Austria Redux: how Austria reappeared on the map of Europe.

Author:Roberts, Walter R.
Position:Essay
 
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NB: This account is of special interest in that the author was a member of the US delegation at the 1955 four power negotiations which restored Austrian sovereignty. Ed.

In an article published in "American Diplomacy" in February 2012, the author described the developments that led to the disappearance of Austria from the map as a result of its annexation by Nazi Germany on March 11, 1938. On that day, Austria ceased to exist. Austrian citizens became German citizens and the Austrian state became German territory.

I.

No Austrian government in exile emerged. Moreover, no government would have recognized an Austrian government in exile. For all countries, with the exception of Mexico, the annexation was a fait accompli. The American Legation in Vienna became an American Consulate reporting to the American Embassy in Berlin.

However, there was one person who supported Austrian independence with vigor and enthusiasm: Otto von Habsburg, the oldest son of the last Austrian Emperor Karl I who had gone with his family into exile after Austria declared itself a republic in 1918.

At the time of Austria's annexation in 1938, Otto lived in France and was very active on behalf of Austrian independence. During the dramatic days prior to the annexation, when Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg battled for Austrian independence, Otto proposed to Schuschnigg that he come to Austria and take over the government. Otto was then 26 years old. He made the offer fully aware that the "Habsburg Act," adopted by the new Austrian Republic in early 1919, banned all members of the Habsburg family from entering Austria.

After Austria's annexation by Germany, Otto's army of one fought to keep Austria's name alive. A French broadcasting station carried a program supported, (as rumor had it) by Otto, constantly repeating "Oesterreich wird wieder frei" (Austria will be free again). The program went off the air when Germany occupied France in 1940. Otto and his family fled to the United States on visas authorized by President Roosevelt. He settled in Washington and over the next four years had frequent meetings with Roosevelt in which the status of Austria, then and in the future, was discussed. These meetings began when the United States was still a non-belligerent and Otto was 28 years old.

Roosevelt took a remarkable interest in European royalty. In my book "Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies, 1941-1945" I refer to Roosevelt's relationship with 21 year old King Peter II of Yugoslavia. In a note to Secretary of State Cordell Hull in 1944, Roosevelt asked the secretary to draft a letter to King Peter with the salutation " 'Dear Peter' as I have always treated him as a sort of ward."

What influence, if any, Otto had on Roosevelt's thinking about Austria is debatable. There were two incidents in which Roosevelt accepted Otto's recommendations. The first concerned the creation of an Austrian battalion within the U.S. Army. Otto believed that such a battalion would indicate a close American-Austrian relationship and be proof that Austria was fighting on the Allied side. The enterprise collapsed even before it started. The majority of Austrians who joined the US Army in the 1940's were Jews who wanted to fight for the United States, become American citizens and start a new life in America. They wished to forget their Austrian past and the Nazi laws that cruelly changed their lives.

Otto was more successful in 1943 when the U.S. issued postage stamps honoring the exiled governments that represented the oppressed countries of Europe. At first, Austria was not included in the series because no Austrian government in exile existed. But after Otto's plea, and in light of the decisions regarding Austria at the Tripartite Moscow Conference of October 1943, Austria was added to the series with this stamp. I am indebted to my colleague and friend George Jacobs for providing this stamp and others included in this article as well as for information regarding their use.

II.

The war which started in September 1939 when Germany attacked Poland and which widened when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941 became a world war after Japan attacked the United States in December 1941. In these years, considering the overall military situation, the future of Austria was not on the agenda of foreign offices. This started to change when the Allies began to register battlefield victories. We know, for instance, that President Roosevelt shared some thoughts on Austria with Archbishop Francis Spellman of New York in early September 1943. Asked by the Archbishop whether Austria would eventually fall under some sort of Russian protectorate, the President answered affirmatively. He added that an Austrian exile government would neither be established nor tolerated. The only way Austria could escape outright Russian domination would be if Otto von Habsburg could reclaim the throne of Austria and Hungary, but even then he would have to work out some accommodation with the Russians. (I am indebted for this information to Gerald Stourzh who reports on the FDR-Spellman meeting in his excellent book "Geschichte des Oesterreichischen Staatsvertrages").

At that time, it appeared that Roosevelt did not want the United States to engage in the reconstruction of Europe after a victory...

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