To my grandfather Armin, who I never met, but from whom I inherited a watch


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On April 7th , the “laws for the reestablishment of the civil service” barred Jews from holding civil service, university and state positions. On May 10th , books written by Jews and political dissidents were burnt. On July 14th , Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe were stripped of the German citizenship. All over Germany, as you walked into many villages, restaurants and hotels, you could read banners proclaiming: “We don’t want Jews here”.

The reactions in the Italian press were mostly of condemnation for the Nazis’ antisemitic policy and for racism in general.

On the 9th of February 1934, the Congregation of the Holy Office condemned Rosenberg’s works, although it stigmatized the anti-Christian nature of Nazi racism more than its antisemitism.

The Italian government’s attitude reflected Mussolini’s wavering policy. On one hand the Duce didn’t want to ruin his relations with the Führer, on the other hand he wished to play the role of the mediator before the international Jewish organisations. When the nazi party published its anti-Jewish proclamation on 29th March 1933, Mussolini charged the Italian ambassador, Vittorio Cerruti, to give Hitler a personal message in which, with the due caution, amongst other things, he wrote:
I think that the government should request the party not to put its proclamation into practice […] Every regime has, not only the right, but the duty to remove from leading positions those individuals who are not completely reliable, but in order to achieve this it is not necessary, and it may in fact be harmful, to transpose in terms of race – semitism and Arianism – what is instead a simple measure of defence and development of a revolution.

Hitler’s reaction was so angry that it convinced Mussolini to give up his attempted mediation and to inform the Germans that he was ready, if asked, to order the Italian delegations abroad to belie the “inaccurate rumours” concerning persecutions against Jews in Germany and other acts of violence, that is to deny the evidence of the facts.

The Italian and foreign Jews living in our country, including my relatives, still believed they were safe. Surprisingly, many victims of persecution in Germany sought shelter in Italy: amongst them was Ludwig Cohn, the son of Regina Uiberall, Henriette’s elder sister.

After the traditional schooling in Classical studies and languages, Ludwig became an author and was principally a Goethe scholar, with a significant knowledge of Italian culture and literature. His life choices were very similar to my father’s: in 1904, following a common assimilationist trend, he changed his surname from “Cohn” to “Gorm”. In 1915 he converted to the Protestant religion and published several works, mostly dwelling on the theme of Calvinism.

In 1922 Ludwig married Hertha Worms, a German Jewish photographer, and had one daughter, Marianne, born in Munich four years later. Due to his Jewish origins, he was banned by the Nazis from publishing in Germany and moved with his family to Italy in December 1933. Ludwig settled in Bologna where he worked with professor Bianchi of Bologna University and held the diplomatic post of Austrian Honorary Consul.

After Mussolini’s “Pact of Steel” he had to escape again, heading for Namibia (South-West Africa) and later for South Africa, where he worked in Allied military intelligence, probably translating German cipher signals, especially from U-Boats. After the war, he moved to England in 1950s with Hertha and died in 1967 in London. I don’t know anything about Ludwig ever meeting his cousin Ernst or other relatives in Milan.
On 30 November 1934 Elena and Ernst received from Vienna the sad news of their father Armin Rosenbaum’s death.


Vienna, postwar.

At the end of the war Emmy was twenty-two and had physically changed to the extent that her father, after two years’ separation, had not recognised her photograph. She was a beautiful girl, with a slim body and an intense expression. There is a story going about in our family that Ernst, after his return from the front, had once pursued a pair of beautiful legs around the centre of Vienna for a long time before realizing they belonged to his sister.

Her calling for art had been frustrated because her mother forbade her to attend a drama school; instead, she had been allowed to attend, along with Elena, a nursing course, and to assist the wounded soldiers returning from the front. She got over her disappointment playing the guitar and writing wonderful stories and endless letters to her relatives.

One and a half years after her elder sister, Emmy too found her twin soul, in a socially and culturally higher milieu, but still within the limits of Vienna’s Jewish community, albeit secularized and assimilated into Austrian society.

Her partner was called Georg Mahler and was third cousin of the famous musician Gustav Mahler. They shared a great-great-grandfather, Abraham Mahler, born around 1720.

Georg’s father, Ludwig Mahler, was an extraordinary polyglot, and a translator by profession. To complicate the family-tree even more, he had married twice: Georg was the son of his first wife, Hermine Fischer. The conductor Fritz Mahler would be born from Ludwig’s second marriage with Agnes Schuschury,, in confirmation of the extraordinary artistic flair which ran in the family.

Georg Mahler was four years older than Emmy and had graduated in engineering at an early age. During the war, like many other engineers, he was trained as a pilot. His first missions were bloodless: every day he would take off with his biplane to inspect the enemy territory. In reality,

the pilots of the opposing armies would meet in a field, safe from prying eyes, drinking and playing cards together. When it was time to fly back to their bases, they would exchange enough information to make their respective headquarters believe they had been flying all day long.

The aircrafts available to the pilots were not faultless and, even without being shot down by the enemy, accidents were fairly frequent. Georg too crashed to the ground with his biplane without suffering serious physical consequences, but his airplane was destroyed and he was degraded for a while.

After this chivalrous and somewhat farcical stage, air war became a serious matter and Georg made himself conspicuous on several occasions. Like Bernardo, at the end of the conflict he was awarded many decorations, amongst which the Turkish Star and Crescent, which the Sultan (an ally of Austria) granted him for organising their network of air communications.

Georg and Emmy got married at the Vienna town-hall on the 10th of October 1921. Unlike Elena, Emmy chose civil marriage, since both husband and wife declared to be konfessionlos, and left her father’s house straight after marrying. The couple’s first abode was Glotzgasse 4, in the 19th district.

On the 17th of May 1924 their first daughter, Felizitas (Lizzy) was born and immediately became the family’s darling. A few moths later, Georg accepted a managing job at the Bobbin factory and moved with his family to Gmünd, in the Waldviertel, on the borders of the Czech republic, half way between Vienna and Prague.

Gmünd owes its name to its location at the confluence (Gemünde) of the rivers Lainsitz and Braunau. In 1869 the construction of the railway (Franz-Josefs-Bahn) shook it out of its age-old indolence, connecting it with Vienna and Prague; several industries associated with stone-, wood- and glass-processing and a few textile factories were built.

Bobbin, which dealt with wood working and turning, was at the end of the twenties the biggest industry in Gmünd and employed dozens of workers.

Georg Mahler, director and small shareholder of the firm, had reached an enviable position, which allowed him and his wife to think of the years to come with optimism. After their move to the Waldviertel, in 1927, Emmy gave birth to Peter, followed by Heinz after another five years.

Their home was the centre of their affection. It was located at walking distance from the factory, and Emmy described it lyrically in her diary which, together with the memories of my three cousins, is my main source of information about the events. Her daughter Lizzy translated it into English many years later and from now on I will be quoting from it:

Children, do you remember our house in Gmünd? It was one-storied and built all wrong. The hall is a little tube, there is hardly room for the mirror nor the little table in front of it, nor for my large pantry, which I renamed library, and which I proudly show all my visitors.

It contains all the treasures that grow in the garden, fruits and vegetables preserved for winter. The little house was painted yellow when we first moved in, though today one cannot recognize the colour any longer, the grapevine grows up to the roof.. In winter we harvest grapes and in spring the little apricot-tree leaning against the wall is covered with blossoms. The garden fence is hidden behind lilac bushes and all the passers-by admire my roses. They look up at our windows and greet us. The windows are always open, even in the evening when the lights are on. There are no curtains at the windows. In our home there is nothing to hide, nothing to see that you wouldn’t see in all the other houses.

To get to the living-room, you have to go through the kitchen, then you get to the children’s room, “the barn”, the children’s undisputed property. Each of them has their own place to hide their treasures. Here they play, do their homework, entertain their friends. Even my sewing machine has a little place here. The children prefer to spend most of their time where I am, therefore I had to move to the children’s room. It gets pretty loud sometimes, but the noise does not disturb me. I write my letters here and read my books, as intently as I did as a child. Sometimes I forget to see to a meal, but in that case we just eat a little bit later, it’s not all that important.

The natural environment which surrounded them once they had passed the gate of their house was just as friendly. Nature was uncontaminated, a sort of Earthly Paradise of fields and woods which allowed Emmy, a romantic dreamer fond of loneliness, to relive with her children her care-free childhood at Mährisch-Neustadt. Her family was a democratic microcosm where children too could have their say, even if in the end it was their mother (not their father) who had the last word:

I am a playmate, the highest authority in their arguments, and yet the respected person. The children obey, they come when I call, my orders are irrefutable and my laws are obeyed.
The children grew up happily, amongst chickens and pigeons, dogs and cats. To go in and out of the house everybody favoured the bathroom window, which opened onto the vegetable-garden. From there they could walk straight into the meadow where, in the morning, when the sun shone, “thousands of yellow flowers opened their eyes”. Further along there was an old cemetery which didn’t inspire any fear, with its old, almost unrecognizable graves. And five minutes further on there was the forest, as beautiful and mysterious under the snow as in the pouring rain or sunshine. Amongst Peter’s memories, however, there is also a neighbour who used to kill her own hens by chopping off their head (and the poor beheaded animals kept struggling for a few seconds in front of the fascinated and horrified children), and another neighbour (“that Nazi bastard”) who used to kill the kittens throwing them against a wall: a violence which would soon find different, equally innocent victims.

Growing up, the children gave their mother more spare time but also a feeling of emptiness in the house and in her heart, which Emmy decided to fill by becoming her husband’s employée. The factory had grown a great deal in the last few years and in spite of unemployment it was difficult to find competent staff.

The time she could devote to her children was slightly reduced and concentrated in the evening.

Sometimes it is very late when I get home. Then I can’t check if everybody’s teeth are well brushed and everybody’s ears are washed, but my first thought is always for the children. They are in bed now, there is open rebellion when I try to turn off the light. Then there are still animated discussions in the children’s room, the light goes on and off a few times, the children read a little longer in bed, which is not allowed, therefore I mustn’t know about it. Finally, at eight or half past eight, everything is quiet. When I wake at night, I hear the children’s breathing and I am very happy.

The Mahlers received frequent visits from relatives and friends, from Austria and from abroad, which are documented by an endless series of photographs: Georg, like Bernardo, must have been a proper lover of the art. In one is grandfather Armin, sitting by the door in the front yard, with Lizzy in his arms and an Alsatian crouched down at his feet. In another Wilma, portrayed beside her exhausted but happy sister after Heinz’s birth.

On the occasion of my visit to Lizzy’s house in Saint Paul Minnesota, in the summer of 2001, a very rare photograph of my father turned up in the family’s book of memoirs. He is portrayed with the three children, cheek to cheek with Lizzy, who distinctly remembers that occasion, when uncle Ernst paid them a visit, played the piano for her and told the children some beautiful stories.

Emmy and Georg had carefully planned their future: her husband had taken out a high life insurance, which would enable both of them to enjoy a carefree old age. Lizzy too, at the age of eighteen, would come into a tidy sum which would allow her to choose whether to marry and have children or to go into business.

Peter, his parents planned, would succeed his father in the management of the factory, but before, his mother thought, “he had to travel and get to know the world”. And to do that, money was needed: therefore he was also holder of a substantial insurance.

The Mahlers allowed themselves very few superfluous expenses: when you live in such a wonderful place there is no need to go on holiday. Their only luxury was the radio, always the latest model, which all the neighbourhood envied them, and thanks to which the whole world came into their home. But it was through that very appliance that anguish and unhappiness would enter their home in Gmünd for the first time.

Wilma, the youngest and the most spoilt of my father’s three sisters, spent the war years attending the Mädchen-Bürgerschule (junior high-school for girls) in Zeltgasse, in the 8th district, just a few steps away from home. Perhaps the greater strictness of the capital’s educational institutions, compared to the more familiar atmosphere of Mährisch-Neustadt’s Volkschule (primary school) at first worried her, but soon she managed to win her new teachers’ esteem and trust. Her final diploma, issued on the 28th of June 1918, certifies that she was more hard-working than her brother. Her overall grade was lobenswert (good), with excellent marks in German, history and geography, singing, “feminine manual activities” and fencing.

Wilma spent the summer of 1918 far away from Vienna, at Tenk, a small village in the Hungarian country-side over a hundred kilometres east of Budapest, as a guest at the house of one of her father’s employées, to recover from an uncertain illness which had made her mother very anxious, and at the same time to avoid the famine which seized Vienna. On this occasion too, her laziness at answering her parents’ numerous letters alarmed Henriette to such an extent that she asked influential aunt Katharina to have a telegram sent to her.

From the correspondence between Vienna and Hungary we learn that essential foodstuffs such as flour, eggs, fresh butter, mushrooms were missing in the capital: Henriette begged Wilma to buy them and send them or bring them with her on her journey home. Armin, who had just returned from captivity, urged his daughter to behave with her hosts and to thank them warmly for their hospitality. If they didn’t understand German, her father jokingly added, it would be easy for Wilma to find a ‘Juif’ (a Jew, in French) who would act as interpreter.

Once the war was over, pressed by the need to contribute towards family expenses with a salary, Wilma joined a two-year professional millinery course, which she completed in June 1922, once again with a gratifying grade, lobenswert . Shortly afterwards she was employed as an assistant in a clothes shop.

Wilma was not yet eighteen and full of joie de vivre and romantic ideas. Finding a fiancé was her major aspiration.

In the best tradition of the Rosenbaums, being fond of reading and writing like her father and her sister Emmy, Wilma too kept a diary, noting down her experiences, disappointments and dreams in a shorthand exercise-book.. Chance and the meticulous care with which Wilma preserved nearly all the documents of her almost centenarian existence until the very end, allowed those pages to end up with me. Some passages, still extraordinarily relevant in their freshness and naivety, can help to illustrate her personality at a crucial time of her life, while they show that the Viennese youth of the twenties, in its good and bad qualities, was after all not so different from that of any big European city today.

30 May 1923.

A few events worth entering have happened.

  1. Mum has had an operation.

  2. I took part in a meeting of a Jewish association and there I met a young man by the name of Dr. Erwin Jedlin, with whom I fixed a date. We exchanged some effusions in the city park and we decided to meet again; he wanted to phone me but our telephone was broken so I wrote to him without success. I couldn’t go to the appointment which I had had fixed because of mum’s illness…

28 August 1923.

I have been to Aussee. It was beautiful. Straightaway on the very first day I met someone whom I had already seen in Vienna at the Reingruben, by the name of Fuchsl. Then, thanks to him, I met two other fellows who play the violin and the piano in the village band, Joe Smilovici and Teddy Rado. It was absolutely wonderful.

Unfortunately summer has already ended and I am very afraid of winter. Because if I was still with Ulli, I certainly wouldn’t be able to go to dance, because he does not feel like dancing this winter and isn’t even able to. And Bondi has already been secured by Hilda.

7 September.

Ulli wrote me two postcards and a letter but I didn’t answer him. But something very special happened. A few days ago we three girls went to Kritzendorf once again and we met a fellow. He is thirty-ish, handsome, cheerful, smart. But the funny thing is that he behaves in the same way with all three, he asked to meet all of us and he really turned up. We went to a café with him and we had a lot of fun. I am curious to see whether (and how long) he will continue like this, or whether he chooses one out of the three. If he does, the chosen person will be either Gretl or me, because Hilde is too stupid even for a person of second-rate intelligence. It could be a very pleasant thing but I think that he is a terrible cheat and that at the end of the day he just wants what they all want.

26 September.

Tomorrow I will turn 20 (twenty). It’s the first time I have really worried about my age. My spiritual life is so miserable. I so miss a bit of love. I am curious to know what my next year of life will bring to me. Now all I could wish for is a husband…

28 December 1923.

Christmas is behind me. But how unlucky! It can only happen to me to be taken ill exactly on the 24th of December and to have to stay in bed until today. I already had my skis ready and I was going to go skiing. Emmy and Helene were here with their husbands; they went to eat at Sacher’s and to the bar of the City theatre and God knows where else. To say it with one word: there’s a jinx on me!

20 May 1924.

Where are the times of the nice ski-trips? In the meantime a wonderful summer has burst forth. We have already been to Kritz once and we have booked our hut for the season. The nice times of the fencing club are over. Gretl got engaged, broke the engagement and for the time being is not good company, because a cousin of hers threw himself out of the window because of her, according to what people say.

But there is also pleasing news: Emmy has a daughter, a sweet, gorgeous baby.

10 June.

Nothing new in Kritz. We have already put together a group, that is: Hilda and Fritz Klein, Gretl and Ossi Singer, me and a Leo Weldler (Hiasl). After going out together twice in Kritz and once in Vienna, at Whitsuntide they invited us to tour the Wachau. It seems incredible but we managed to arrange it all and I was away from home from Saturday evening until Monday.

We took the boat to Aggsbach and we stayed there all day. In the evening we got to Mitter-Arnsdorf, rented three attics but only used one to sleep. The next morning we took the ferry to Spitz, stayed at the restaurant until one o’clock, climbed up to the ruins lying behind and finally came back home by boat. It was great fun, especially at night-time.

At the moment of parting I was not very nice to Hiasl and I think it was only a brief stroke of luck. In any case I am very thankful to him for the happy hours spent together and curious to see when (and above all if) I meet him again, since we did not fix anything.

Writing these lines, Wilma didn’t know she had just had the decisive meeting of her life. Leo Weldler, ‘Hiasl’, was a friendly and unconventional Jewish young man, Dr. Hermann Weldler’s son. Turning a deaf ear to his father’s warnings, Leo decided that the study of medicine did not suit him, and got a job at a garage. For this rebellion, Leo was almost disinherited by his family.

On the 4th of July, after another memorable hike in the mountains with her new companion and another couple of friends, Wilma wrote in her diary:

‘Hiasl’ is a very nice lad and I would be very happy to marry him.
That summer, however, the class differences between the two lovers threatened their relationship. On July 15th , Wilma set out on her usual summer holiday in Aussee, while Leo, the “worker”, did not manage to be granted so much as one day off from his employer. Wilma had a crush on a charming high-society suitor and entered some critical remarks about her far-away lover:
He obviously likes me a lot but I don’t like him as much. He is so terribly insipid and shabby!
For Wilma, used to the Rosenbaums’ refined and slightly snobbish entourage, it must have been difficult to accept Leo’s simple, straight manners. But little by little his rating went up:
Hiasl is always nice and in love and our physical understanding is excellent…If only I managed to keep my boy-friend until winter! Hiasl is going to learn how to ski and dance.
23 September 1924

I am – not in love, I can’t say that, but I am very, very fond of somebody, namely Hiasl. For the moment we are apart because Leo is on holiday, but he is coming back the day after tomorrow. My God, I would like to marry him, and soon!

By getting married, Wilma surely wanted to become emancipated from her family, like her two elder sisters had already done, and at the same time she wished to put an end to her sentimental and existential uncertainties. Furthermore, she had the image of a happy, almost fairy-tale match before her, that of Emmy and Georg Mahler:

Lately, I have been to Emmy’s in Gmünd. They live a dream life. A small house, a very sweet baby, two bikes, a dove-breeding, a radio, a wonderful dog. In short, I liked it very much…

Today I went on a wonderful trip with Hiasl and he told me in a simple manner that he would marry me if he had enough money.

Of course I am very happy!
It was probably simply financial reasons which caused their engagement to cling on, but this time fickle Wilma didn’t change her mind again. In the winter of 1925 the two of them spent their Christmas holidays in Italy, on the ski-slopes of Mount Mottarone, with Elena and her husband. The photographs in my possession show Bernardo wearing a suit and tie, with a fur hat on, while Bernardo, in a striped sweater, is drying his spectacles from which he was never parted. The two sisters, with smooth short hair, in white jumpers, hands in their pockets, look the same age.

Wilma and Leo got married on the 30th of December 1924 in a civil ceremony, because the groom declared to be konfessionlos (without religious beliefs), unlike the bride, who stuck to the Jewish faith. The departure of the children had left a void at Albertgasse, and Armin, whose name appears in the marriage certificate as a witness, was very happy not to lose completely his youngest daughter, the favourite, spoilt one, the one who drove her correspondents mad with her silences. Leo Weldler was adopted by the Rosenbaums and he immediately won over everybody with his frank, pleasant manner.

Like Elena, Wilma too had no children, but her life went on peacefully beside her husband and parents until the first clouds appeared on her country’s political scene and brought a storm into her family life.

In Austria, after the proclamation of the Republic, the expulsion of the Habsburgs from the country and the peace of Saint Germain (10 September 1919), the new constitution came into force, which provided for a parliament consisting of two Houses, one elected by direct suffrage, the other by the assemblies of the provinces. The christian-socials, who won the 1920 elections, governed the country for twelve years by a coalition government. Austria obtained international credit on condition that it should waive union with Germany for twenty years. Internal tensions between the bourgeoisie and the social-democratic opposition led to a latent civil war between paramilitary forces associated with the two fronts: Heimwehr (ex-soldiers) and Schutzbund (social-democratic workers).

In 1931 the plan for a customs union between Austria and Germany was born, opposed by France and the Small Entente. In 1932 chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss came into power, supported by the christian-socials, the Peasants’ League and the Heimatblock, a party close to the Heimatwehr. To withstand disorder stirred up by Austrian nazis, whom their German comrades supplied with weapons and explosives, on the 4th of March 1933 Dollfuss dissolved the Parliament and abolished freedom of speech, press and gathering. The new government banned the Swastika and the Nazi uniform and made an agreement with the Italian fascist regime; the main points of its political programme were the defence of the integrity of the Austrian State and the opposition to Hitler’s plans of annexing Austria to Germany.

In the February of 1934 Vienna turned into a battle-field. The workers’ parties and the trade-unions called a general strike, which was followed by armed fighting in the streets. The government intervened with twenty thousand soldiers assisted by the fascist militia, bombing the workers’ districts with howitzers, killing about one thousand men, women and children, and wounding a much larger number.

On July 25th, a hundred and fifty member of the pro-fascist group Standarde 89, wearing Austrian military uniforms, broke into the chancellery and killed Dollfuss. The coup was repressed and Mussolini sent several divisions to the Brenner pass to safeguard Austrian independence.

In November violence erupted again in the streets.Dolfuss’s successor, chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, denounced the Nazis’ use of increasingly sophisticated and deadly explosives.

The shots and the protesters’ shouts came muffled into the second-floor room at Albertgasse 3, where, on the 30th of November 1934, Armin Rosenbaum passed away after a short illness.

One of his last photographs, taken in the summer of the same year in the Gmünd house, shows him aged, thin and with a pained expression holding in his arms Heinz, the Mahlers’ last-born. Grandmother Henriette, aware of her beloved husband’s state of health, looks sad as she rests her hand on Lizzy’s shoulder. The only one smiling is little Peter, who seems to be helping grandpa to hold his brother.

Armin showed no signs of belated conversion and remained konfessionlos until the end. His body was cremated and his ashes were laid to rest in the Feuerhalle of Vienna’s Central Cemetery, the very one he had jokingly referred to twenty years earlier in captivity. My grandfather (it’s no wonder) didn’t bequeath any material goods to his heirs, but left them a life-style which his children would make their own. The funeral’s expenses, coming to 229 shillings, were paid by his son-in-law, Leo Weldler.

Grandfather’s death marked the end of Albertgasse. Henriette could neither pay the rental nor stay in that house which evoked too many memories. She did not accept Emmy and Georg’s invitation because, as she said, she needed peace and “small children tried her nerves”. Instead, she decided to move to Milan, to Elena and Bernardo’s, with whom she got on better. Elena helped her mother with the move, which was completed in September of 1935. On October 18th , Henriette and her daughter notified the town hall of their departure and set out for Milan, carrying most of their furniture with them.

Wilma and her husband moved to Auhofstrasse 88,to an apartment made available by his parents, who lived in the same building, and with whom Leo was finally reconciled.

In the meantime Nazis were tightening the noose around Austria. In 1936 Schuschnigg had to agree to the entrance of the Austrian national-socialists in his government.

1938 got off to a good start in Austria. Unemployment had decreased by one third over the last four years, and international tensions seemed far away. Most Austrian Jews, assimilated like the Rosenbaums and the Mahlers, whether they were Catholics or orthodoxes as a large part of Galicians, considered themselves first of all as Austrian citizens. They judged the so-called aryanisation of German public life an aberration which would never recur in their country. In this way they made the same tragic mistake which Jews all over Europe would make a few years later.

On February 12th Hitler met Schuschnigg in Berchtesgaden and imposed an agreement on him according to which Austria would support Germany’s foreign policy, Nazi Seyss-Inquart would become minister of Home Affairs, Austrian Nazis would be granted legal activity and there would be an amnesty for their comrades who had already been found guilty by Austrian law-courts.

On February 20th a gleeful Hitler was able to announce, in a Reichstag speech broadcast by the Austrian radio, that a perfect agreement with Austria had been made and that “ten million Germans from Austria and Czechoslovakia were comrades by race, bound to the Third Reich by destiny”.

Schuschnigg knew he had signed the renunciation to his country’s independence; in a burst of pride he had second thoughts and called a national plebiscite in defence of Austrian independence, which was due on March 13th. Two days before the established date, among the riots and violence caused by the German SA’s, Hitler ordered Seyss-Inquart to give Schuschnigg an ultimatum, enjoining him to call back the plebiscite by two p.m: otherwise, the German army would invade Austria.

The Austrian chancellor obeyed the diktat and resigned. In a moving farewell speech broadcast by radio in the evening of March 11th , he said to the Austrian population that the government had yielded to force to avoid a bloodshed, and ended his speech with the famous sentence: “God save Austria”.

This was still not enough for the nazis. After a conversation with Hitler, Goering put forward the new demand that Schuschnigg should be replaced by Seyss-Inquart. At the refusal of the Austrian president Miklas, at 8.45 p.m., the dictator gave the order to invade Austria.

At dawn, on Saturday the 12th of March 1938, the German troops crossed the border meeting no resistance.


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