7 NOVEMBER 1947, Page 18


Austria Before the Anschluss

Austrian Requiem. By Kurt von Schuschnigg. (Gollancz. 7s. 6d.)

THE appearance of an English version of Dr Kurt von Schusdmigg's book is very opportune. In a preface he explains that it is a personal account, for the strict accuracy of which he can vouch. The story opens with a description of the meeting at Berchtesgaden on February 12th, 1938. It tells how the Chancellor was lured into paying a visit to Hitler, only to find himself confronted with an ultimatum involving the repudiation by Hitler of every undertaking to which he had himself put his hand, only eighteen months pre- viously, in signing the agreement with Austria of July, 1936. No doubt is left as regards the ordeal to which the Austrian Chancellor was subjected. " We did not get together to speak of the views or the weather " was Hitler's brutal greeting. " England will not move a finger for Austria " ; while it was " too late for France " after the Rhineland. Herr von Papen's comment tells the whole story of this Berchtesgaden meeting: " You see what he can be like."

The scene changes to Vienna—" the four weeks' agony." After strong protest, President Mikias agreed that the ultimatum of Berch- tesgaden must be carried out, and Herr von Schuschnigg remained in office to undertake the task. It is of interest to note that the details of the Berchtesgaden meeting had become known in Vienna, it being rumoured that the " British Intelligence Service received its information straight from the entourage of Hitler." Herr von Schuschnigg is illuminating on subsequent developments. He makes no concealment of his view that the great majority of Austrians were on his side, and adduces in support of this contention the huge demonstrations in the Diet and in the streets of Vienna on the occasion of his speech in the Diet on February 24th, 1938, in which he declared that " Austria would never voluntarily give up its national existence." He mentions, in particular, the response of the Socialists of Austria. But that speech heralded the end. The illegal S.S. mobilised. Schuschnigg retaliated by declaring a plebiscite, a vote to be taken on the formula of "For a free and independent German and Christian Austria." Hitler, who realised that he could in no circumstances face a free vote of the Austrian people, followed with his ultimatum. "I never heard from Mussolini again" is a comment of the Austrian Chancellor. The German armed divisions marched into Vienna. Herr von Schuschnigg tells the story in few words— the tears pouring down the cheeks of his " Austrian " sentry guard.

There is much of interest in the second sub-division of this book, Austria the Keystone of Europe—particularly the recorded exchanges with the "fair-weather friend" Mussolini. The Chancellor seems still in the years preceding 1938 not to „despair of achieving some balance which would preserve Austria, ilespite the disintegration of the main guarantee—the London-Paris-Rome triangle. It was with Mussolini's full approval that he concluded the agreement with Germany in July, 1936. Mussolini asserted that Austria could "count absolutely on my promises." In a conversation in 1934 he

had shown himself suspicious of a plebiscite as a solution : " I don't have to tell you how plebiscites are managed in Germany in these days." The Chancellor refers to an unpleasant incident with the Italian Government occasioned by a report to Mr. Eden by Sir Robert Vansittart from Geneva in September, 1937, of statements

alleged to have been made to him by the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Guido Schmidt. In the course of the explana, tion which disposed of the allegations to the satisfaction of the Chancellor and the Italian Government, the latter made the some- what surprising assertion that they possessed a certain source " which gave a running account of the secret files in the Foreign Office."

In a chapter dealing with the Western Powers the Chancellor refers to his "acceptance of an invitation to pay an official State visit to Paris and London" in February, 1935. He deals at some length with the attitude at that time of Pierre Laval and French opinion, and gives the reasons why Laval decided to conclude a treaty with the Soviet Union, for which purpose he paid a visit to Moscow. In France, Austria was regarded as "la pierce angulaire de la paix Europeenne." "The French point of view coincided in every detail with our own view." The Chancellor came away with the best of impressions of his visit to London, and his conversations with British leaders of al! parties. The British Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, gave him the assurance that "England's attitude concerning Austrian independence had not changed, and would never change. In fact, this independence seemed indispensable." Sir John put forward the suggestion of a free plebiscite on the Anschluss. The Chancellor gained the impression that " England was the decisive influence in Europe."

Space does not permit of comment on all that is of interest in the account of developments within Austria under the impact from 1932 onwards of Hitler's furious onslaught, nor of the Chancellor's story of his imprisonment up to the moment he was released from Dachau—his tribute to the efficiency of the B.B.C. among many other things—but there is much that is instructive, and his conclusion merits attention, particularly at this hour: "Austria is the keystone to world peace." Rightly does he plead with his own compatriots for the "Anschluss of all Austrians to Austria." .There is little of any real novelty in this presentation to those acquainted with the contemporaneous accounts of the correspondents in Vienna of our great Press organs, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Man- chester Guardian prominently among them, nor to those who may have had the opportunity of perusing the brilliant collection bf official documents published by the Austrian Government in the form of a Red-White-Red Book in the spring of this year. For all that, it is the personal story of the chief Austrian actor in a great tragedy, and as such is worthy of the serious attention of one and all of those—our historians—concerned to discover the road by which we ourselves =yelled to the disaster of 1939. The story is told simply without bitterness or recrimination. It is the story we might expect from an Austrian officer and gentleman who refused to betray his country or sacrifice his principles, and, like so many other Austrian patriots of all parties and classes, paid the inevitable price accordingly.