possess the bases for real economic stability. This is the more the case since they do not have any aspirations to become a Great Power and do not want to undertake to build up an expensive military machine. All they want is to live a peaceful life.

The Austrian export statistics of 1937 furnish proof of the assertion that it is necessary for Austria to have an opportunity to trade with many countries. In that year, she sent 27.7 percent of her exports to the Balkans; 7.2 percent to Czechoslovakia; 36.1 percent to the west, to the Near East and overseas; 14.8 percent to Germany; and 14.2 percent to Italy. These figures prove that one of the basic conditions for a sound Austrian economy is that she shall be able to trade freely with all countries.

Austria has no imperialist tendencies. There can be no better proof of this than the Austro-Italian agreement reached during the Paris Conference. It showed that the Austrian people are prepared to make considerable sacrifices for the maintenance of harmony with their neighbors. The regulation of the status of the South Tyroleans which was worked out at Paris is intended to give them an assured existence, appropriate to their ethnic individuality, within the Italian state. The resulting increase in mutual confidence between Italy and Austria ought to promote their exchange of goods, which for so long has been artificially prevented.

As for the question of the so-called southern demarcation line of Carinthia -- this is not a territorial problem. The Carinthians have already, in a free election held under international supervision, signified their wish to remain a part of Austria.

Of Germany we ask nothing more than that she leave us in peace to our free and independent development. Even the brief sketch of our experience which I have given above will make clear to everyone, I hope, that the Austrian people, like all the other peoples of the world, are interested in preventing any resurgence of German imperialism. Should that force ever again be unleashed, its first goal would be the conquest of Austria. Austria cannot possibly achieve security through attaching this or that mountain ridge to her domain; her safety depends upon the establishment in Germany of a system that will prevent preparations for aggression, and an international guarantee that this system will be enforced.


Austria's most important problem is the internal one of organization, and the creation of conditions which will make organization possible. The first precondition is, of course, the ending of the occupation. The second is that the title to all Austrian economic resources on which doubt has been cast by the Potsdam resolutions concerning so-called German property shall be clarified by an international agreement. In June 1946 there was published a new Control Council agreement which, it was hoped, would overcome the zonal divisions. These hopes were not fulfilled because -- as should have been foreseen -- the power of the zone commanders remains unlimited. Everything still depends upon a real agreement among the Powers. Any attempt to overcome the present difficulties by further improvements in the technique of the Control Council would be useless. Unification of the territory of Austria will not be possible until the occupation is ended.

Austria always felt that the significance of her particular problem was realized too late. In the settlement made in regard to Austria lies the answer to whether or not the Powers are prepared to relinquish their special positions in favor of the common goals of peace. It was proclaimed at Moscow that Austria was to be a free country; but the reality proved to be something very different. What really was established was an occupied country, equipped with a government exercising only sham sovereignty. Such confused conditions are a source of endless international friction, especially because of the important geographical position occupied by Austria. The truth is that Austria today is even worse off than the former German satellites. And if Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania are evacuated, and new life begins to course through their veins as a result of the peace treaties, while Austria is still caught fast in the ice of foreign control, the Austrian people will indeed feel that they have been dealt with unjustly. The consequence might be an internal upheaval.

It is therefore urgent that the necessary measures be taken before an internal political overturn further confuses the situation. It is said by some critics of Austria that so-called "progressive" factions do not have sufficient influence in the operation of the Austrian state. But nothing bars the access which these elements possess to the Austrian voter. No restraints are placed upon their often very radical propaganda. In spite of a troubled past, the parties representing the large masses of the country, especially the People's Party and the Socialists, are coöperating closely. They represent more than 90 percent of the Austrian population. They respect each other, and both stand unequivocally for a democratic constitution and a democratic order. Under the leadership of Leopold Figl, the People's Party has shown its confidence in the Socialists by entrusting to their representatives the important posts of President of Austria and Minister for the Interior, the latter post so vital for the country's security.

One last word concerning the integration of Austria into a peaceful European order. The thought of closer coöperation between the Danubian states is attractive and deserves the closest attention; but there are many prerequisites to such integration. A compact among the Danubian countries would bring strongly armed nations into close contact with countries which are disarmed. Completely nationalized systems would compete with free economies. And it must be noted also that some of the Danubian states have alliances, while others do not. It is quite clear that the United Nations will have to provide for mutual security among the Danubian nations before the way is open for any system of especially close coöperation among them. But the absence of this will not prevent Austria from seeking the best trade relations possible with all countries. It must be her aim to find the proper balance between diverse export trade theories.

Unconditional support of the United Nations will be the basic principle of Austrian policy. Austria regards this universal system as the sole guarantee of her existence as a state. Strength for the new order in this part of Europe will not come from alliances between Austria and neighboring states; in the critical period ahead, they will lack the inner strength to make a positive contribution to the peace of the world. The necessary strength must be found in the United Nations.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now