What happened to Austria post-WWII?
Austrian Empire, later the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was a dominant player in Central and Eastern Europe in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. But by 1938, Nazi Germany was able to annex Austria without much resistance.
Formation of the Austrian Empire
Austrian Empire was proclaimed in response to the First French Republic, or French Empire as it is officially called, led by its military leader Napoleon Bonaparte. French forces inflicted heavy losses on the Holy Roman Empire, the then precursor of the Austrian Empire, and forced Francis II to sign the Treaty of Pressburg, effectively ending the Holy Roman Empire.
The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo resulted in Austria gaining several new territories.
Austria joined a union with Hungary in 1867, creating Austro-Hungarian Empire after suffering defeat in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. To counter the rising influence of Prussia in the German Confederation, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was proclaimed by the signing of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, creating a dual monarchy and Franz Joseph I as its Emperor & King.
Austro-Hungarian Empire was a major power in Central & Eastern Europe. It comprised vast swathes of land and different ethnic populations (which was one of the main reasons for its downfall). With the growing surge of Nationalism and liberal ideas in the late 19th century, Austria-Hungary was a hotbed for revolutions.
Defeat in WWI and the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
World War I was a disaster for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was effectively dissolved by the time Armistice was signed on November 3. 1918. Austro-Hungarian Empire paved the way for the First Republic of Austria and the First Hungarian Republic, and many new countries in Czechoslovakia, the Second Polish Republic, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The Republic of German-Austria was formed after WWI. It was a rump state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that unsuccessfully tried to be an auspice for the German-speaking regions of the former empire, but it failed and gave way to the formation of The First Austrian Republic in 1919.
The first to unify Germany and German-Austria was attempted in 1918 by both governments but the Entente members were opposed to such union, and the treaty of Saint Germain forced Austria to stay independent.
Even since the unification of Germany by Prussia in 1871, Anschluss (Greater Germany) had been a constant demand by the German population in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The first unsuccessful attempt for an Anschluss was attempted by the Republic of German-Austria, but the Entente members were opposed to the union and forbade Austria to unify with Germany in the treaty of Saint Germain.
By the 1930s, the demand for unification with Germany rose, especially after the accession of Hitler as Führer of the German Reich. Under Heim ins Reich, Hitler wanted to convince ethnic German regions outside Nazi Germany to join Greater Germany, and Austria was a major part of this plan.
Hitler forced the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to abdicate and appoint Arthur Seyss-Inquart, a Nazi, as the new Chancellor. Nazi Germany invaded and annexed Austria the very next day, March 12th, 1938, in the pretense to curb rebellion in the country and was welcomed with open arms by the Austrian public.
The plebiscite, which originally was to be held on March 13, was held on April 10, 1938, with 99. . 7% votes in support of the unification.
Austrian Jews, gypsies, and members of left organizations were barred to participate.
Allied-occupied Austria and Independence
After World War II, allied powers declared Anschluss void and reestablished independent Austria.
After the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 7, 1945, the German Reich was divided into allied-controlled territories. Austria being a part of the Reich, suffered the same fate and was divided into four Allied-occupied zones.
But unlike their German counterparts, Austria wasn’t divided into East & West zones but was administered under a joint council till 1955, when it became independent again after it promised to be in the state of ‘perpetual neutrality’. Austrian State Treaty was signed on May 15, 1955, and came into effect on July 27th.
In the Moscow Declaration of 1943, the Allied powers had decided to treat Austria as the first victim of Nazi aggression and would be treated as a liberated nation.
Read about how Switzerland stayed neutral in World War II, even after having a considerable German-speaking population here.
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